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Joseph Bell

Joseph Bell, JP, DL, FRCS Ed., (2 December, 1837–1911) was a Scottish lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. He was also a great-grandson of Benjamin Bell, another forensic surgeon. In his instruction, he emphasized the importance of close observation in making a diagnosis. To illustrate this, he would often pick a stranger and, by observing him, deduce his occupation and recent activities. These skills cause him to be considered a pioneer in forensic science (forensic pathology in particular) in a time when science was not often used in the investigations of crimes. He is an inspiration for the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, and in turn fictional doctor Gregory House.


Arthur Conan Doyle met Bell in 1877, and served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The character Sherlock Holmes is loosely based on Joseph Bell and his observant ways. Dr Bell was aware of this inspiration and took some pride in it.

Dr Bell also served as personal surgeon to Queen Victoria whenever she visited Scotland. During his lifetime he published several medical textbooks. Dr Bell was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Justice of the Peace, and a Deputy Lieutenant among his many honours.


The BBC television series Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes was a fictionalised account of Doyle's time as Bell's clerk, which made the degree to which Holmes was based on Dr Bell closer than it was in reality (with Doyle serving as Dr. Watson). In it, Dr Bell was played by Ian Richardson. (The first show in the series was released on DVD and VHS in the US in 2003, titled Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle - The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes; ASIN: B00009WVM1.)

In July 2005, Stone Publishing House published a book aimed at schoolchildren titled Dr Joseph Bell — the original Sherlock Holmes. Illustrated by Cheryl Ives, it was written by Kent historian Dr Robert Hume, who had previously authored books about Christopher Columbus and Perkin Warbeck.

In the Doctor Who episode "Tooth and Claw", the time travelling adventurer known as the Doctor identifies himself as an ex-student of Dr Bell to Queen Victoria.

The comic book Les dossiers du Professeur Bell by Joann Sfar is about the (fictional) supernatural adventures of Dr. Bell.

Resting place

Joseph Bell rests at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh alongside his wife, Edith Katherine Erskine Murray, their son Benjamin and next to his father and brother's plots.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Joseph_Bell". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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