Though Sherlock Holmes is notoriously secretive about his family and past, we can say one thing for certain: he was born in Portsmouth.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a rich and varied life, during which he travelled extensively. He was born in Edinburgh, attended a Jesuit boarding school in the north of England, returned to Scotland for university, travelled to the Arctic Circle on a whaling boat (as the ship's surgeon), boarded a different boat at Liverpool headed to Africa, settled for a while in Plymouth and then finally moved to Portsmouth - all before he turned 24.
Arriving in Portsmouth with only £10 to his name, the qualified doctor had to set up his surgery quickly and inexpensively. It turned out that he could only afford to furnish the two rooms that his patients would see - so lived rather meagrely behind the scenes. His financial straits were burdened further still by his inability to market the practice, which was prohibited at the time. Luckily (at least for Doyle), a motorcar was involved in an accident just outside the practice, so he rushed out and was first on the scene with medical assistance. Word spread and within a few years he'd managed to bring in enough patients to live more comfortably.
During the more straitened years where he had only a handful of patients, Doyle was afforded the time to write - something he had been doing in various forms for quite some time. It was March 1886 (seven months after he married first wife Louisa Hawkins in Yorkshire), that Doyle first put pen to paper on the novel that would not only change his life, but the course of an entire genre of literary fiction...
'A Study in Scarlet' introduced the world to 'consulting detective' Sherlock Holmes and his loyal sidekick Dr Watson. These now-iconic names weren't always on the cards, however. Back when the novel was in its first draft (and titled 'A Tangled Skein') the main characters went by the names of Sheridan Hope and Ormond Sacker. Thankfully, Sherlock and John prevailed, and the former has since gone on to be named by the Guinness World Records as 'the most portrayed (human) movie character' in history.
Sherlock's debut was first printed in 'Beeton's Christmas Annual' in 1887. Interestingly, it was far from Doyle's favourite story - he much preferred the historical novel that was to follow, 'Micah Clarke'. In fact, the Elves at QI proclaim that Doyle went on record to say "If in 100 years I am only known as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes then I will have considered my life a failure." However, though the QI Elves are notoriously thorough in their research, this quote may well have set off a klaxon of their very own, with numerous other researchers only being able to trace it back as far as 2005.
Though Micah Clarke was preferred to A Study in Scarlet, there was yet another book of Doyle's that he liked better still - 'The White Company'. Upon completing this historical novel, Doyle thought himself incapable of bettering it and so reportedly threw both his ink and pen at the opposite wall.
A Study in Scarlet wasn't much of a success at the time, which may have compounded Doyle's feelings towards it. The novel was rejected by many publishers before it was finally picked up for the Christmas Annual - and even that sold poorly. This does mean, of course, that copies of the first edition are phenomenally rare today - and therefore staggeringly valuable.
Sherlock would eventually return in 'The Sign of Four', which Doyle wrote after being pressed into it by good friend and fellow author Oscar Wilde. Without this cajoling, Sherlock may never have gone on to become the literary icon he is today. Of course, the time that has elapsed since then has been infinitely more favourable to Sherlock Holmes - and now the novels are viewed as a turning point (and in many circles a high water mark) for the detective fiction genre.
At this point of Doyle's own life story, success had started to build and he was becoming famous on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer. However, he'd not entirely turned his back on the world of medicine and when the opportunity arose for Doyle to specialise in ophthalmology in Vienna, it was chance he was unwilling to turn down. He left Portsmouth to take this trip, but it didn't pan out quite as the good doctor expected and it wasn't long before he returned to the UK. His travelling days weren't over, though, as he visited Paris, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Egypt, Australia and Africa (for a second time).
Doyle ended up writing four Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories. The author's journeys took him and his consulting detective around the globe, but wherever he ended up there's one thing that can't be denied - Sherlock Holmes came to life in Portsmouth.