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Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh. He was one of nine Doyle children and the eldest son. His father, Charles Doyle, was a London-born clerk employed by the Office of Works. His mother, Mary, had emigrated to Scotland from Ireland with her mother and sister, and claimed a distinguished family history. His paternal grandfather, John – also Irish – was a successful cartoonist and painter known by the pseudonym HB.
As a result of the turmoil at home caused by his father’s alcoholism, Conan Doyle lived for a time with his mother’s friend, Mary Burton at Liberton Bank in Edinburgh. She was the sister of the Scottish historian and political economist, John Hill Burton, who encouraged the future author’s interest in history. His mother had already instilled in him a love of reading and of ancestry. When Conan Doyle rejoined his family they had moved to a tenement flat at 3 Sciennes Hill Place.
In 1868, dissatisfied with the education he was receiving at Newington Academy in Edinburgh, Mary persuaded Charles’ more prosperous brothers to pay for Conan Doyle to attend Hodder, a Jesuit preparatory school in Lancashire. He transferred to its upper school, Stonyhurst College, two years later. While at school he developed his talent as a story-teller and was also a keen sportsman (in later life he continued to play cricket, rugby, football and golf, and was a cross-country skier). Among his favourite authors at this time were Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper and Jules Verne.
In 1875, Conan Doyle was sent to Feldkirch in Austria – another Jesuit school – before taking up a place at the University of Edinburgh the following year to study medicine. While still a student, he submitted the story ‘The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe’ to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, but it was rejected. He had more luck with ‘The Mystery of Sasassa Valley’, which was published in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. He received a payment of three guineas. That same year his first work of non-fiction, ‘Gelseminium as a Poison’, was published in the British Medical Journal.
Conan Doyle took a break from his studies in 1880 when he signed on as a surgeon for a voyage to the Arctic on the whaling ship Hope. He returned to Edinburgh to graduate as Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1881. In October that year he joined the steamer Mayumba as the ship’s medical officer. This voyage took him out to Sierra Leone and Liberia. He returned home in January 1882.
By the summer, Conan Doyle had moved to Plymouth to join Dr George Budd, a fellow Edinburgh graduate, in general practice. The unpredictable Budd proved to be an unscrupulous business partner and Conan Doyle soon left for Southsea, Portsmouth where he eventually built up a more successful practice of his own (he gave a fictionalised account of his Plymouth experience in The Stark Munro Letters, published in 1895).
Throughout this period, he continued to write and among his early short stories were two inspired by his maritime adventures: ‘The Captain of the Pole-Star’, a ghost story set on a whaler, and ‘J Habakuk Jephson’s Statement’, a version of the Mary Celeste mystery. Around this time he also began writing a novel, The Firm of Girdlestone. This was eventually published in 1890. The previous year the historical romance, Micah Clarke, became his first full-length novel to get into print.
Conan Doyle completed his studies and graduated as an MD from the University of Edinburgh in 1885. On 6 August that year he married Louise Hawkins who was the sister of one of his Southsea patients. Conan Doyle had already developed an interest in mediums by this time and through his wife, he mixed socially with people who took part in séances. The world of spiritualism would become increasingly important to him and was one he would try to reconcile with the world of science.