Tag Archive | "Sherlock Holmes"

The Search for the Real Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes, the detective extraordinaire created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and featured in four novels and fifty-six short stories, is a character who has maintained the interest of an admiring public since his introduction in print in 1887 in the novel A Study in Scarlet.  Noted for his almost fantastic logical reasoning abilities, Holmes has been portrayed by more than seventy different actors on stage, screen, and broadcast television; most notably, by Basil Rathbone in fourteen films and more recently, by Robert Downey, Jr. on the large screen and Jonny Lee Miller in the CBS series Elementary.


Doyle indicated that the character of Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh who was noted for drawing remarkable conclusions from the smallest observations and for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk.  But, could it be that Doyle had another, more career related character from whom to draw inspiration?  If art is an imitation of life, then perhaps Doyle drew Holmes character and exploits from those of a real-life detective.  This is the claim of Angela Buckley, a trustee of the Society of Genealogists, in her book entitled The Real Sherlock Holmes.


Our search begins with an Italian citizen named Francesco Caminada who emigrated from the Lombardy region of Italy and settled in the Deansgate section of Manchester, England.  Here, Francesco met and married a woman of Irish ancestry and raised a family.  The Deansgate section, a slum-like area inhabited by the city’s poorest residents, was named after an ancient Roman road that ran through Manchester.  Into these rough streets was born Geralomo (Jerome) Caminada, the Buckley-acclaimed real Sherlock Holmes, in 1844.


When he embarked upon a career, it was not initially in police work.  He entered the workforce as an engineer with the city of Manchester.  But, at the age of 24, he joined the Manchester Police Department in February 1868.  Beginning as a patrolman, he cultivated skills in police work that resulted in his promotion to the rank of Sergeant in 1872.  With his new rank, he assumed new responsibilities – those of a detective.


It was in this position that he astounded his superiors with his uncanny methods of deduction in solving crimes.  His methods were considered eccentric.  He would often use disguises to infiltrate and capture criminals, and he cultivated sources of information from among the seediest sections of the city.  At St. Mary’s Church, he often met with a group of informants he termed “The Gem.”


In the process of plying his trade, he gained the respect of law enforcement agents as well as the criminals he pursued.  During his career, he created the city’s first Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and incarcerated more than 1200 criminals and closed approximately 400 houses of ill repute.


As his fame spread throughout Europe, his ancestral country honored him as the “Garibaldi of Detectives.”  Among the cases for which he was heralded was the so-called “Hanson Cab Murder.”  With few clues, Caminada was able to solve the mystery in 21 days, identifying the perpetrator and his motive.


Like Doyle’s Holmes, Caminada spent much of his life and career pursuing an arch-villain, Bob Horridge.  Captured by Caminada, convicted, and sentenced to seven years incarceration, the infuriated Horridge swore revenge.  Upon his release, he, similar to Holmes’ archenemy James Moriarity, would lead Detective Caminada on a chase that lasted 20 years and culminated on the streets of Liverpool with his rearrest at gunpoint.  Subsequently convicted, he spent the remainder of his life in prison.


In another similarity to the life of Sherlock Holmes, Detective Caminada would be taken by the feminine wiles of a woman criminal whom he would track down and bring to justice.  Like Conan Doyle’s fem fatale Irene Adler, Alicia Ormonde had an aristocratic air about her and used her charms to lure her victims.  In her wake, she left a trail of forgery and theft throughout the United Kingdom.


During his 25 years of service with the Manchester police’s detective agency, Caminada rose to the rank of Detective Superintendent.  He retired from the Manchester Police Department in 1899 following which he ran a private agency and also served as a consultant to the City from 1907 to 1910.  During this period, he also wrote his memoirs in two volumes entitled Twenty-Five Years of Detective Life.  He died at his home in Moss Side in 1914 from injuries sustained in a bus accident the year before his death.


In her book, author Buckley makes a convincing case that Caminada, rather than Dr. Bell, provided Conan Doyle’s inspiration for the creation of the character of Sherlock Holmes.  Why Doyle would identify Bell, rather than Caminada, as the model for his fictional character is a subject for speculation.


Yet, given the striking similarities between Holmes and Caminada, it seems likely that Caminada’s exploits could well have influenced Doyle in creation of the characters of Holmes, Moriarity, and Adler in the twelve stories published individually in the Strand Magazine from July 1891 to June 1892 that introduced Holmes to the public and were subsequently collected and published as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Doyle’s Holmes, however, did have companions and acquaintances in his life that do not have counterparts in the life of Detective Caminada – primarily, Holmes’ sidekick, friend, and biographer Dr. John Watson.


It is said that “truth is stranger than fiction.”  And, the exploits of Detective Jerome Caminada are, if not more amazing, then at least the equal of those of the better known fictional character Sherlock Holmes.  More than a century after his creation, Angela Buckley may have revealed the “real Sherlock Holmes.”  In the words of the late Paul Harvey “and now you know the rest of the story.”



On Victory and Defeat

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I believe that I am not overreaching when I state that everyone likes to win, whether such winning relates to games, contests, arguments, debates, or larger personal or professional developmental challenges.  And, why would anyone not want to win?  Mankind has been conditioned from time immemorial to savor victory – from times both long and not so long ago when winning was truly a matter of life and death.  Winners are celebrated and, often, tell the stories or write the histories that amplify their exploits to heroic and even mythic statuses.  And, although virtually all of the triumphs we applaud today are trivial compared to the survival challenges extolled by our forebears, we nonetheless celebrate them with unmatched vigor.

How often have you witnessed a parade in honor of a loser in a game, sport, or other contest?  Although on a rare occasion the heroism of a loser will be noted, the vast majority fade from memory with little or no acknowledgment of their talents or efforts.  And yet, were it not for the challenge presented by loser, the heroics of the winner would be impossible.

Two examples in sports – the first, professional and the other, collegiate – come to mind.  In the 1982 NFC Playoffs, Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers caught a short pass from quarterback Joe Montana in the back of the end zone in the final minute of the game to propel his team to a one-point victory over the Dallas Cowboys.  That reception has been immortalized in NFL lore as “THE Catch” and elevated Montana and Clark to mythical status.  A little over a year later, Lorenzo Charles – a member of the North Carolina State Wolfpack basketball team – retrieved a teammate’s errant shot and scored the winning basket at the buzzer giving underdog North Carolina State the NCAA Basketball Championship over the heavily-favored Houston Cougars and making a sports icon of their then-youthful coach Jim Valvano.

In each of those cases, neither game-winning play was particularly spectacular.  If made in practice or, for that matter, someone’s backyard, they would have gone completely unnoticed.  It was the high-stakes context within which the plays occurred that distinguished them as heroic and unforgettable.  That context, in each case, was provided by the loser.  If the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Cougars had produced lesser results on those particular occasions, the plays in question would have been virtually meaningless.

As is so often true in life as well as in sport and literature, the adversary or challenge both defines and ennobles the accomplishments of the protagonist or victor.  What place in history would Franklin Delano Roosevelt hold absent the Great Depression and Nazi Germany?  Could Vince Lombardi have become a legendary football coach without Tom Landry?  Would Sherlock Holmes investigative and deductive reasoning skills been as finely honed without the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty?  I think not.

The greatness – actual or fictional – of each of these individuals was generated, in large part, by the skill or enormity of his adversaries and challenges.  In an odd way, each victor owes a debt of gratitude to the vanquished for his place in legend or history.  Whether or not, as in the words of William Shakespeare, individuals “have greatness thrust upon them,” adversity has much to do with the measure of each of us – the great and the common alike.  In struggling to overcome adversity, we often discover a good deal about ourselves and the hidden reservoirs of strength we have at our disposal.  And, since the victorious are defined by the defeated, we sometimes find that the struggle to win – even in defeat – can itself be both victorious and heroic. 

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