Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as a writer. However
before he was an author he had another professionhe was a doctor.
Dr. Conan Doyle
In 1881 Conan Doyle was awarded the titles of Bachelor of
Medicine (MB) and Master of Surgery (CM) from the University of
Edinburgh. The next
logical step would be to establish his own practice or buy a share
in an established practice. Both choices required money.
Sadly, Conan Doyle's finances wouldn't
allow for either option.
Conan Doyle tried to find a solution. He applied for
hospital posts, acted as a Doctor's apprentice for a time and
considered moving to India. In the end, the African Steam Navigation
Company offered him a position as a shipboard medical officer. In October of 1881 he reported for duty.
Conan Doyle was no stranger to life at sea. The year
before he'd served as ship's surgeon
aboard a whaling vessel. He quite enjoyed the
However life aboard the Mayumba, a 1,500-ton
steam-powered barque, was not as agreeable as life on the whaler.
Conan Doyle didn't like the Mayumba's ultimate destination, West
Africa. He also found the trip boring. One trip of the Africa run was enough.
Conan Doyle decided that he needed to
find another way to fund his new medical practice.
George Turnavine Budd
Conan Doyle and Budd were classmates at Edinburgh and both
rugby players. After graduating from the medical
program Budd initially
established a practice in Bristol. However the cost of his
plush lifestyle exceeded his income. On Conan Doyle's
advice, Budd persuaded his
creditors to give him additional time to meet his debts while he
tried to establish a practice elsewhere. Budd's
flair for public relations and marketing were evident at the
presentation to his creditors. Some people shed tears after hearing
Budd's stirring tale of a young man's struggles in a hard world.
Next, Budd moved to Plymouth. Things seemed to turn
around for Budd. In May of 1882 he sent word to Conan Doyle asking
him to come and join the practice.
Conan Doyle had mixed feelings. As a rugby player
Conan Doyle found Budd to be "rather handicapped by the Berserk
fury with which he would play." Additionally, when Budd was
a student he created a scandal by eloping with a girl who was
under age and a ward of the court. On the other hand, Conan
Doyle respected Budd's intellect and passion.
Conan Doyle asked three people for advice in the matterhis
mother, Bryan Waller
(a family friend and fellow physician) and Dr. Hoare (a former
employer). The vote was unanimous. Everyone he
consulted advised Conan Doyle against joining Budd's practice.
Conan Doyle did it anyway.
Budd's marketing and public relations skills helped make
his second medical practice a success. Budd developed a plan for making money at medicine. His
plan? The medical consultation was free but the
pharmaceuticals that he prescribed and sold were not.
Budd prescribed a lot of medicine. Conan Doyle would later
say that Budd distributed medicine in a "heroic and indiscriminate
Then there was Budd's bedside manner. Budd's way of
dealing with his patients usually had more to do with his flair
for the dramatic than with sound medical principles. Conan
Doyle stated that his depiction of Budd as Dr. Cullingworth in
The Stark Munro Letters was accurate:
One poor old lady he
greeted with a perfect scream. "You've been drinking too
much tea!" he cried. "You are suffering from tea
poisoning!" Then, without allowing her to get a word in,
he clutched her by her crackling black mantle,
dragged her up to the table, and held out a copy of
"Taylor's Medical Jurisprudence" which was lying there.
"Put your hand on the book," he thundered, "and swear
that for fourteen days you will drink nothing but cocoa."
She swore with upturned eyes, and was instantly whirled off with
her label in her hand, to the dispensary.
Despite all of this Conan Doyle stayed. "I have no doubt
he did a great deal of good," Conan Doyle stated, "for there was
reason and knowledge behind all that he did, but his manner of
doing it was unorthodox in the extreme."
During his stay with Budd, Conan Doyle and his mother, Mary,
kept in contact through letters. George Budd was a frequent topic of the letters.
Mary disapproved of Budd and was not shy about making her feelings
known. It was one of the few things that she and her son
When the partnership was about two months old Budd told Conan
Doyle there was a problem. Profits had fallen
and there wasn't really room for two doctors in the practice.
Later Conan Doyle put the pieces together. Budd had found
one of Mary's letters and was very upset about it. That's
what lead to the dissolution of their partnership, not a shortage
of money or patients.
In The Stark Munro Letters Conan Doyle wrote:
Well, I wrote him a little note--only a short one, but with,
I hope, a bit of a barb to it. I said that his letter had been a
source of gratification to me, as it removed the only cause for
disagreement between my mother and myself. She had always
thought him a blackguard, and I had always defended him; but I
was forced now to confess that she had been right from the
Conan Doyle left Plymouth a little wiser. His next stop?
He decided that for once and for all he was going to start his
medical practice. He set his sights on the Southsea area of
This is only the part of the story. Keep
checking the website or sign up for our
newsletter to learn more about how Doctor Conan Doyle
started his medical practice in Portsmouth and ultimately
became the creator of Sherlock Homes.