Guest Blogger: Juan Dillon: Sherlock Holmes: Forensic Science Pioneer

17 Jul



There are very few characters that have managed to assume a personality as pronounced as that of Sherlock Holmes. Even though he was a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes was and still is often given the same respect that one gives to a real person. Apart from infusing life into his characters, Doyle was a visionary as well. He created this amazing character that solved crimes with panache and used methods that would be adopted in the field of law making only decades later. Forensic science was not even in its infancy when Holmes solved all those mysteries. When Doyle wrote Holmes, the situation was such that it required eyewitness accounts and ‘smoking gun’ evidence to convict a murderer. It was very easy for murderers to roam scot free as there was practically no evidence against them.

Holmes used fingerprints, blood stains and chemistry to zero in on his suspects. It was fascinating because these methods were not in prevalence at that time. In many ways he has contributed to the existence of the modern detective. Holmes used blood splatter patterns and bullet trajectory analysis to solve some of his cases. Every forensic detective today has a lot to learn from Holmes when it comes to toxicology. There were many cases where Holmes used scientific methods that involved chemical analysis and even analysis of handwriting. One of the biggest contributions to the world of forensic medicine by Holmes is the ‘exchange principle’ according to which when two things come into contact with each other, one leaves a trace on the other.

The ramifications of the exchange principle were enormous. This means that cases could be solved years or even decades after they were committed. There are instances of how people were exonerated years after they were erroneously imprisoned. There have also been cases of how cases were solved years later and the culprits brought to book. This was possible only through the methods made famous by Holmes. Poisoning was one of the most popular methods of murder in those times and the reason for that was because it was virtually impossible to detect many kinds of poison with the technology available at that time. Holmes would use scientific methods to check the presence of poison in corpses and detect whether a death was indeed natural or unnatural.

In fact there were a few avid readers of Doyle who became so fascinated with the world of forensics that they even set up laboratories for the purpose of research. A Frenchman named Edmond Locard built a forensics lab 23 years after Doyle envisioned a similar one in one of his books. In his lab he kept samples of soil, hair and mineral fibre. This was perhaps the first ever lab that eventually evolved into the state-of-the-art labs that are used by Scotland Yard or FBI. Holmes was also obsessed with something that has now become a science of sorts. He used to analyse shoe prints to solve many of his cases and now that is called Gait analysis. He was also the person who came up with the idea of using dogs to track criminals. He was aware of the ability of a dog’s keen sense of smell way before his contemporaries.

The use of footprints, fingerprints, handwriting etc were a few innovations that can be attributed to Dolye’s intrepid detective. He even did decryption of ciphers, a science that would not be developed even decades after Doyle’s death. It can be said without doubt that Sherlock Holmes, if he was a real human being would have been the world’s first ever forensic scientist. And the credit to that goes to his creator, the visionary called Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Author Bio: Juan Dillon is a freelance writer and currently working as a review developer at, and online platform for customers to choose best essay writing services by evaluating the professional reviews on various companies. He loves the profession as it’s also covers some sort of intellectual findings while working on review creation.


2 responses to “Guest Blogger: Juan Dillon: Sherlock Holmes: Forensic Science Pioneer

  1. Jan Burke

    July 17, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Actually, forensic science was very far from its infancy, and Holmes did not invent or discover what you are giving him credit for here. I don’t know where you are getting this information, although it seems to repeat some bad information floating around the Internet, or what your area of forensic expertise is, but much of this is mistaken. I have to say that as one who loves Sherlock Holmes, it is better to be accurate about what he really did. A few examples:
    Detection of crimes using physical evidence has been carried out since the time of the Romans if not before. The Chinese wrote treatises on forensic methods as early as the 6th century, and in 1248 produced an instruction book for coroners. Forensic pathology was under development by 1642, when the University of Leipzig offered courses in forensic medicine.
    Fingerprinting, like every other area of forensic science, developed over time and was not in use as the result of fictional stories — if it had been, Mark Twain’s 1883 A Thumbprint would have beaten out the first Holmes novel by four years — the use of fingerprints is noted in Hammurabi’s code, developed 1792-1750 BCE, may not qualify, but in 1863 Professor Paul-Jean Coulier, of Val-de-Grâce in Paris, published his observations that (latent) fingerprints can be developed on paper by iodine fuming, explaining how to preserve (fix) such developed impressions and mentioning the potential for identifying suspects’ fingerprints by use of a magnifying glass. Faulds had published his paper in Nature 1880, so if you are looking for an English example, you have one there. Vidocq in France was using a number of forensic science methods by the time he founded the Sûreté in 1811. Science in the fields of blood stains, toxicology and more was well on its way long before Holmes first appeared. Locard was a student of Dr Alexandre Lacassagne, who also made many contributions to the field, as did Hans Gross. Police dogs were being used in Ghent at least as early as 1859, and dogs have been used to track humans for centuries — Henry VIII used bloodhounds for this purpose.
    Sherlock Holmes was and is much beloved and has undoubtedly inspired many people to work in law enforcement and forensic science. The Canon has enriched our lived immeasurably. But let’s not take away the efforts of centuries of others by crediting him for an impossible number of firsts.

    Jan Burke


  2. D.P. Lyle, MD

    July 17, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Thanks, Jan, for setting things straight. Good info.



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