Dangerous Work: A Diary of an Arctic Adventure by A. Conan Doyle and Jon Lellenberg, JHWS “Towser”

9395313.jpgDangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure

by A. Conan Doyle and John Lellenberg, JHWS “Towser”

Published by University of Chicago Press   $23.50

Available from Amazon

In 1880 a young medical student named Arthur Conan Doyle embarked upon the “first real outstanding adventure” of his life, taking a berth as ship’s surgeon on an Arctic whaler, the Hope. The voyage took him to unknown regions, showered him with dramatic and unexpected experiences, and plunged him into dangerous work on the ice floes of the Arctic seas. He tested himself, overcame the hardships, and, as he wrote later, “came of age at 80 degrees north latitude.”

Conan Doyle’s time in the Arctic provided powerful fuel for his growing ambitions as a writer. With a ghost story set in the Arctic wastes that he wrote shortly after his return, he established himself as a promising young writer. A subsequent magazine article laying out possible routes to the North Pole won him the respect of Arctic explorers. And he would call upon his shipboard experiences many times in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who was introduced in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet.


A twenty year old medical student hired as a ship’s surgeon would become the author of the inimitable super-sleuth probably because in small part of this high adventure discourse.

The glamour of the Arctic as expounded by Conan Doyle is a dazzling account. He writes, “amid all the excitement-and no one who has not held an oar in such a scene can tell how exciting it is-one’s sympathies lie with the poor hunted creature.” One should remember the time when Arthur Conan Doyle set sail on this adventure. The raison d’etre of the six month voyage being the culling of whales foremost (as it turned out only two were made redundant) in other words it was a disaster in commercial terms. Also, unfortunately seals, polar bears, narwhals and seabirds were killed too! Terrible for the environment (thinking today) but, accepted then.

A magazine article suggesting routes to the North Pole gave him the respect of Arctic explorers.

This current publication is unbelievably fine!

-Dag Stomberg, St. Andrews, Scotland

I bought this as a Christmas gift for a smart, engaging 15 year old whose ambition is to become an Arctic scientist and whose favorite author is Conan Doyle. But I cheated and read it through before I wrapped it. It’s a beautiful edition at a more than reasonable price, and it’s a rollicking read, as well, as you would expect from even the youthful Conan Doyle–even then a close observer of the world around him and the people who populate it. The recipient was suitably wowed, just as I was.

-Pat in Colorado

As a devout Sherlockian and a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle in general, I was thrilled with this book. FIrst, it shows printed graphics of Doyle’s sea diaries so you can see the wonderful originals. But the total text is also in 21st century print. The editors include comentary very pertinent to understanding how a 20 year old medical student became the man the world knew. I have been fortunate to have seen Dan Stashower give a presentation on the book. A must present for any Arthur Conan Doyle fan.

-Holmesnut, (and JHWS member)

Having been a fan of Conan Doyle most of my life, I thought I had seen all of his writings. What a surprise to see something completely new and completely riveting! I was absolutely delighted.

-Elizabeth (and JHWS member)