The Sign of the Four


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(1890)



Doyle's second novel featuring Sherlock Holmes.



The story is set in 1888. It has a complex plot involving service in the East India Company, India, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a stolen treasure, and a secret pact among four convicts ("the Four" of the title) and two corrupt prison guards. It presents the detective's drug habit and humanizes him in a way that had not been done in the preceding novel A Study in Scarlet (1887). It also introduces Doctor Watson's future wife, Mary Morstan.






When an Englishwoman receives mysterious gifts of pearls and a letter promising to right wrongs done to her, she calls upon Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to investigate. Of all Sherlock Holmes stories, I personally think this is the most scariest and horrifying tale. Believe me, when I first read this novel it gripped me to read the whole story non-stop without letting me put it down. And all the time, throughout the story, it had been sending a chill and wave of horror along my spine. A young lady, Miss Mary Morstan, comes to consult Holmes upon a case which she thinks very unusual. Then ... This story shares a part in Indian historical backdrop, Sepoy mutiny 1857, Cellular jail in Andaman Island, and so on; having presented lots of exotic feeling of east Indian mysteries and adventure. Dr. Watson, the chronicler of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, found his beloved one. So this story has also a romantic touch, though has always been overshadowed by the thrill.--Submitted by Kris Das


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Recent Forum Posts on The Sign of the Four

'Sign of Four' versus 'Sign of the Four'

The text is called "The Sign of Four' however the references to this group in the text all call it "The Sign of the Four". Wanted to point this out because the main article on this text on the site is mis-named "The Sign of the Four", an easy mistake to make!


sentimentality

Don't you love it when something happens during your day that makes you think of a book? A while ago, I was making up my bed and I found a thorn, of all things, in it. My mind reverted, "with a pretty touch of sentimentality" to the Sign of Four. I almost felt that I shouldn't touch the tip, but I did. and nothing happened. I'm still here. :)


Questions: The Sign of Four

i have a few questions. these are: 1) in "The Sign of Four", watson said, "I made no remark, however, but sat nursing my wounded leg. I had a Jezail bullet through it some time before, and, though it did not prevent me from walking, it ached wearily at every change of the weather." however, in "A Study in Scarlet", watson is said to be wounded by the bullet in the shoulder. where was the wound? shoulder? or leg? 2) Mary showed Holmes the letter she received from someone she didnt know. according to the postmark, the date was july 7. that very evening, Watson said, "It was a September evening, and not yet seven o'clock, but the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city." July or september? 3) in chapter 9 (a break in the chain), holmes said, "I have set other agencies at work and used every means at my disposal. The whole river has been searched on either side, but there is no news, nor has Mrs. Smith heard of her husband." what other agency did he set at work? 4)the 3 Sikh men are Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan and Dost Akbar. but all Sikh people have Singh as their last name. besides, Khan and Akbar are Muslim names, not Sikh names.


Sherlock Holmes





The (very) Strange Case of J. Small by Rod Baser
The Problem —J. Small ( by his own admission ) a rogue , thief and murderer has given an account , largely uncorroborated , which Sherlock Holmes -who knew it to be false - seemingly accepts.

. The Mutiny (background as applicable to Small)
· Agra
· The Andamans
· The Natives
· Tonga's Identity
· Morstan & Sholto
· Summary

The Mutiny — After months of grumbling and sporadic outbreaks of arson and disobedience the Mutiny began in earnest with the uprising of the Meerut garrison 70 km. N.West of Delhi on the 10th- of May 1857 spreading to other parts of India. Mark Thornhill was the magistrate in charge at Muttra and he has left us his own account of the events that took place there. After three weeks of trying to defend his position against impossible odds ,his troops on the point of mutiny, his position untenable, accompanied his chief clerk Joyce he took horse and made for Agra which was the H.Q. for the North West district. Travelling by night and hiding by day Thornhill arrived at the Agra fort in the middle of a rainstorm only to be told, by a sleepy sentry, that it was against "Standing Orders" to admit anyone after dark. It was fortunate that his brother was a serving officer at H.Q. and so he managed to persuade the guard to summon his brother who promptly recognised him and who arranged to have him admitted by the South Gate.*(1)

Agra Fort —The fort begun by the Emperor Akbar in 1565 had by the time of the mutiny become a city within a city;" but" and it is a very big "but" it was still principally designed as a military structure. The auricular fort's colossal double walls rise over 20 mts. in height and measure 2.5 km. in circumference. They are encircled by a fetid moat and access is gained by one of three gates. Amar Singh gate (south) Old Water gate (east) Delhi gate (west) Mark Thornhill comments in his diary.........it was excessively crowded, over six thousand people having taken shelter there, soldiers, civilian officials and their families, native servants, half castes, Italian monks, nuns, Swiss missionaries, American salesman, even rope dancers and acrobats from a travelling French circus.*(1)

The history of Agra during the mutiny is one of false alarms and during the "siege" they were not fired upon and for a large part of the time it was business as usual. Most of the accounts left by the Memsahibs who were present are one long complaint of inefficiency and incompetence on the part of the senior administrators a sure sign of the true situation.

Andaman Islands — Port Blair the present capital and the former H.Q. of the penal colony is situated, by sea, 780 miles from Calcutta and 740 miles from Madras. Named after Lt. Archibald Blair who founded the first colony in 1789. Although convict labour was used it was not a penal settlement but one formed along the same lines as Penang, Malacca, Singapore etc. to suppress piracy and the murder of shipwrecked crews. That the settlement failed and was subsequently abandoned in 1796 was not the fault of Blair but a decision taken by Calcutta to move the site - for strategic reasons - to the North East harbour.*(2) In September 1857 Lord Canning , the then Governor General, appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Mr F.J. Mout to look into the feasibility of establishing a penal settlement for the mutineers on the Andaman Islands. Despite the odd encounter with hostile tribes the commission gave a positive recommendation which was , in perhaps , one of the last acts of the East India Co. accepted. On the 10th. of March 1858 Dr. J.P. Walker , an experienced if harsh former superintendent of the Agra Jail, arrived at Port Blair with 4 European officials and 773 convicts *(2) or was accompanied by an Indian doctor, 50 sailors and 500 prisoners*(3) (early sources are difficult to find) and began clearing operations. A report prepared by Dr. Walker on 16th June 1858 says that out of 773 prisoners: 64 died in hospital,140 escaped presumed dead of starvation or killed by tribes, 1 suicide and 87 (shamefully) hanged for attempted escape. There must have been a steady supply of prisoners because according to Tatra by the28th. sept. 1858 out of 1,333 prisoners 169 had died of various diseases and a further 91 were seriously ill. He then goes on to state that Walker in his report of 6th.Nov.1858 to the Government of India writes of , huts four feet above the ground were ready for the 1,000 prisoners on Ross Island. It is very difficult to chart the early growth of the prison population for the earliest records were destroyed during the Japanese occupation of he Islands in W.W.W.2 *(3) It is worth quoting the earliest official figures we do have to show the growth of the settlement. The first figure is for 1874 and the figure in brackets is for the year 1881.*(2) Administrative Establishment - Civil servants 50 (45). Military 426 (336). Marine 19 (19). Police 330 (736) Total 825 (1.136) Convict Population - Male 6,733 (10,325). Female 836 (1,127)* Total 7,569. (11,452). The figure for 1874 includes 500 married couples and 578 children ,1,167 convicts had been given "ticket of leave" to work which included 367 women. In 1868 Col. Mann joined as Superintendent and introduced the Bencoolen Rules which allowed for women convicts to be brought and marriages allowed. After 10 years of good behaviour he or she may marry and become "ticket of leave" this allows them to settle in a village , farm and become self-sufficient but they are not free, have no civil rights and cannot leave the settlement.

Ross Island — lying across the entrance of Port Blair Ross Island had within 15 years become a fully developed H.Q. with.........palatial houses, Church, clubs, playground for cricket, tennis, golf, swimming pools and other facilities. It was at this time the decision was taken to form the Andamans and the Nicobars ( the latter acquired amicably from Denmark in 1869) into a Chief Commissionership - until this time the Andamans had been administered by the superintendent of moulemein.

ASSASSINATION of the VICEROY On feb.8th. 1872 an event occurred that made the name of the Andamans infamous throughout the Empire. Richard Southwell Bourke, who as the 6th. Earl of Mayo was sworn in as Viceroy and Governor General of India was on a visit to the Andamns to inaugurate its status as a Commissionership when he was assassinated. He had been visiting Mt.Harriet and delaying his return so as to witness the stunning sunset he dismissed his companions saying he would return to Hope town alone. Walking home he was attacked and stabbed by a Pathan barber named Sher Khan.*(2) & (3)

Andaman Tribals— of the original 12 tribes it was the Andamanese who were the most numerous , estimates vary between 3,000 & 5,000 , and were living in the Port Blair area. After an initial resistance the Andamanese , being inexperienced fighters and armed only with primitive weapons , were quickly pacified. An inquiry into the physical characteristics of the Andamanese, the results of which , occupy fifteen manuscript volumes in the libraries of the India Office, Home Department in Calcutta and the British Museum give the following general characteristics. The two most relevant being - average height & weight.-Men are 58.5" tall with an average weight of 96lbs 10oz and women 54" tall and weighing 87lbs. "The skin is smooth, greasy, satiny and sheeny black. The hair is sooty black to yellowish brown. It grows in small rings and, though really distributed evenly over the head, appears to take the form of tufts. The mouth is large, the palate hard and slightly arched, and the lips well formed. The hands and feet are small and well made The ears are small and well shaped. The eyes are dark to very dark brown, bright, liquid and clear but prominent. The teeth are white, good ,and free from disease"*(2) They are described....... "as being unadventurous seamen never going out of sight of land, never having been to the Cocos 30 miles away nor had they any knowledge of the existence of the Nicobars before the arrival of the British".*(ibid) Three years after occupation F.J.Mout the former chairman of the commission to decide the suitability of the Andamans as a penal colony undertook extensive travels around the region. He describes in his book* (4) ( published London 1863 ) how he obtained a supply of spears and arrows to ascertain the nature and effectiveness of the poison used. Conducting a pretty gruesome experiment, scratching pigs and chickens with the weapons, he was able to show that the reports of poisoned weapons were false; furthermore there is no tradition of Blow Pipe use - poisoned or not. The charges of cannibalism which had been current since at least the 13th.cent. were also shown to be unfounded.

This is all that we can readily verify about the background to Small's story so now we have to speculate - -

Tonga's Identity — if we accept that Small was on the Andaman Islands then how does Tonga fit into the picture. The answer might be found in the Nicobars.

Nicobars —In 1756 the Danish East India Company took possession of the Islands with a view to colonisation. This colony had failed miserably by 1759, and a pattern of colonisation/failure followed which lasted until the Danes , in 1848, relinquished sovereignty and finally removed all remains of their settlement. Some interest was shown by the Austrians in 1858 and the Prussians in 1867 but in 1869 the British Government , after an amicable negotiation with the Danish Government, took formal possession. Despite the nominal occupation of the Nicobars by Europeans for so long Nancowry Harbour was a base for piracy and remained so until 1868. It was in this year that the British Navy sailed into Nancowry Harbour destroying ships, suspected of as well as those, engaged in piracy and razed the Town to the ground. The pirates were made up of many nationalities but were predominantly Malay & Indonesian. The Nicabarese are described........the forehead is well formed, the lips are normal and the ears of medium size.......the complexion is yellowish or reddish brown.....the legs are extraordinarily developed and the foot is long.!.......the average height for men is 63 3/4" and for women 60". Like the Andamanese they have no use of poisoned weapons nor do they have any history of Cannibalism.*(2) Among the many peoples who make up the Malay and Indonesian archipelago - this was a time when James Brooke, later the White Rajah of Sarawak, was fighting pirates throughout S.E.Asia - were the Dyaks and Ibans. Both these tribes are small, expert boatmen and use Blowpipes with Poisoned Darts. Furthermore , although these natives are not cannibals , they are fearsome "Headhunters". That one of these pirates found himself stranded on the Andamans is quite possible. Two remarks by Small may give a clue to this. First he says Tonga would not go back to his own village perhaps that was because he was not an Andamaner. Secondly they were picked up by a boat carrying Malay Pilgrims? (or Pirates ?) who asked no questions but Tonga's skill in the Malay language would be useful.

Morstan & Sholto — of this pair little is known other than what Small tells us. Their children like many of their class at this period were brought up in England only knowing their parents through letters and occasional visits home. The elder of the two Sholto boys knew more according to his brother but that knowledge died with him and even with Small putting a gloss on the story the two officers behaviour is less than gentlemanly.

Summary — The background to Small's story , allowing for a certain amount of dramatic license , has a ring of truth about it; enough to be accepted by Watson & Lestrade. Where it falls down are in the following .1- The description of the fort ( to anyone who has seen it ) and his part played in its defence.2- In the aftermath of the Mutiny - at a time when fortunes were being made from looting and the most vicious reprisals taking place against the Indians - Small asks us to believe that the Authorities either Civil or Military would concern themselves over the fate of a lowly unconnected Indian and bring capital charges against four soldiers of presumed good character on the flimsiest of evidence.3- His description of the Andamans applied for only the first few months because a thriving colony was soon established as can be shown by the Viceroys decision to walk back to Hope Town (which no longer exists ) unaccompanied.4- Finally what are we to make of Holmes's seeming agreement with the account The assassination of the Viceroy had taken place in 1872 so no matter what the dating of the SIGN - Holmes would be aware of it. Indeed! what are we to make of his almanac , just published , which makes no mention of this fact. "We pay the price of being up too up to date Watson "....."These are deep waters indeed"

Sources.
· Hibbert Christopher - The Great Mutiny - India 1857 (Thornhill Mark. - Personal Adventures and Experiences of a Magistrate during the Rise, Progress and Suppression of the Indian Mutiny)
· Imperial Gazetteer of India - Provincial Series- Andaman and Nicobar Islands (1909)
· Tamta.B.R. - Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
· Mout. F.J. - Adventures and researches among the Andaman Islands. (London 1863) I have used the British Indian place names throughout rather than the Indian ones in the interests of clarity eg. Madras and not Chennai.


Great book

If you read other works by Doyle, than you must read this book.


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