Henry Littlejohn

Henry Duncan Littlejohn
24 Royal Circus, Edinburgh
The grave of Henry Duncan Littlejohn, Dean Cemetery

Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn (8 May 1826 – 30 September 1914) was a Scottish surgeon, forensic scientist and public health pioneer. He is also known as an inspiration for the literary character Sherlock Holmes.


Henry Littlejohn was born in Edinburgh in 1826 to Isabella Duncan and Thomas Littlejohn, a confectioner of 33 Leith Street.[1] He began his studies at the Perth Academy, before attending the Royal High School, Edinburgh. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with distinction in 1847.[2] He was taught surgery by Alexander Monro and Robert Halliday Gunning.[3]

Littlejohn served as Edinburgh's first Medical Officer of Health (1862–1908), introducing model sanitation improvements and the legal requirement to notify cases of infectious diseases.[4] He contributed significantly to the public health movement in Edinburgh and to public health administration and also to urban management.[5][6] He was assisted in later years by Dr Thomas William Drinkwater FRSE.[7] Littlejohn also co-founded the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.[8]

Long a lecturer for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh at Surgeons' Hall, he was appointed to the Chair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh in 1897.

Serving as Edinburgh's Police Surgeon from 1854 and as Medical Advisor to the Crown in Scotland in criminal cases, he was often called upon as an expert witness. From 1862 he was Edinburgh's first Medical Officer of Health.[9]

A kirk elder at the High Kirk of Edinburgh, Littlejohn filled several prominent posts in public life, including nine years on the board of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (1875–76), president of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh (1883–85), and president of the Royal Institute of Public Health (1893).

Although Arthur Conan Doyle primarily credited Joseph Bell as being the source of inspiration for his character Sherlock Holmes, he also cited Henry Littlejohn as being a contributing influence.[10] Littlejohn, as a forensic expert involved in police investigations, appears to have been joined by Bell on several investigations; furthermore, Littlejohn taught Doyle forensic medicine when Doyle was studying at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh.

Henry Littlejohn was knighted in 1895 by Queen Victoria.[11]

In his later life he lived at 24 Royal Circus in Edinburgh's Second New Town.[12]

He died at Benreoch, near Arrochar in Argyll in 1914, and was interred at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.[13] His grave is on the edge of the southern path towards the west end. He is buried with his wife, Isabella Jane Harvey, and their children. Sir Henry was the father of Henry Harvey Littlejohn (1862–1927) (normally just called Harvey Littlejohn during his life but posthumously largely called Henry) who followed in his father's footsteps and continued his adoption of tangential thinking to resolve investigations.[14]


  1. ^ "Edinburgh Post Office annual directory, 1832-1833". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn: the beginning". Edinburgh City Archives. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  3. ^ https://www.royalsoced.org.uk/cms/files/research_awards/prizes/prize_lists/gunning_victoria_history.pdf
  4. ^ "Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
  5. ^ Laxton, Paul; Rodger, Richard (2013). Insanitary City: Henry Littlejohn and the Condition of Edinburgh. Carnegie Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1859362206.
  6. ^ Gray, J. A. (1999). The Edinburgh City Hospital. Tuckwell Press. ISBN 1862320969.
  7. ^ Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1940, p.391
  8. ^ "The Littlejohn Collection" (PDF). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Library & Archive. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
  9. ^ Edinburgh: Mapping the City by Christopler Fleet and Daniel MacCannell
  10. ^ Doyle, A. Conan (1961). The Boys' Sherlock Holmes, New & Enlarged Edition. Harper & Row. p. 88.
  11. ^ "Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn: Wider impact of his work". Edinburgh City Archives. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  12. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1905-6
  13. ^ "SIR HENRY D. LITTLEJOHN, M.D., LL.D.Edin., F.R.C.S.E". BMJ. 2 (2806): 648. 1914. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.2806.648-b. PMC 2299842.
  14. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1863-64