In 1993 Bradley E. Schaefer, Phd, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at LSU, wrote a study entitled Sherlock Holmes and some astronomical connections. This work is available to us on a Harvard Univ. website. The article was published in the “Journal of the British Astronomical Association” [ 103, 1, 1993]. and it there recites as “Provided by the NASA Astrophysics Data System.”
Dr. Schaefer’s remarkable work displays an intimate knowledge of the stories and of all things Sherlockian. It contains excellent detailed summaries of Holmes and Watson and descriptive detail on Moriarty in the days before he turned to crime.
After introductory passages that should please any Sherlockian, Professor Schaefer carries us from fiction to fact. He undertakes his own sleuthing to identify the astronomer/mathematician who served as Conan Doyle’a model for the persona of James Moriarty (“the most dangerous man in London”).
Simon Newcomb was an American astronomer/mathematician who specialized in celestial mechanics in the late 1800’s. He was a professor at John Hopkins University, but his major work was at the US Naval Observatory, where he was Director of the Nautical Almanac Office. Schaefer records that Newcomb’s equations furnished the basis for the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac (well-known to those of us who were in the Navy before the advent of computers).
At age 19, Newcomb had written a research paper –A New Development of the Binomial Theorem. Newcomb’s first published paper was On a Method of Dynamics. In the 1860’s he issued several reports on “dynamics of a single asteroid.” Dr. Schaefer presents a most convincing argument that Professor Simon Newcomb was Doyle’s model for Prof. James Moriarty’s great scientific and mathematical intellect and his accomplishments before he turned to crime.
Dr. Schaefer reminds us that Moriarty, like Newcomb, was an astronomer and mathematical genius of the highest order, and had served as a professor at a small university.
"There the similarity ends. Moriarty was de-frocked, and Newcomb went on to greatness. He received professional honors to many to mention, including the gold medal of the Royal Astronomy Association. Further, Newcomb received honorary degrees from 17 universities and was the most honored astronomer of his time.]
Dr. Schaefer’s investigation did not stop there. (We all know what Holmes thought of circumstantial evidence.)
There is no known evidence that Conan Doyle and Simon Newcomb knew each other or ever met. But the Newcomb/Moriarty similarities are too great to be coincidence. Dr. Schaefer presents a compelling case that the link between Newcomb and Conan Doyle was Col. Alfred Drayson, a British professional military officer.
Col. Drayson, After serving overseas (Kafir War, 1847 & Boar War 1848), was appointed to serve as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy. He worked part time at the Greenwich Observatory (1858) and was elected to the Royal Astronomical Society (1868). In 1875 Col. Drayson published Variation in the Obliquity of the Ecliptic.
Dr. Schaefer’s outstanding research reveals that Professor Newcomb made four visits from the United States to Greenwich while Col. Drayson was working there. The probability approaches certainty that Newcomb and Drayson had conversations about the higher reaches of the mathematics of astronomy. Also, of interest, both men had a deep interest in spiritualism.
Again, Dr. Schaefer’s investigation went deeper. The spotlight of historical truth is now trained upon the fact that Col. Drayson was a patient of Dr. Doyle.
Now, permit me to let Bradley E. Schaefer, Phd, astronomer and astrophysicist, tell you in his own words:
“Their acquaintance was made while Drayson was a patient of Dr. Doyle. Their friendship blossomed when Doyle was initiated into the mysteries of spiritualism through séances held at Drayson’s home. The friends met frequently, went on vacation together, belonged to some of the same learned societies and Doyle even dedicated a book to Drayson. The two men had many deep conversations that impressed Doyle enough that he would recount them in detail 30 years later. It was during these conversations that Doyle first heard of Professor Newcomb. ”
I don’t know about you, but as far as I am concerned I’d say - “Q.E.D.”
For those who want to see it, the article is available at- http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1993JBAA..103...30S
For those who want to know more about Dr. Schaefer, and believe me it’s impressive see: http://www.phys.lsu.edu/newwebsite/people/schaefer.html
(with permission from the ever-loyal and long-suffering, but patient, Mrs. Baynes)
(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)