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Carol the Dabbler

What age are Sherlock Holmes and John Watson?

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I've been doing a bit of looking into the ages of the characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and of a few of the actors who have portrayed them. I find the results interesting and a bit surprising, beginning with the canon characters:

 

In A Study in Scarlet, Watson says that he "took" his medical degree in 1878. Nowadays, new doctors in the US are around age 25, and assuming the same for Watson, he was born around 1853. Study takes place in 1881, so he was about 28 when he met Holmes. In 1914, at the time of their apparent final meeting (as reported in His Last Bow), Watson was about 61.

 

As for Holmes, I've yet to find any specific indicators of his age. However, in the first chapter of Study, both Stamford and Watson think of him as a "student," implying that he appeared to be of an appropriate age. Most people, even if they are not particularly good judges of age, can pretty accurately tell whether someone is older or younger than themselves. Watson was three years out of medical school, so if he had the impression that Holmes was of student age, Holmes was probably a few years younger than Watson.

 

If any of you canon buffs can correct or elaborate on this, please do!

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The general consensus is that H&W were both born *around* the same time. Ca. 1850s., but that Watson is perhaps *slightly* older, say, two or three years.

 

In the Sign of Four, I believe it is, Holmes ties a leash to Toby's collar, saying that he's "too fast for two middle-aged, London gentlemen". So H&W must've been at least in their 40s by that time, surely? But the story takes place in 1888. At best, they'd be in their early-mid 30s?

 

I believe in later stories (I forget which), H&W both start having bouts of rheumatism.

 

When the stories end around the start of the Great War, H&W are generally considered to be at least in their 60s.

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Thanks, Shangas -- I'm pleased to have come fairly close to the consensus without first having to memorize the canon!

 

Although fictional characters don't necessarily age at the normal rate, most of the original Holmes stories, including Study, are very specific about the year they took place -- so I think it's quite fair to hold Conan Doyle to real-world chronology. (And I suppose any apparent discrepancies can be dealt with in a similar way to Watson's wandering bullet wound.) The de facto meaning of the term "middle aged" depends on who's saying it (and may have changed since Conan Doyle's time), so I would put far less weight on Holmes's casual comment than I would on Watson's more specific data.

 

However, my calculations above all hinge on the date of Watson's medical degree, so he and Holmes could be somewhat older if Watson entered medical school at an older-than-usual age, or needed extra time to complete his studies. Does the canon offer any hints that this might have been the case -- due to illness, perhaps, or needing to work a few years to save up tuition money? Or maybe most medical students were a bit older then than now, or medical school took longer to complete?

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Medicine was changing a LOT in Victorian times. You went from sawing off gangrenous limbs and digging bullets out of bodies, treating people with mercury and laudanum, and opium, heroin, digitalis, and other really dangerous stuff, to the birth of modern medicine starting around the period after the American Civil War.

 

You had stuff like sterilisation, antiseptics and anesthetics coming in around the 1860s and 70s. So Watson would've had to learn all those things in university. Even as 'recently' as the 1860s, people still believed in the Miasma Theory and bloodletting.

 

Victorian medicine and the doctors who practiced it were treating some horrible diseases. I mean stuff like consumption (tuberculosis), influenza, syphillis, gangrene, chronic alcoholism, scurvy, scarlet fever...

 

T.B. was especially endemic during this time. And treatment was haphazard at best.

 

You had stuff like ether and chloroform to make surgery safer. But it was still largely experimental until the later Victorian period (1880s, 1890s).

 

And you didn't have antibiotics. So keeping things SPOTLESS CLEAN was the only way to prevent infection.

 

If you visit a tailor and ask him what jacket-cuffs are called, which can be unbuttoned, he'll tell you that they're "Surgeon's cuffs". That's because surgeons would unbutton their jacket-cuffs, and work on patients in their day-clothes. A mark of an experienced surgeon was how much blood he had on his coat. All that stuff went OUT in the second half of the 1800s, when there was a real revolution in medicine.

 

Watson would've had to learn about all these things and more during medical school.

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I think it is stated somewhere that Holmes was twenty seven when he and Watson met for the first time at St. Bart's in Study In Scarlet. In the short story, His Last Bow, it says that "he appeared to be a man about 60 years of age. There are some scholars who believe that he was actually younger, still in his mid fifties.

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digitalis, and other really dangerous stuff

We're still treating people with digitalis and other really dangerous stuff... :skull:

 

OK, so it's not digitalis as the Victorians would have known it, but digoxin is a very useful drug in cardiology - and will still kill you if not given appropriately.

:boing:

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I rest my case.

 

The history of medicine fascinates me.

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Holmes is supposed to have been born in 1854 (based on his being "a man of sixty" in His Last Bow), and Watson in 1852, according to the scholars. There are some doubts about Holmes's university years - in one story he says he spent 2 years at university, in another he speaks of "his last years at univerity", which seems contradictory. There is also a lot of speculation as to whether he was in Cambridge or Oxford - some people say he went to both. As to Watson, after getting his medicine degree, he trained at Netley to be an army surgeon. I think that according to Klinger, this course in Netley lasted for 6 months.

Watson didn't actually need to get a doctorate in order to practice medicine ; a bachelor of medicine (often complemented by a bachelor of surgery) was enough. Getting a doctorate was one step above. Some people say that it must be between his two degrees that he travelled and gained his knowledge of women "over many nations and three separate continents", and that therefore he must be a few years older than is generally agreed.

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I think it is stated somewhere that Holmes was twenty seven when he and Watson met....

That would be an interesting datum. Can anyone place it?

 

 

In the short story, His Last Bow, it says that "he appeared to be a man about 60 years of age." There are some scholars who believe that he was actually younger, still in his mid fifties.

Holmes is supposed to have been born in 1854 (based on his being "a man of sixty" in His Last Bow), and Watson in 1852, according to the scholars.

That sounds plausible for Watson, but I (like Fox's "scholars") would take that "man of sixty" as describing Holmes' appearance rather than his actual age (after all, the same "omniscient" narrator calls him an "Irish-American").

 

 

Watson didn't actually need to get a doctorate in order to practice medicine ; a bachelor of medicine (often complemented by a bachelor of surgery) was enough. Getting a doctorate was one step above. Some people say that it must be between his two degrees that he travelled and gained his knowledge of women "over many nations and three separate continents", and that therefore he must be a few years older than is generally agreed.

I'm assuming that a bachelor of medicine / surgery would typically be awarded to someone in their very early 20's (like a current-day American pre-med degree). So if Watson studied for his doctorate immediately afterward (and assuming that was a four-year course), that jibes with my prior assumptions. But if -- as you suggest -- he took off a few years to travel, then he'd be a few years older than one might assume. That does fit nicely with the "three continents" comment. It could also explain his referring to Stamford as "young Stamford," and apparently thinking of Holmes as obviously younger than himself (a couple of years' age difference is pretty significant to people in their 20's).

 

Oh, good place for this: In Study, Watson says "... I recognized young Stamford, who had been a dresser under me at Barts. ... In the old days Stamford had never been a particular crony of mine ...." So my question is, what the heck is a "dresser"? (You'd think that a two-volume annotated Holmes would explain something like that, wouldn't you?) All I can figure is maybe the hospital employed him to prep cadavers for the med students ("dress" as in arrange, not actually putting clothes on them!).

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Found it.

 

A 'dresser' is a surgeon's assistant. He'd help with such things as preparing the patient before operation, and he'd assist the surgeon during the operation, handing him tools and equipment and keeping an eye on things, to see that nothing went wrong.

 

It sounds like a trained position. Not something that an orderly could do.

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In regards to Holmes in "The Last Bow" he was in disguise that he why it is written the way it is and why scholars believe that he made himself look to be a turn coat Irish American and older then his true self.

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I agree -- it's dangerous enough to take Holmes at face value when he's not in disguise. When he's actually undercover -- well, when Watson first notices him in "The Empty House," he's "an elderly deformed man," even though that was 1894, twenty years before "His Last Bow."

 

A 'dresser' is a surgeon's assistant. He'd help with such things as preparing the patient before operation, and he'd assist the surgeon during the operation, handing him tools and equipment and keeping an eye on things, to see that nothing went wrong.

 

It sounds like a trained position. Not something that an orderly could do.

OK, thanks, Shangas! That sounds like the Victorian equivalent of a surgical nurse, which explains why Watson said Stamford was "under" him. I agree, it sounds like a trained position, but considering that a doctor could be trained in -- what? four years total, if he didn't go for a doctorate? then surely a dresser's training couldn't have taken more than a year or two, possibly less. Watson himself does have a doctorate, so compared to him, Stamford could be quite literally "young."

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I'd love the idea of Benedict and Martin the same age as Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

I believe I've heard Moffat say something along those lines, as well, and they seem to think that would be a long time in the future. But it turns out that Rathbone and Bruce made all of their 15 Holmes & Watson movies over a span of a mere 7 years. They started when they were 47 and 44, respectively -- not tremendously older than Cumberbatch (36) and Freeman (41) are right now -- and finished when they were 54 and 51.

 

If new Sherlock episodes continue to be made until Cumberbatch is 50 and Freeman is 55, that would be only 14 years from now.

 

I think people were older back then.

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Some where on the web I read that Moftis and Mr. Cumberbatch would like to see this project continue for another 20 years.

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Let's see -- 20 more years, a new series every couple of years, three episodes per series, that's 30 future episodes, plus the 6 they've already done makes 36. Yeah, there should be enough material in the canon, especially with some Moftiss imagination added. And good actors only get better with age!

 

I'm here to watch for as long as everyone's still having fun doing them.

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I think it is stated somewhere that Holmes was twenty seven when he and Watson met for the first time at St. Bart's in Study In Scarlet. In the short story, His Last Bow, it says that "he appeared to be a man about 60 years of age. There are some scholars who believe that he was actually younger, still in his mid fifties.

 

I think one of the old school fans (I mean scholars who were fans back in the day) estimated Holmes to be between 25-27 when Watson met him for the first time. I made him 25 for my novel because it was better plot wise if he was somewhat more callow. Of course Conan Doyle is not exactly precise with the dates or details or continuity in general. So I figured them both to be in their late twenties when they started their adventures together.

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Unfortunately the only real clue we have is in His last bow, so even if the description was that of Altamont and not of Holmes himself, it's the best guess we can have. Another question could be, how old were they when they died. Obviously, Watson lived at least until he wrote the last story, which was published in 1927. Baring-Gould proposed that Holmes died in 1957 at the age of 103 (with the words Irene, Irene on his lips ;) ), but I read an article making him die around 1912 which is quite convincing :

http://www.bakerstreetjournal.com/deaddetectiveno1.html

 

And another question could be, when are their birthdays. The hints that point to January 6 for Holmes are very, very flimsy : the fact that Twelfth Night is the only Shakespearian play that he quotes twice in the canon, and that in one of the stories he is silent over breakfast on January 7 (so people assume he has a hangover from celebrating). More about it here :

http://www.sherlockpeoria.net/ViewFromSP/ViewSP2006/ViewSP010806.html

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Somehow, Holmes doesn't seem to be the type to drink to excess, even on his birthday.

 

Destructive to the mental faculties, wot?

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Here's an article on the topic of Sherlock's age, dated 1920 (also has interesting info about early pastiches) :

http://www.unz.org/P...n-1920jul-00579

I'm quite fascinated by early articles and the beginnings of The Game.

 

Also I forgot to say, I read a short story recently, which is set at an unspecified time which sounds like the twenties, and ends by the following dialogue :

“What will you do, Holmes, when you’ve brought to book the last criminal in London? You’ll have no more excuse to dress up in your fancy disguises!"

“Elementary, my dear fellow. I have my eye on a cottage in St. Mary Mead.”

How fun to picture Sherlock living into old age and embarking on a second career posing as a woman!

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“What will you do, Holmes, when you’ve brought to book the last criminal in London? You’ll have no more excuse to dress up in your fancy disguises!"

“Elementary, my dear fellow. I have my eye on a cottage in St. Mary Mead.”

How fun to picture Sherlock living into old age and embarking on a second career posing as a woman!

 

This made me laugh out loud! I love the idea, but he would have to shrink a good deal to pull off Miss Marple :D

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Holmes has shrunk before -- an entire foot in "The Empty House." That would take him down to what -- something over five feet? Is that short enough to make him a credible Miss Marple?

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We'll have to check to see if there were any, tall, sluthing grand dames out there about that time?

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Good idea. It'd be awfully uncomfortable for him to have to crouch all the time!

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On 2/19/2013 at 2:40 PM, Carol the Dabbler said:

I've been doing a bit of looking into the ages of the characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and of a few of the actors who have portrayed them. I find the results interesting and a bit surprising, beginning with the canon characters:

 

In A Study in Scarlet, Watson says that he "took" his medical degree in 1878. Nowadays, new doctors in the US are around age 25, and assuming the same for Watson, he was born around 1853. Study takes place in 1881, so he was about 28 when he met Holmes. In 1914, at the time of their apparent final meeting (as reported in His Last Bow), Watson was about 61.

 

As for Holmes, I've yet to find any specific indicators of his age. However, in the first chapter of Study, both Stamford and Watson think of him as a "student," implying that he appeared to be of an appropriate age. Most people, even if they are not particularly good judges of age, can pretty accurately tell whether someone is older or younger than themselves. Watson was three years out of medical school, so if he had the impression that Holmes was of student age, Holmes was probably a few years younger than Watson.

 

If any of you canon buffs can correct or elaborate on this, please do!

Well... at least from what I've seen... Sherlock is 25 years old while John is nearly 29. I dunno if that helps much, but that's all I got.

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Hi Lily and welcome to the forum! :wave: Glad you jumped right into the thread. :smile:

When you say "from what I've seen", what exactly do you mean and where? And does that age pertain to the Sherlock Sherlock and Watson (at the start of S1, I presume), to some other adaption or to the books?

 

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