5. The Man with the Watches & The Lost Special

Illustration by Manuel Orazi in Du mystérieux au tragique (1911)

5. The Story of the Man with the Watches & The Story of the Lost Special (1898)

The Man with the Watches and The Lost Special are short stories written by Conan Doyle in 1898 for his Round The Fire series. They are often considered part of the apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes as they feature anonymous correspondence from an unnamed amateur reasoner of note…

The episode can be heard here: http://doingsofdoyle.podbean.com/.

Writing and publication history
  • Written in 1898 when Conan Doyle needed funds to complete Undershaw, his private family home in Surrey.
  • ACD originally considered producing a Sherlock Holmes play. This did not immediately come to pass and was originally picked up and heavily rewritten by the American actor, William Gillette.
  • ACD wrote the 12 Round the Fire stories between 13th March and 5th October 1898, completely 76,000 words in seven months. Watches was completed on 25th March and Special on 1st May.
  • The Round the Fire Stories were serialised in The Strand Magazine from June 1898. Watches was the second story (July 1898) and Special was the third (Aug 1898).
  • The stories were reproduced in Round the Fire Stories in 1908 (London: Smith, Elder & Co).

The Story of the Man with the Watches


Illustrations by Frank Craig in The Strand Magazine (1898)
It is a foul, rainy day in London in March 1892, and two figures are seen hurrying to catch the five o’clock express from Euston Station to Manchester. One is a tall man in his fifties, whose features are hidden by the upturned Astrakhan collar of his overcoat. His companion is a tall young lady, her face obscured by a veil. They refuse a smoking compartment whose lone occupant, a bearded middle-aged man, is clearly affected by their sudden appearance. He tries to speak, but his words are lost in the noise of the departing train. It stops briefly at Willesden at 5:12pm, and then again at Rugby at 6:50pm where the open door of a first-class carriage attracts notice. The three passengers have now vanished, and in their carriage is the body of a young man who has been shot through the heart. There is no clue to his identity but, oddly, he is in possession of six valuable gold watches, all of American manufacture…

Story points


The Lost Special


Illustration by Max Cowper in The Strand Magazine (August 1898)
On urgent business to Europe from Central America in June 1890, Monsieur Louis Caratal and a companion, Eduardo Gomez, have no time to wait for the next London express from Liverpool to London. It is imperative that they must be in Paris as soon as possible, so they contract a special train which leaves Liverpool at 4:31pm. It is last heard of passing Kenyon Junction at 5:20pm, and then disappears with its passengers and crew. With time, the body of the driver is found by the line. Then, a month later, a letter arrives from New York, apparently written by the guard to his wife. Then nothing. The mystery deepens rather than clears, until, eight years later, the confession of a notorious French criminal, Herbert de Lernac, appears to throw light on the case and offer a solution…

Story points


Sherlockian connections

Next time on the Doings of Doyle…

The Case of Lady Sannox (1894), ACD’s gothic masterpiece, originally part of the Round the Red Lamp series. Read it here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Case_of_Lady_Sannox


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Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.

Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons:  By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


  1. You probably don't know the TV serial "Lost" was named for "The Lost Special", and partly based on it, its radio and film adaptations, and "The Man With the Watches". "Lost" seems to have been my friend Damon Lindelof's way of telling Alan Moore that he'd noticed the latter's allusions to "The Lost Special" in "Watchmen", by "Lost"'s alluding to both.

  2. Thanks for the real-world political background of "The Lost Special", but I was disappointed at your omission of the PHYSICAL background: the disappearance of Engine 115 on September 22, 1892 into a sinkhole in Lindal-in-Furness. These details too were worked into "Lost".

    1. Ah yes. We overlooked that one. Good observation.

  3. The Old Court Radio Theater did an excellent adaptation of it which includes Holmes and Watson around 2009. It can be found here: https://archive.org/details/the-sherlock-holmes-society-of-london-presents


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