The Late Sherlock Holmes

by James M. Barrie

On December 29, 1893, readers of The St. James’s Gazette were shocked to find that an arrest had been made in the tragic death of Sherlock Holmes. The Strand had just published in that same month “The Adventure of the Final Problem,” Watson’s account of Holmes’s demise—aided in no small part by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—a story that seemed to present the final word on Holmes’s death. Yet, the newspaper article not only pointed to Watson as the perpetrator, but also suggested that there was another individual (not Moriarty)involved as well. Holmes, however, was only a fictional character and the newspaper piece (presented anonymously) was simply a well constructed pastiche written by J. M. Barrie.

Barrie was no stranger to poking fun at both Doyle and Holmes, having written “My Evening with Sherlock Holmes” in 1891. Shortly after the publication of that story, Barrie and Doyle met and soon became close friends, due in no small part to their common Scottish heritage and their love of the sport of cricket. The duo even collaborated on a failed musical, Jane Annie or The Good Conduct Prize (see “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators ”for more information) in 1892. Barrie had an insider’s view of Doyle’s love/hate relationship with Holmes and knew in advance that Doyle planned to write a finish to his most famous creation.

“The Late Sherlock Holmes” was the third of Barrie’s Holmes parodies. Contrary to popular belief, the work was not the first Holmes parody ever written. It may, however, have been the first pastiche to re-work a story from the canon in a humorous fashion. Structured in the style of a sensational newspaper article, the piece parodies the events related in “The Adventure of the Final Problem,” and the Holmes stories in general. There are also numerous in-jokes and references, some that would have been easily recognized by the general public and some that would only have had meaning to Doyle and Barrie.

Readers of today may find some of these references to be very dated to the point that they are incomprehensible. Similarly, many of the in-jokes are obscure and are not easily recognized, unless one is very well versed in both the Holmes canon and the life of Doyle. Although the piece is humorous on its own, we’ve added numerous annotations (see the Editor’s Note below for more information) and hope that it will increase your enjoyment of this pastiche. Whether you are a Holmes neophyte or a seasoned reader of the canon, we think you will find “The Late Sherlock Holmes” an enjoyable read.

“The Late Sherlock Holmes” was first published in the December 29, 1893 issue of The St. James’s Gazette.

Bob Gay
May, 2018
Introduction © 2018 by Bob Gay

Editor's Note: As mentioned above, “The Late Sherlock Holmes” contains many in-jokes and references. Although the piece is enjoyable on its own, we have chosen to enhance the work by highlighting many of these items. On desktop or laptop computers, running your mouse pointer over these words, will cause the an annotation to appear in a small pop-up tooltip. On mobile devices, tapping the highlighted words will cause the same behavior, like this (moving your mouse pointer, or tapping the tooltip, will cause the tooltip to disappear). We have also added an afterword that contains all the highlighted items in a standard, footnote form, for those of you who may prefer the traditional or may have javascript disabled on your device.

One problem with annotating the work is that we really don't know when Barrie wrote it—he would have needed to have read “The Final Problem,” make arrangements with the publisher of The St. James’s Gazette, and meet whatever deadline the paper set for submitting the manuscript. One clue is found in the twelfth annotation, where mention is made of the Ardlamont case. Since the murder trial tied to the events at Ardlamont did not begin until the thirteenth of December of 1893, it’s inclusion would imply that Barrie may have worked on a very short deadline indeed. Please be aware that our annotations are educated guesses at best, based on our knowledge, and research, of the Victorian era and Doyle.

We must also make a special thank you to Alexis Barquin of the Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia for her quick response to our question about a reference at the beginning of the pastiche and the general assistance that the Encyclopedia gave us.



(By Our Own Extra-Special Reporters)

12.39 p.m.—Early this morning Mr. W.W. Watson1, MD (Edin.)2, was arrested at his residence, 12a, Tennison-road3, St. John’s-wood4, on a charge of being implicated in the death of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, late of Baker-street. The arrest was quietly effected. The prisoner, we understand, was found by police at breakfast with his wife. Being informed of the cause of their visit he expressed no surprise, and only asked to see the warrant. This having been shown him, he quietly put himself at the disposal of the Police. The latter, it appears, had instructions to tell him that before accompanying them to Bow-street he was at liberty to make arrangements for the carrying on during his absence of his medical practice. Prisoner smiled at this, and said that no such arrangements were necessary, as his patient had left the country. Being warned that whatever he said would be used against him, he declined to make any further statement. He was then expeditiously removed to Bow-street. Prisoner’s wife witnessed his removal with much fortitude.


The disappearance of Mr. Holmes was an event of such recent occurrence and gave rise to so much talk that a very brief résumé of the affair is all that is needed here. Mr. Holmes was a man of middle age and resided in Baker-street, where he carried on the business of a private detective. He was extremely successful in his vocation, and some of his more notable triumphs must still be fresh in the minds of the public—particularly that known as “The Adventure of the Three Crowned Heads,”5 and the still more curious “Adventure of the Man without a Wooden Leg,”6 which had puzzled all the scientific bodies of Europe. Dr. Watson, as will be proved out of his own mouth, was a great friend of Mr. Holmes (itself a suspicious circumstance) and was in the habit of accompanying him in his professional peregrinations. It will be alleged by the prosecution, we understand, that he did so to serve certain ends of his own, which were of a monetary character. About a fortnight ago news reached London of the sudden death of the unfortunate Holmes, in circumstances that strongly pointed to foul play. Mr. Holmes and a friend had gone for a short trip to Switzerland, and it was telegraphed that Holmes had been lost in the terrible Falls of Reichenbach. He had fallen over or been precipitated. The Falls are nearly a thousand feet high; but Mr. Holmes in the course of his career had survived so many dangers, and the public had such faith in his turning-up as alert as ever next month, that no one believed him dead. The general confidence was strengthened when it became known that his companion in this expedition was his friend Watson.


Unfortunately for himself (though possibly under the compulsion of the police of Switzerland), Watson felt called upon to make a statement. It amounted in brief to this: that the real cause of the Swiss tour was a criminal of the name of Moriarty, from whom Holmes was flying. The deceased gentleman, according to Watson, had ruined the criminal business of Moriarty, who had sworn revenge. This shattered the nerves of Holmes, who fled to the Continent, taking Watson with him. All went well until the two travellers reached the Falls of Reichenhach. Hither they were followed by a Swiss boy with a letter to Watson. It purported to come from the innkeeper of Meiringen, a neighbouring village, and implored the Doctor to hasten to the inn and give his professional attendance to a lady who had fallen ill there. Leaving Holmes at the Falls, Watson hurried to the inn, only to discover that the landlord had sent no such letter. Remembering Moriarty, Watson ran back to the Falls, but arrived too late. All he found there was signs of a desperate struggle and a slip of writing from Holmes explaining that he and Moriarty had murdered each other and then flung themselves over the Falls.7


The arrest of Watson this morning will surprise no one. It was the general opinion that some such step must follow in the interests of public justice. Special indignation was expressed at Watson’s statement that Holmes was running away from Moriarty. It is notorious that Holmes was a man of immense courage, who revelled in facing danger. To represent him as anything else is acknowledged on all hands to be equivalent to saying that the People’s Detective (as he was called) had


We understand that printed matter by Watson himself will be produced at the trial in proof of the public contention. It may also be observed that Watson’s story carried doubt on the face of it. The deadly struggle took place on a narrow path along which it is absolutely certain that the deceased must have seen Moriarty coming. Yet the two men only wrestled on the cliff. What the Crown will ask is,


Watson, again, is the authority for stating that the deceased never crossed his threshold without several loaded pistols in his pockets. If this were so in London, is it not quite incredible that Holmes should have been unarmed in the comparatively wild Swiss mountains, where, moreover, he is represented as living in deadly fear of Moriarty’s arrival? And from Watson’s sketch of the ground, nothing can be clearer than that Holmes had ample time to shoot Moriarty after the latter hove in sight. But even allowing that Holmes was unarmed, why did not Moriarty shoot him? Had he no pistols either? This is the acme of absurdity.


Watson says that as he was leaving the neighbourhood of the Falls he saw in the distance the figure of a tall man. He suggests that this was Moriarty, who (he holds) also sent the bogus letter. In support of this theory it must be allowed that Peter Steiler, the innkeeper, admits that some such stranger did stop at the inn for a few minutes and write a letter. This clue is being actively followed up, and doubtless with the identification of this mysterious person, which is understood to be a matter of a few hours’ time, we shall be nearer the unravelling of the knot. It may be added, from the information supplied us from a safe source, that the police do not expect to find that this stranger was Moriarty, but rather


who has for long collaborated with him in his writings, and has been a good deal mentioned in connection with the deceased. In short, the most sensational arrest of the century is on the tapis.8

The murdered man's


are in possession of the police. Our representative called there in the course of the morning and spent some time in examining the room with which the public has become so familiar through Watson’s descriptions. The room is precisely as when deceased inhabited it. Here, for instance, is his favourite chair in which he used to twist himself into knots when thinking out a difficult problem. A tin canister of tobacco stands on the mantelpiece (shag), and above it hangs the long-lost Gainsborough ‘Duchess,’9 which Holmes discovered some time ago, without, it seems, being able to find the legal owner. It will be remembered that Watson, when Holmes said surprising things, was in the habit of ‘leaping to the ceiling10 in astonishment. Our representative examined the ceiling and found it


The public cannot too, have forgotten that Holmes used to amuse himself in this room with pistol practice. He was such a scientific shot that one evening while Watson was writing he fired all round the latter’s head, shaving him by an infinitesimal part of an inch. The result is a portrait on the wall in pistol-shots11, of Watson, which is considered an exact likeness. It is understood that, following the example set in the Ardlamont case12, this picture will be produced in court. It is also in contemplation to bring over the Falls of Reichenbach for the same purpose.


The evidence in the case being circumstantial, it is obvious that motive must have a prominent part in the case for the Crown. Wild rumours are abroad on this subject, and at this stage of the case they must be received with caution. According to one, Watson and Holmes had had a difference about money matters, the latter holding that the former was making a goldmine out of him and sharing nothing. Others allege that the difference between the two men was owing to Watson’s change of manner; Holmes, it is stated, having complained bitterly that Watson did not jump to the ceiling in amazement so frequently as in the early days of their intimacy. The blame in this case, however, seems to attach less to Watson than to the lodgers on the second floor, who complained to the landlady. We understand that the legal fraternity look to


in the case for the motive which led to the murder of Mr. Holmes. This dark horse, of course, is the mysterious figure already referred to having been seen in the vicinity of the Falls of Reichenbach on the fatal day. He, they say, had strong reasons for doing away with Mr. Holmes. For a long time they were on excellent terms. Holmes would admit frankly in the early part of his career that he owed everything to this gentlemen; who, again, allowed that Holmes was a large source of income to him. Latterly, however, they have not been on friendly terms, Holmes having complained frequently that whatever he did the other took the credit for. On the other hand, the suspected accomplice has been heard to say “that Holmes has been getting too uppish for anything,’ that he “could do very well without Holmes now,” that he “has had quite enough of Holmes,” that he “is sick of the braggart’s name,” and even that “if the public kept shouting for more Holmes he would kill him in self-defence.” Witnesses will be brought to prove these statements, and it is believed that the mysterious man of the Falls and this gentleman will be found to be one and the same person. Watson himself allows that he owes his very existence to this dark horse, which supplies the important evidence that the stranger of the Falls is also a doctor. The theory of the Crown, of course, is that these two medical men were accomplices. It is known that he whom we have called the dark horse is still in the neighbourhood of the Falls.


Dr. Conan Doyle is at present in Switzerland.13


reaches us as we go to press, to the effect that Mr. Sherlock Holmes, at the entreaty of the whole British public, has returned to Baker-street and is at present (in the form of the figure 8)14 solving the problem of The Adventure of the Novelist and His Old Man of the Sea15.


  1. From Alexis Barquin (from the Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia):
    I have a personal opinion but it’s only guessing and can't be taken as an official opinion.
    As Barrie and Conan Doyle were close friends, they knew each other well. They knew their mutual friends and acquaintances.
    So Barrie knew ACD’s closest friend (and later) secretary : Alfred. H. Wood also known as “Woodie” and it is known that Wood was the model for Watson.
    So I guess Barrie wrote W. W. Watson as a joke and reference for “Woodie Wood Watson.”
    I have no evidence at all, I just like the idea. Hope you like it as well.
  2. Doyle received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh. Watson received his from the University of London.
  3. The street address given is where Sir Arthur lived in 1891 at the time he decided to turn to writing full time.
  4. While Doyle did not live in St. John's-wood, that section of London was where Irene Adler supposedly resided.
  5. A fictitious title.
  6. Another fictitious title.
  7. A really funny parody of the note that Watson finds in “The Adventure of the Final Problem.”
  8. An archaic word for a table covering. The implication here is that the arrest is “on the table” or just about to occur.
  9. A painting by Thomas Gainesborough of the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish. It was stolen in 1876 by Adam Worth, who was dubbed “the Napoleon of the criminal world ” by a Scotland Yard detective (the painting was thought lost for 25 years until Worth offered it for sale in the US). Worth is thought to be Doyle’s main inspiration for Moriarty.
  10. A Victorian slang phrase that has its closest equivalent in the more modern phrase “hitting the ceiling”—i.e. reacting with extreme emotion.
  11. Actually, Holmes put bullet holes into the wall to form the initials “V R”, which stood for Victoria Regina, the queen of England at the time.
  12. The Ardalamont Mystery, and the subsequent murder trial that followed, would have been well known to readers in 1893, as it was prominently covered by newspapers around the world. One key element to the trial was that Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, was part of a forensic team that testified at the trial for the prosecution.
    One feature of the trial, was the introduction into evidence of cardboard pieces that had been fired at by the different shotguns taken from the estate. Wooden models of the head of the deceased were also shown in court.
  13. Doyle’s presence in Switzerland implies that he is both the “dark horse” and the actual “murderer” of Holmes.
  14. The Arabic numeral for the number 8, when turned on it's side, resembles the mathematical symbol for infinity, implying that while Doyle may be done with Holmes, the character will live on forever.
  15. The Old Man of the Sea is a character found in the fifth voyage Sinbad the Sailor as found in the Arabian Nights—the Old Man tricks Sinbad into carrying him on his shoulders and then clings to Sinbad for many days and nights. Although largely forgotten today, the phrase “Old Man of the Sea” was popular in Victorian times and was used in reference to a burden or care that is extremely difficult to remove from one's life. Taken in this context, the problem Holmes is solving is a reference to Doyle (the novelist) and his own Old Man of the Sea (the burden of the extreme popularity of Holmes).
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