When and how did you become a Sherlockian?
It was October, 2010. I had gotten in the habit of watching “Masterpiece Theatre” on PBS every Sunday night, regardless of the programming. One Sunday night I turned on the television without even knowing what was on and heard some of the most witty, intelligent, fast-paced dialog that I’d ever seen on television. It was the first BBC Sherlock episode. Nothing I had ever seen on television had excited me as much. After the end of the first three Sherlock episodes, I proceeded immediately to read the entire Canon from beginning to end. After that, I never looked back! As I went deeper into the Canon, Victorian history, and filmic representations of Holmes and Watson, I realized what a deep and rich tradition it was and that there was plenty for me to enjoy. I even spent a few years live tweeting Granada Holmes episodes almost every Thursday night. I met some great friends that way. There are so many ways to be a Sherlockian.
What have been your main involvements in Sherlockian societies?
After hearing about it on the Baker Street Babes podcast, I went to A Scintillation of Scions at 2012 as an attendee. At that conference, I heard about Watson’s Tin Box of Ellicott City, MD, which was a sponsor of the gathering. I realized that there were people who wanted to get together regularly, in person, to talk about Holmes and Watson and it sort of blew my mind! I started regularly attending Watson’s Tin Box meetings in 2013. In 2014 I became a member of the Scintillation of Scions organizing committee. I was also the Gasogene of Watson’s Tin Box for the year of 2017. It is a lot of fun to meet other people who love the same things you love and enjoy them together.
What has it meant to you to be part of a Sherlockian community?
It really is a community. I’m so proud of Watson’s Tin Box. There are some amazingly supportive and fascinating people amongst the Sherlockians. It’s wonderful to feel like there’s a group of people out there who understand your personal brand of nerdiness.
You won the 2017 Morley-Montgomery Award for your paper, “Whitehall Place Irregulars: Female Searchers and Suspects in Nineteenth-century London.” What did that recognition feel like?
I think overwhelming joy best describes how winning that award felt. I had the idea for that paper for a few years before I wrote it because I wasn’t sure if anyone other than me would find the results interesting. It feels wonderful to get recognition for your work.
Tell us a little about your Sherlockian research in London.
I was so incredibly fortunate to get to take a research trip in July, 2017 to London and Edinburgh. My trip was crowd-funded, so I could not have done it without help from my friends, family, and fellow Sherlockians. I had a hunch that Dr. Watson and Arthur Conan Doyle might have known more about criminals and convicts than they had let on because of their medical training in the dissection room, and that Holmes may have learned how to identify the physical characteristics of criminals from having encountered them on the dissection table at Bart’s. I wanted to look through the original dissection room log books from the period in which Holmes was active. I also wanted to see if I could dig deeper into the relationship between Bart’s Medical School and the notorious Newgate Prison, which was practically across the street from it. I uncovered a lot of amazing connections. I also went up to Edinburgh to look through similar records there. Over the course of my ten-day trip I think I was able to dig up enough raw material to keep my research going for a few years.
You are speaking at Holmes, Doyle, & Friends Six in Dayton on March 30 about Tonga. Why Tonga? And what about Tonga?
I have always been interested in The Sign of Four, because I spent about 14 months living in West Bengal, India. Before becoming a Sherlockian, I had known that there was a historical connection between the Andaman Islands and Bengal. Most of the South Asians who had colonized parts of the Andaman Islands were Bengali speakers. One of the amazing things about doing research is that you don’t always find what you expect to find or hope to find, but you might find something even better. I didn’t actually intend to research Tonga on my trip but that’s who I found while looking through the Edinburgh University archives. Doing research requires a very Holmes-like skill set; observe the details and follow the evidence. I don’t want to give away the surprise of my symposium paper! But I will tell you that I believe that I uncovered the source of Doyle’s idea for the character of Tonga.
You sometimes appear on Facebook as Sherrinford Holmes. Do you have some special connection to the third Holmes brother?
No, sorry. I just picked that name because I was trying to have an incognito account so that I could engage in fandom activities online without people from “real life” trying to find me. I knew that other Sherlockians would probably get the reference. Since then I made another account under my real name. I think of that as my professional account. Feel free to follow either one!
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