Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Elementary my Dear Watson

FOR decades, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been suspected of a dark crime of his own - consigning his father to a lunatic asylum.
But new research has now cleared the creator of Sherlock Holmes of any guilt in Charles Altamont Doyle's confinement and death.
While his son grew to be an author loved by millions as creator of the world's best-read detective, Mr Doyle spent the last years of his life moving between Scottish lunatic asylums.
Dark suspicions have centred on his fate, with some suggestions he was merely a harmless drunk who was conveniently locked away by his family.
But Dr Allan Beveridge, a consultant psychiatrist at Queen Margaret Hospital in Fife, unearthed medical records in Dundee, Dumfries and Edinburgh that paint a sad picture of a man who lost his way because of alcoholism.
"He had severe alcohol problems, was violent at home and ultimately got brain damage," Dr Beveridge said. "When we looked at the lunacy certificates, it wasn't his conniving family who got him in there. It was a medical-legal decision by two doctors and a sheriff."
Conan Doyle was sent away to live with two elderly sisters as young as five, it is thought, because of his father's drinking.
As an adult, the author would sign off on his father's transfer to the Crichton Royal Hospital, then a lunatic asylum in Dumfries, paying his father's bills until he died.
Mr Doyle was born in London to an Irish Catholic family and moved to Edinburgh to take an architectural job with the Scottish Board of Works. He married Mary Foley in 1855, and they had nine children.
Nearly 40 years later, she wrote to his doctor at the Crichton Royal Asylum how drink had brought on delirium tre-mens, so that "for months he could only crawl and was perfectly idiotic, could not tell his name".
He ran up bills with traders, selling the goods for money to spend on drink and would "break open the children's money boxes. He even drank furniture varnish".
Dr Beveridge concludes that Mr Doyle's years of repeated drinking had resulted in brain damage and loss of memory.
The new research is to be unveiled at a conference in Edinburgh today.
"It makes it perfectly clear that we have all been mistaken in thinking that Conan Doyle certified his father," said Owen Dudley Edwards, the historian and leading expert on the author.
"It clears him of any guilt in any mind except his own."

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