Chemists honour Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson - Peter Cushing & Nigel Stock

Super-sleuth Sherlock solved crimes with forensic chemistry


The great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is to receive a posthumous Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

It comes 100 years after Holmes returned from the dead to solve the case of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Usually such honours are reserved for Nobel Laureates and other distinguished academics and industrialists.

But I think he deserves the award because he's been bringing so much pleasure to people for years

Ian Rankin, novelist

Holmes is the first fictional character to receive the Fellowship, and a silver medal will be struck in his name.

Dr David Giachardi, secretary general of the Society, says: "Had Holmes really been a flesh and blood hero like Brunel or Livingstone, other Victorian greats, he would unquestionably have been honoured publicly.

"His creator was honoured by Edward VII in 1902 after the hound was tracked down.

"Now, a 100 years on in 2002, we are stretching the rules slightly, tongue very slightly in cheek, to say to the world, here was a great man who selflessly pursued bad people on behalf of the good, using science, courage and crystal clear thought processes to achieve his goals."

Real life inspiration

Holmes became a big success after he appeared in A Scandal In Bohemia in the Strand magazine in 1891, applying his unique blend of logic and intuition to solving the gruesome crimes of Victorian London.

He was the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who partly based the character of Holmes on his own teacher at medical school in Edinburgh, a Dr Joseph Bell.

Bell's great granddaughter, Mrs Barbara Craig, says he had extraordinary powers of observation: "He was a very good teacher.

"It was his teaching gimmick that was the thing that made Conan Doyle think up Sherlock Holmes.

"For instance, he used to say to his students when a patient came in, 'now, what can you tell us by just observing?'

"And then he would explain that the man had marks on his trousers which suggested he sat cross-legged in his cobbler's shop with the last between his legs. And he was in fact a cobbler.

"He could work it out by things like the stains on his hands and the rubbing marks on his trousers."

'Fantastic but bonkers'

The Edinburgh-based crime writer Ian Rankin, author of the Inspector Rebus novels, is delighted at the posthumous award for the fictional detective.

"In some ways it's fantastic because it's recognition that crime fiction is worthwhile, that there's more to it than just a good story that will pass the time on a train journey.

"On the other hand, it's completely bonkers of course because giving a real award to a fictional character is the kind of thing people tend to do with Coronation Street and EastEnders when they send in knitted clothes for the newborn baby.

"But I think he deserves the award because he's been bringing so much pleasure to people for years; scientists love to read the book, visitors come to England to walk in his footsteps and he's still a great, valid wonderful, fictional character; he's three-dimensional.

"He's bigger than the books."

To News Summary