of the Baskervilles and The War in South Africa: Its Causes
and Conduct were both written in the early 1900's. The first is
one of the most well known Sherlock Holmes stories. The second, while
virtually unknown today, is the reason that Arthur Conan Doyle was
The Boer War, also known as the South African War, broke out in 1899.
The governments of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State
banded together against Great Britain. The issue of contention was
control of the area's mining and farming resources.
The Boers, European settlers of mainly Dutch ancestry, had superior
equipment and tactics. The British had enormously superior numbers. The
difference in manpower was so great that Great Britain expected the war
to be a short and relatively easy one. They were wrong. The war lasted
from 1899 to 1902 and many lives were lost.
During and after the war the Boers accused the British of war crimes. The British were accused of participating in
rape, torture and the establishment of concentration camps.
There was no official response from the British government against these
charges. However Conan Doyle was so concerned that he took it upon
himself to defend the actions of his countrymen. He stated, "In view of
the persistent slanders to which our politicians and our soldiers have
been equally exposed, it becomes a duty which we owe to our national honour
to lay the facts before the world."
Conan Doyle certainly was familiar with the subject of the Boer War. In 1900 he traveled
to South Africa to serve as a doctor in a medical unit treating British
troops. After his return he researched and wrote The Great Boer War.
In the 1902 publication entitled, The War in South Africa: Its Causes
and Conduct, Conan Doyle responded to all of the charges
leveled against the British. For example, he declared that the
"concentration camps" were really refugee camps that the government of
Great Britain was duty bound to create. Housing was needed for the women and
children displaced during the war. He admitted that the mortality rate
in the camps was high. However he pointed out that this was because of
disease rather than bad treatment. Many British troops died from the
same cause and so Conan Doyle reasoned that the civilians in the camps
were being treated at least as well as Great Britain treated its own
While Conan Doyle called his work a "pamphlet" it was actually around
sixty thousand words in length. Amazingly, he completed the work in only
The work was a success. It was widely read and public opinion about
Great Britain's conduct in the Boer Was softened. As a result of this
contribution to his country's welfare Conan Doyle was notified that King
Edward VII wanted to make him a knight bachelor.
Conan Doyle seriously considered refusing the offer. He did not see why
he should receive such recognition for merely doing his duty. His
mother, who loved family history and
heraldry, was horrified to learn that her son might refuse knighthood.
She wrote him and argued that he should accept the honor.
In the end Conan Doyle did decide to accept. On October 24, 1902 Arthur
Conan Doyle, because of his services to the Crown, became Sir Arthur