“I came of age at 80° North latitude”

A. Conan Doyle, 1880

Below is a map charting the locations that Arthur Conan Doyle visited in his lifetime. What is extraordinary is the sheer distance travelled before a time of widely available commercial flight.

1880

The spirit of a true adventurer

In February 1880, on almost a moment’s notice, he put aside his medical studies to go off to the Arctic for six months on a whaling ship—nominally as the ship’s physician, but also putting himself into harpooner’s longboats or out onto the ice every chance he had.

Turning twenty-one halfway through the voyage, he noted with pride “I came of age at 80 degrees north latitude.” Later he turned the experience into a successful ghost story, “The Captain of the Pole-Star,” and nonfiction articles “The Glamour of the Arctic” and “Life on a Greenland Whaler.” Adventure had been the stuff of his boy-hood reading, for example the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and now he turned out adventures in his own writing.

Conan Doyle during his Arctic whaling adventure, 1880

On the deck of the Arctic exploration vessel, Leigh Smith's Eira, which they encountered in the far north that July. Conan Doyle is in the middle, surrounded by officers from both ships - his own captain, John Gray, fourth from left. Leigh Smith is second from left.

Conan Doyle & his younger brother Innes, late September 1894

On their way to America for the first time for his U.S. speaking tour. Innes, a British Army officer, had been given leave to accompany his famous brother.

"The little pipe which conveys a tiny rill from inexhaustible reservoirs of eternal truth."

A. Conan Doyle, 1884

The hope diaries

Out of sight for more than a century was the diary that Conan Doyle kept while aboard the whaler. These accounts afford a rare and unflinching insight of the latter days of the British whaling industry. “It was a strange and fascinating chapter of my life”.

First published in 2012 by The British Library, The Conan Doyle Estate.
This edition reproduces Conan Doyle’s notebook pages in his own elegant hand accompanied by his own illustrations.

1893

Travel, the writers companion

To West Africa, on another voyage as a ship’s physician; over the Swiss Alps on skis, one of the very first to do so; up the Nile from Cairo to cover General Herbert Kitchener’s expedition to reclaim the Sudan (out of which came Conan Doyle’s 1898 novel The Tragedy of the Korosko); to South Africa in 1900 to accompany the British Army into battle against the Boers as a volunteer field surgeon; aloft in hot-air balloons and then early aeroplanes; through Germany and Britain at the wheel of his own automobile in 1911’s early motoring Prince Henry Tour (an experience that convinced him of the coming German threat); and into uniform when the Great War came, initially in the Home Guard when the British Army turned him down because of his age, and later as a war correspondent at the front.

Photo from visit to Washington D.C. November 1894

Conan Doyle ski-running, Switzerland 1893-94

“ There is one form of sport in which I have, I think, been able to do some practical good, for I can claim to have been the first to introduce skis into the Grisons division of Switzerland, or at least to demonstrate their practical utility as a means of getting across in winter from one valley to another. ”

From Memories and Adventures by
A. Conan Doyle

A letter from the White House, July 27th 1903

“ My dear Sir,

The President has heard that Sir Conan Doyle will soon be in this country, and wishes me to ask if you know when he will be here and where he can be reached after his arrival. If you can furnish this information it will be very much appreciated.

Very truly yours,

Acting Secretary to the President. ”

Conan Doyle riding a camel.
Mena House, Cairo, Egypt 1896

1914

A World shift

Danger meant nothing to him, except as the title of his 1914 story warning Britain about the threat posed by submarines in the future.

Photo from Conan Doyle's 1914
trip across Canada by rail

A postcard from Canada to Colonel Doyle, June 24th 1914

“ Yes, as I guessed, a letter was missing. It has just come to hand so now I understand all about it. We are packing up for a fresh treck of 1000 miles nearer home. We start at once. ” A.

Conan Doyle in the Canadian Rockies, 1914

His wife wrote on the back of the photo: “ My beloved in the Rockies 1914 ”

Photo from Conan Doyle's 1914
trip across Canada by rail

1920

Other-worldly travels

Conan Doyle’s work, interests and beliefs took him to many places as far away as Africa and New Zealand, some of which he travelled with his family. His belief in spiritualism provided new purpose to his travels. A prominent figure of the time, Conan Doyle moved with confidence and conviction through new lands.

Photo from Conan Doyle's c.1920 spiritualist speaking tour in Africa

Photo from Conan Doyle's c.1920 spiritualist speaking tour in Africa

Photo from Conan Doyle's c.1920 spiritualist speaking tour in Africa

1924

Memories and adventures

He published his autobiography, Memories and Adventures in 1924. He prefaces his autobiography with: “... I have sampled every kind of human experience... My life has been dotted with adventures of all kinds...”. In this context he had already travelled more than 50,000 miles and addressed over 250,000 people.

Conan Doyle's Sussex home, Windlesham

Sitting-room/parlor, he moved in 1907 with his new wife Jean Leckie. This remained their principal home for the rest of his life.

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