A Great Detective’s Birthday

Today is the generally accepted birth date of Sherlock Holmes. And I have no argument there–but the year?

Sidney Paget’s Sherlock Holmes (…or maybe Paget’s brother?)

Was it 1854? That’s what most of the scholars assume.  Mystery Scene is hosting a virtual birthday party for Holmes’ 166th anniversary.  Well, not to argue with the experts (including my friend, the eminent Leslie S. Klinger) but no.  I say that Holmes was born in 1861, making him not 166 today, but 159.

I go into the details in the e-book Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes, but basically, it begins with the Conan Doyle story “Adventure of the Gloria Scott.”

If we take all the story’s internal dates at face value, we must add “thirty years or more” to the date of the Gloria Scott’s wreckage in November of 1855, which would mean that Holmes was finishing his university career in 1885—clearly problematic when one takes the Study in Scarlet dates into account.  If, however, one excuses Hudson’s “thirty years” as exaggeration, and takes Trevor’s twenty years as closer to the facts, adding a brisk five to make a success of the gold fields in Australia and return home rich, then we are looking at 1880 as the second year of university for our detective, much closer to the facts of Watson’s introductory tale.

The birth date of Sherlock Holmes

Working backwards from those dates, we look for the birth date of Sherlock Holmes.  Assuming that he began university at a reasonably early age—it was, and indeed still is, commonplace for bright students to enter at seventeen or even younger—then a date for the Gloria Scott adventure of 1885, with Holmes then 17, would present us with a birth date of 1868.  If the tale takes place in 1880 and Holmes is, say, 19, then he was born in 1861.  In this case, he is 54 when he meets Mary Russell on the Sussex Downs in 1915; if one takes the later birth date, he would be only 47.

Either chronology would mean that when Holmes “retired” from Baker Street in 1903 to keep bees on the Downs, he was not yet forty, so that his Baker Street career was that of a man in his twenties and thirties.  That this perception jars with our image of the man is not because of any conflict with Conan Doyle’s words, but is rather due largely to the original Sidney Paget drawings, which invariably show a man in his middle years—being, after all, modeled on Paget’s older brother.

Unlike the Holmes who meets Miss Mary Russell on the Sussex Downs, in 1915, at the age of 54.

By Elina, from Finland


  1. Alice Shaddox on February 3, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    I happen to like 47 as an age for Mr. Holmes
    When he meets Mary.
    But that is just my opinion.
    I recently discovered the series by way of
    “………Spies. I fell in love with Mary Russell & always having been a fan of Sherlock Holmes from age 10 yrs (I was a precocious reader, having cut my mystery teeth on Travis McGee) but thats another story.
    I read “Spies”; then went to the beginning with “The Beekeepers Apprentice” and I am now a great fan of beekeepers.
    I am waiting on my Library to tell me that: “The Murder of Mary Russell” is there for me to pick up, it is so hard to wait.
    It is a wonderful series and I sincerely thank you for them. I shall be collecting the seriesas I want to re-read the series.
    Thank you, Mrs King for your gift of such a marvelous series.
    Alice s.

    • Laurie King on February 3, 2020 at 7:52 pm

      January 6, 1861 is the date in the Russell stories. The rest of the world may argue as it will.

      And I hope you enjoy “Murder”–the new book this June is closely related to it…


  2. Mark Zug on January 18, 2023 at 11:37 am

    My age of convenience for Holmes is my own plus 100 years. If he was born in 1859, then the Sherlockian worlds I care most about – those of Arthur Conan Doyle, Laurie R. King and Lyndsay Faye – can be one!

    • Laurie King on January 18, 2023 at 11:41 am

      I’m not sure anyone can be judged wrong, when it comes to the date of his birth.

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