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 British writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), was in foster care as a child.

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859. His parents were an Irishwoman, Mary Foyle, and Charles, the son of well-known political cartoonist and painter, John Doyle.

Charles Doyle was employed as a civil servant, but his alcoholism meant the family lived in dire poverty.

Concerned about the effect on her son of his father’s alcoholism, Mary Doyle sent 7-year-old Arthur to live with the sister of a family friend, John Hill Burton, a Scottish historian. Burton’s sister, Mary, was a prominent social reformer, an advocate for women’s suffrage and free education. She owned Liberton Bank House, just outside the city of Edinburgh.

Conan-Doyle stayed at Liberton Bank House for a time in the mid-late 1860s…He spent the years between the ages of seven and nine, 1866 and 1868, at [nearby Newington Academy at 8 Arniston Place], run by James M’Lauchlan, and the Evening Dispatch of 28 September 1900 refers to his ‘lively recollections’ of its headmaster (Edwards).

After Arthur returned home to his family, Mary again became concerned for his welfare and enrolled him at Hodder, a Jesuit boarding school in Preston Lancashire, from which he went to Stonyhurst College.

…[Mary] made an arrangement with the Jesuits – who faithfully kept her part in it from Arthur – that to protect him from his father he would return home only in Summer each year and that throughout his time there he would never join his family for Christmas or Easter vacations. He entered Hodder in 1868 and his next Christmas at home was in 1876. (Edwards p. 59).

After a year in Germany, Arthur began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, taking up opportunities to work as an assistant in general practice where he could. When he qualified, he served as a ship’s doctor on a whaling ship in Greenland and on a trading boat to the West Coast of Africa.

From 1882-1890, Conan Doyle built up his own medical practice in Portsmouth; in 1885 he obtained his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh.

During the years when he was practicing in Portsmouth, Conan Doyle began writing. In 1890 he moved to London and eventually supplanted his medical career with writing.

The Sherlock Holmes character first appeared in a novel called Study in Scarlet in 1887 and Conan Doyle continued writing stories about the detective until 1926, because of popular demand.


Edwards, Owen Dudley. The Quest for Sherlock Holmes. A Biographical Study of Arthur Conan Doyle. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1983.

Wilson, Philip. “Arthur Conan Doyle British Author.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019.

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