Doyle the Sportsman
Sports as a Child
Arthur Conan Doyle was educated at
a Jesuit boarding school. His outspoken nature and
intellectual curiosity did not make him popular with his teachers.
This part of Conan Doyle's life was difficult, but was made more
bearable by the sporting events at school. Conan Doyle was a
natural athlete and took part in cricket, football (also known as
soccer in the United States), hockey,
swimming, and rugby.
The Jesuit school, Stonyhurst, also had
some sporting games of its own invention. "Trap" was a game like
tag. "Cat" was a game somewhat like softball.
Conan Doyle was a doctor before he
became a writer. In 1880 he served as a
ship's surgeon on a whaling vessel. One of the items that Conan Doyle brought
along on the voyage was a set of boxing gloves. Jack Lamb, the ship's
steward, noticed the gloves as Conan Doyle was stowing his gear.
Lamb immediately challenged Conan Doyle to a boxing bout. After
the match was finished Lamb was quoted as saying, "So help me, he's
the best surgeon we've had! He's blackened my e'e!"
Conan Doyle truly believed that
boxing was a "manly art." It plays a strong part in some of
his short stories including The Croxley Master, The Lord
of Falconbridge and The Bully of Brocas Court.
He might fail from want of skill
or strength, but deep in his somber soul he vowed that it should
never be from want of heart. - The Croxley Master
Networking though Sports
In 1882 he set up practice in Portsmouth.
He was new to the area and finding new patients was difficult.
Economics demanded that he find new patients and soon! He began a
program of socializing that was designed to provide him with contacts,
patients and associates. In other words, Conan Doyle began to
network. As he states in his semi-autobiographical novel
The Stark Monroe Letters:
Above all, I learned a fact which I
would whisper in the ear of every other man who starts, as I have
done, a stranger among strangers. Do not think that practice
will come to you. You must go to it. You may sit upon your
consulting room chair until it breaks under you, but without purchase
or partnership you will make little or no progress. The way to
do it is to go out, to mix everywhere with men, to let them know you.
Conan Doyle joined many types of clubs
and organizations including sporting clubs. He joined the Southsea
Bowling Club, the Portsmouth Cricket Club and helped organize the
Portsmouth Football Club.
When Conan Doyle
and his first wife, Louise, moved to Switzerland in 1893
skiing was virtually unknown in the
region. Conan Doyle had seen skiing in Norway and decided that
Switzerland would be a perfect place for the sport. Although
he was a natural athlete, learning to ski was not an easy task. Conan Doyle would later say, "On any man suffering from too much
dignity, a course of skis would have a fine moral effect."
Conan Doyle predicted, "the time will come when hundreds of
Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season." Due
in part to his popularization of the sport, Conan Doyle was right.
Conan Doyle was one of the earliest
motorists in Britain. He was so taken with this new
invention that he apparently bought an automobile without ever having driven
one before. The first time he ever drove a car was when he
his car home from the dealer—275 kilometers away from the Conan Doyle
In 1911 Conan Doyle took part in
the International Road Competition organized by Prince Henry of
Prussia. Known as the Prince
Henry Tour, this contest was designed to pit the
quality of British automobiles against German automobiles.
The route took the participants from Hamburg, Germany to
London. Conan Doyle teamed with his second wife, Jean, as one
of the British driving teams.
In 1914 Conan Doyle visited the
United States for the second time. While he was in New
York City he attended a baseball game between the New York
Yankees and the Philadelphia Athletics. Conan Doyle enjoyed the
game very much. However he did have a few concerns about
professional sports. He stated, "the largest purse has the
best team," and " there is no necessary relation between the
player and the place he plays for."
Conan Doyle golfed whenever he
could. As a world traveler this enabled him to play under
many, and sometimes adverse, conditions.
In Switzerland the cows were hard
on his self-made golf course. They knocked down his flags.
As if that wasn't enough, they would also eat the flags.
On Conan Doyle's first American
tour in 1894 Rudyard Kipling invited him to spend a few days in
Vermont. During his stay Conan Doyle was able to find some
golf clubs and gave Kipling a few pointers. Conan
Doyle said they played golf, "while the New England rustics
watched us from afar, wondering what on earth we were at."
In a trip to Egypt in 1895 Conan
Doyle played golf at a course near his hotel. He stated
that, "if you sliced your ball, you might find it bunkered in
the grave of some Rameses or Thothmis of old."
He was Captain of the
Crowborough Beacon Golf
Club in 1910 and his wife was Lady Captain the following year.
Conan Doyle's childhood love of
cricket carried though to his adulthood. He even played on a
celebrity cricket team comprised of fellow authors and people from
the theatre. Teammates included James M. Barrie (Peter Pan)
and A.E.W. Mason (The Four Feathers). The team
was called the Allah-Akabarries. This was a combination of
Barrie's last name and an Arabic phrase meaning, "May the Lord
Conan Doyle said this about sports,
"To give and to take, to accept success modestly and defeat
bravely, to fight against odds, to stick to one's point, to give
credit to your enemy and value your friend - these are some of the
lessons which true sport should impart."