AN EXTRAORDINARY collection of unpublished letters has gone on display revealing how Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turned detective to overturn a conviction.
One of Britain’s most celebrated authors, Conan Doyle started his career in Southsea, where he had his first doctors’ practice.
Now a series of letters to a police captain outlining why convict George Edalji should be cleared of mutilating horses has gone on display in Portsmouth Central Library as part of the huge Arthur Conan Doyle Collection.
For years the two men exchanged a bitter war of words in hand-written and typed correspondence, showing how there was no love lost in their bizarre relationship.
The vitriolic exchanges began in 1906 when Conan Doyle first investigated the case against Edalji, 27, who served seven years’ hard labour following a conviction for mutilating horses.
Conan Doyle did not believe Edalji could have carried out the crimes at night because of his poor eye-sight.
Your letter is a series of inaccuracies mixed up with a great deal of rudenessSir Arthur Conan Doyle
Conan Doyle bombarded Staffordshire police chief Captain George Anson with his findings. Anson responded in one letter using one of Holmes’ catchphrases by telling him he had a ‘curious inability’ to provide ‘simple elementary facts’.
Their exchanges became more hostile with Conan Doyle writing of Anson: ‘Your letter is a series of inaccuracies mixed up with a great deal of rudeness.’
Michael Gunton, senior archivist for the library and archive service at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘I think the Edalji case appealed to his natural inquisitiveness in crime.
It played into his whole interest in detective work and forensic science which was still new then.’
He added: ‘There are lots of letters and it’s quite clear there is no love lost between them. I suppose that although Conan Doyle was well meaning, having someone coming in and trying to put Anson out of a job was enough to get anyone’s back up’.
Edalji was acquitted in May 1907 after more than 10,000 people protested against his conviction. But the correspondence continued until 1920.
Portsmouth City Council purchased the collection for £13,750 after it failed to sell at auction – and in true Holmes style mystery surrounds who the seller was.
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