He was born in Scotland, the eldest of nine children, of an Irish mother and an English father who suffered from alcoholism and psychiatric problems for most of his life. His mother’s affluent Irish family sponsored Arthur’s education. He entered the field of medicine but began writing in his college years. He cited his mother’s ability to tell her children exciting stories as being responsible for his literary career. He wrote not only the Holmes mysteries, but also fantasy, science fiction and romance. His adventurous spirit took him on excursions to the Arctic, to Africa and to a world of travels. He tried his hand at hot air balloons, fast cars and airplanes.
When treating Jack Hawkins for meningitis, he invited the young man and his sister Louise to live with him after they were evicted. Jack died but Arthur fell in love with the “gentle and amiable” Louisa and they were married in 1885. They had a daughter Mary and a son Kingsley. Louisa contracted tuberculosis in 1893 and was given only a few months to live. Arthur tried moves to Switzerland and to Egypt for her health. Finally they settled in Surrey where the air was said to be beneficial for TB sufferers. Their relationship changed from that of husband and wife to doctor and patient but instead of a few months, Louisa lived for twelve more years under the care of her husband.
It was in 1897 during Louisa’s illness that Arthur met Jean Leckie, a beautiful young woman with musical talents who was also an excellent horsewoman and an intellectual. Reportedly they fell in love instantly. Family records insist the relationship remained platonic as Arthur still cared for Louisa and didn’t want to hurt her or betray her. Arthur’s family met her during these years and his mother accepted Jean as a friend. Reports from some of Louisa’s family hold that Jean was a home-wrecker and deliberately pursued Arthur, pushing his first family out of the way. We may never know what happened during those years, but in 1906 Louisa died of TB and the following year Arthur and Jean married. Arthur said of Louisa during this time, “She is as dear to me as ever but, as I said, there is a large side of my life which was unoccupied which is no longer so.”
Arthur doted on Jean for the rest of his life. When he was on book tours away from home, he sent her loving letters, sometimes twice a day. When he was on an American tour at age 64 he wrote with the fervour of a young lover, “Don’t forget, my heart’s darling, that you are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” and “Goodbye, my sweet one, I hunger for your kiss.”
During the 1920’s Arthur became interested in spiritualism, and became friends with Harry Houdini, but his acceptance of all things supernatural, including a set of hoaxed pictures of ‘fairies’, seems very naive to us now. Jean appears to have gone along with spiritualism, but balked at accepting some of the more outrageous beliefs; perhaps her interest was only to support her husband.
Arthur died following a heart attack in 1930. His last words were to Jean, “you are wonderful.” She lived for another ten years and after her death they were buried together in a churchyard in New Forest.