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 and 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.

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.

Second Man

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.

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.


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. No longer is Watson the underling-detective. They are friends and equals.

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Sherlock Holmes Pages

A catalog of our pages on Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study Sherlock Holmes Unit Study
Our 183 Page Unit Study
of 8 popular stories
Adventure of the Speckled Band Speckled Band
Analyze the compelling mystery of the dangerous whistle in the night in this famous who-dunn-it.
Silver Blaze
Your investigation will uncover the who, the where, and the why of a murdered man and the missing horse.
The Red Headed League Red Headed League
Evaluate how Doyle turned a silly-looking prank into a serious international crime.
Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb Engineers Thumb
Assess if this strange tale is one of Doyle's best - or worst - stories.
Crooked Man
Crooked Man
Analyze who the truly crooked man is in this twisted tale of love and betrayal.
in Bohemia
Scandal in Bohemia
Our analysis uncovers multiple scandals in this internataional drama of love gone wrong.
Adventure of the Dancing Men Dancing Men
Investigate the form and outcome of one of Sherlock's saddest cases.
The Final
Final Problem
An evaluation of Doyle's daring decision and the outcry that followed.
More About Sherlock Consulting Detective
Interesting tidbits about the world's only consulting detective.
More About Dr. Watson Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes
There was more to Dr. Watson's life than the readers understood at first.
List of All Short Stories List of Sherlock Holmes Short Stories
A list of the the Sherlock Holmes short stories and books they were published in.
Sherlock Holmes Quotes
Famous quotes, brilliant sayings, and intriguing insights from Sherlock and company.
Action Plot Summary Summary of Sherlock Action Plot
See how Doyle's unique action plot made Sherlock stories a permanent feature in the halls of classic lit.
Kids and

Sherlock stories for kids
What are the most appropriate Sherlock stories for kids? Check out our recommendations.

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