A story in the Telegraph of London suggests Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the character of Sherlock Holmes on that of Mancunian detective Jerome Caminada. Author Angela Buckley’s new biography of Caminada does have many traits in common with Holmes.
According to the Telegraph article:
As the fictional character relied on an network of underworld contacts – the Baker Street Irregulars – so Caminada was known for his extensive web of informers, whom he would often meet in the back pew of a church.
These characters helped him build up an encyclopedic knowledge of the criminal fraternity, among whom he would often move in disguise – another tactic in common with Holmes, who is played, in his most recent reincarnation, by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Dubbed the ‘terror to evil doers’ and, later ‘the Garibaldi of Detectives’, he was reputed to be able to spot a thief by the way he walked – apparently as a result of visits he undertook to prisons, to watch inmates walking around the yard to familiarise himself with their appearance and gait.
Sherlockians, of course, know that Doyle really based Holmes on his Edinburgh professor Joseph Bell, and many have observed similarities between Holmes’ nemesis Moriarity and real-life criminal Adam Worth (who actually called himself “the Napoleon of crime”). And there are also similarities between Holmes and the exploits of criminal turned detective Eugène François Vidocq (primarily his penchant for disguise). You can also see the literary ancestors of Holmes in Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq.
In fact there are so many suspects in the “was there a real life basis for Sherlock Holmes game” that I think it pointless to identify a single person, but I admit you’re going to sell a lot more books titled The Real Sherlock Holmes than just using the subtitle of The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada.
Nevertheless, this sounds like an interesting story, even if I question whether Doyle would have based Holmes on the adventures of a detective in Manchester. I especially like “The Mystery of the Four-Wheeled Cab.” The book will be published in May.