Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

The relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson has been the subject of much interest since Arthur Conan Doyle's detective stories first appeared in the Victorian Era. What kept these two partners together?

Dr. Watson and Magnifying Glass

Who Was Dr. Watson

When the first adventures started, Dr. Watson was a room-mate who shared the apartment at 221 B. Baker Street, London, with his new acquaintance, Sherlock Holmes.

The two were introduced by a mutual acquaintance - a former high-school classmate of Watson's; and former college class-mate of Sherlock's. Since both needed living quarters but had to share the expense, the friend introduces the two and then disappears permanently from the scene.

The two do not hit it off immediately, though they converse and appear somewhat cordial. Dr. Watson has the inconvenience of being asked to leave the shared living-room when a variety of guests appear to speak to Holmes. The intrigue begins.

Of course, as we all know, Watson eventually becomes friends with the unsociable Holmes and begins to accompany him on some of his adventures. With time, he becomes an associate - never a full-fledged partner.

And of course, as all fans of the high aclaimed fictitious series know, Watson becomes the biographer who records the successful cases of the rising detective. A very effective literary technique, Sir Doyle!

sherlock holmes hat sherlock holmes pipe

Biography of Dr. John H. Watson

Throughout the 58 stories, Dr. Watson drops a few little nuggets about himself. This is what we read:

It's Elementary

Relationship between Holmes and Watson

Of course, at the very least, we know that the presence of Watson was a literary technique used by Doyle to build suspense in his story. Through the eyes of Watson, the reader was like a fly on the wall - watching Holmes, pondering the trail of evidence, and surprised when the solution was announced.

But we may still ask, "Why Watson?"

Sure, the two became roommates and friends in the days when Watson was an invalid and Holmes just starting his unlikely career. Money was short for both. But certainly the successful Holmes could have found another associate than to take one of London's medical doctors out of practice to accompany him on his trips.

Body Guard

One of the obvious reasons Holmes depended on Watson was his usefulness as a marksman. He was, you remember, a military man recently back from the war when they met. Frequently, Holmes would casually request that Watson take a weapon as they left their apartment on Baker Street.

In the Adventure of the Norwood Builder, Holmes remarked to Watson, "(There was) no prospect of danger, or I should not dream of stirring out without you."

Watson, of course, never bragged about his skills with a pistol, but often Holmes was depending on it.

Daredevil Swashbuckler

The popular notion of the round-waisted middle-aged biographer does not always coincide with that of an audacious adventurer...but he was. What else can account for the physician who so readily deserts his medical practice to dash around London and beyond with Holmes? Here was an ex-military man who revelled in danger just as his partner basked in problems of logic. He didn't flinch when the mission became dangerous, and even refused to leave when Holmes tried to send him away when assassins where tracking them down.

Burglar Buddy

In several occasions Holmes used Watson as a co-burglar. In one case Watson objects at first, fearful of the repercussions Holmes would face as his career is ended in disgrace. When that didn't happen, they both became more bold about crossing thresholds illegally to solve their case.

Cases of breaking and entering can be read in Charles Augustus Milverton, Disappearance of Lady Francis Carafax, Bruce Partington Plans, Wisteria Lodge.

Second Man

Watson was Holme's assistant. He carried things, caused distractions, hunted for information and helped in numerable ways.

In the early years, Holmes also had the "Baker Street Irregulars," a group of young Arab street boys who helped him with miscellaneous tasks. In the later years, Holmes employed other adults as his assistants. But it is obvious, that Watson was the assistant he valued the highest.


Sometimes, as Holmes partner, Watson was often sent on a mission himself. This might be because Holmes was otherwise busy - with the same case or another one. It usually ended up with Watson being chastised for clues he overlooked.

Nonetheless, while Holmes did have other assistants, none had the status and certainly none were entrusted with missions as Holmes was on several occasions. (Hound of Baskervilles, Solitary Cyclist, Disappearance of Lady Francis Carafax, Sussex Vampire)

Medical Detective

Watson never identified himself as a coroner, but the combination of his medical skills, military training, and detective skills would have been an assett to Sherlock. Murder was frequently the crime they set out to solve, so Watson's skills in this department would have been beneficial.

Sounding Board

It is obvious that Holmes needed someone - and that someone was Watson - who he could discuss cases with. Too some extent it was a literary technique - Holmes giving the details to Watson as a train or carriage carried them to their destination. But in a realistic sense every detective needs to "think out loud" as they go over the details of a case to see if they have missed anything.

Uninformed Follower

This is the opposite of the sounding board mentioned above. Sometimes Holmes did not need to ponder and discuss. He had an idea that he wanted to act on and didn't want to take the time to explain it. He could count on Watson to faithfully follow his instructions, even when Watson had no idea what was happening. That is trust in action. Of course, as a literary technique it also keeps the readers in the dark until the story teller decides to elucidate the plot. Watson's role works great both ways.


Holmes was an avid reader of the all London newspapers and also kept up on crime nationally and internationally. But he couldn't read everything! In several cases, Watson knew details of a case in the newspaper before Sherlock. And a few times Sherlock assigns his pal the duty of scouring the agony columns for information. Bet at those times Watson was wishing he was back in medical practice again.

Legal Witness

In at least two cases (Crooked Man, Dying Detective) Watson was specifically employed to be a legal witness who could testify in court. While criminal court was no doubt very familiar to the two partners, we never actually see them in it inside the stories of the canon.


Both men were fairly reserved, not particularly social or out-going, but were called upon to interact with the public constantly in their respective careers.

It is probable the two found each other's company amicable. They could talk to each other when the situation demanded, but otherwise were perfectly content to be left to their own books and thoughts.

Was Their More?

In recent years, some have concluded that the two roommates were gay. For some, that seems a logical conclusion to two middle age bachelors rooming together for 20 years. After all, either could have afforded to buy a large country home once their careers became established.

Instead, they seemed to prefer the locale of Baker Street, and the cooking and cleaning of the trusted Mrs. Hudson.

And what might we think of Watson's statements about "my intimate friend?" Certainly today we would conclude that any such reference was to a romantic relationship.

Keep in mind that this WAS Victorian England. The phrase "intimate friend" was closer to "good buddy" and indicated a close friendship compared to a casual acquaintance. At the same time, Doyle's adoring fan base would likely have had a different reaction if they read that phrase the same way we would today.

Watson's marriage and his desire to see his friend in a relationship might also suggest nothing else existed between the two.

Ultimately, it is a FICTION series, and as such the men's orientation was no more or less than what their creator made them to be. Since he is not here to ask, each reader is free to draw their own conclusion.

Friends Until the End

One of my favorite stories is The Last Bow. The two former associates are briefly reunited for a final case together. While waiting for their prisoner to be picked up by the authorities, Holmes and Watson converse quietly "for the last time."

They became acquainted when they were unknown and financially struggling; now they are acclaimed and economically independent. They do not need each other. It was a friendship that outlasted everything else.

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