The following are my thoughts after reading a thorough and convincing Sherlock Holmes time line available online via it’s author, Brad Keefauver at Sherlock Peoria.net. Mr. Keefauver has done a sterling job researching, studying and applying solid deductive reasoning that I can stand by. But, why, I hear you ask, do I want to know how old Sherlock Holmes was? Why do I want to know what order (and what year) his cases took place? Because, quite simply, the order of his cases seems at a glance to be straight forward, but in actuality the order is a confusing puzzle missing many important pieces and some that don’t seem to fit at all!
Any devoted Sherlokian knows the basic outline of the events in Holmes’ life. He was active as a detective assisting Scotland Yard throughout the 1880s and 1890s together with his crime-fighting partner, Dr. Watson. Somewhere along the line Holmes defeated his greatest enemy, Professor Moriarty and the two were thought to have perished in the process. Then, after a couple of years absence, Holmes returned to London and took on new cases. He retired and was then called back into action for his final adventure to serve his country with the start of World War I. So, if his last thrilling adventure was after his retirement, how old was he exactly? The game is afoot!
If Holmes retired in 1903 to become a beekeeper and live in Sussex Downs, how old was he? The Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 was designed for persons over the age of 70, which tells us what the expectation for a retirement age was in Britain at the time. Sir John Tenniel retired in 1901 when he was 81 years old (he died aged 94 in 1914), yet he clearly retired late in life. It is unlikely that Holmes was anywhere near as old, primarily due to his coming out of retirement to handle the case of the Lion’s Mane in 1907, and again in 1912 prior to His Last Bow in which he spent two years undercover in Chicago and completed the case in 1914. The nature of the case and his activities posing as an Irish thug indicate the need for vitality and strength which suggest Holmes could not have been convincing at any older than his 50s. It is hard to believe that he could have retired in his 30s, brilliant detective though he was. So, retiring extremely early in his 40s seems more acceptable.
If we assume that Holmes was in his mid fifties, let’s say 55 years old by the time of his last canonical appearance in 1914 (His Last Bow), then that would have made him 44 years old at the time of his retirement in 1903. Going back further to his peak in 1891 (before his supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls) he would have been 32 years old. This also indicates that he began his career in 1881 at just 22 years old, fresh out of university. This would make his birth year 1859, right between the Crimean and American Civil War.
So why did Holmes retire so early? After ten years of cases and rising fame, Holmes went up against his most worthy adversary, the brilliant Professor Moriarty. Holmes acknowledged that ridding the world of a criminal so powerful and dangerous would make any further cases trivial in comparison. Holmes nearly dies as a result of this adventure and vanishes for almost three years, believed dead by most, including Watson. The truth of his deception, to protect Watson and himself, is revealed at last when Holmes returns to London to investigate a high profile murder (again, I’m going by Mr. Keefauver’s time line). Holmes spends the rest of the decade continuing to solve mysteries before finally tiring of the “game” and developing new interests.
I believe Holmes genuinely became bored after hitting his peak with the destruction of Moriarty’s criminal empire and the affects of his travels and absence from England caused his outlook and direction to shift. By 1903, at just 44 years old, this exceptional man officially retires from his work as a detective and makes a new life for himself in the country as a beekeeper.
Why did I spend a blog on this? Elementary my dear readers!