The Adventure of Black Peter

"The Adventure of Black Peter" is a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. This tale is in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It was originally published in Collier's (US) in February 1904 and in The Strand Magazine (UK) in March 1904.[1]

"The Adventure of Black Peter"
The Adventure of Black Peter 07.jpg
Patrick Cairns and Peter Carey, 1904 illustration by Sidney Paget in The Strand Magazine
AuthorArthur Conan Doyle
SeriesThe Return of Sherlock Holmes
Publication date1904


Holmes, Watson and Inspector Hopkins, 1904 illustration by Sidney Paget

Forest Row in the Weald is the scene of a harpoon murder, and a young police inspector, Stanley Hopkins, asks Holmes, whom he admires, for help. Holmes has already determined that it would take a great deal of strength and skill to run a man through with a harpoon and embed it in the wall behind him.

Peter Carey, the 50-year-old victim and former master of the Sea Unicorn of Dundee, who lived with his wife and daughter, had a reputation for being violent. Carey did not sleep in the family house, but in a small cottage that he built some distance from the house, whose interior he had decorated to look like a sailor's cabin on a ship. This is where he was found harpooned. Hopkins could find no footprints or other physical evidence. However, a tobacco pouch made of sealskin and with the initials "P.C." was found at the scene, which was full of strong ship's tobacco. This is rather unusual, as Peter Carey—or "Black Peter" as people called him—seldom smoked. Indeed, Hopkins found no pipe in the cabin. Carey was found fully dressed, suggesting that he was expecting a visitor, and there was some rum laid out along with two dirty glasses. There were brandy and whisky, too, but neither had been touched. There was also a knife in its sheath at Carey's feet; Mrs. Carey has identified it as her husband's. A little notebook was also found at the scene. It contains the initials J. H. N. and the year 1883. It also says C. P. R. on the second page, which Holmes reckons stands for Canadian Pacific Railway. The first set of initials is likely a stockbroker's, as the little book is full of what appears to be stock exchange information.

Holmes decides to accompany Hopkins to Forest Row, and upon arrival, Hopkins observes that someone has tried to break into Carey's cabin, but failed. After examining the inside of the cabin, Holmes deduces from the lack of dust that something has been taken from a shelf, even though the burglar did not get in. The stolen item was a book, or possibly a box. Holmes believes that the burglar will likely try again, this time bringing a more useful tool for the job. So, Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Hopkins all lie in wait for the burglar that night, and they are not disappointed. Along he comes, he breaks into the cabin, and goes through one of Carey's old logbooks, cursing when he finds that the information that he wants is missing, having been torn out of the book. As he is leaving the cabin, Hopkins moves in and arrests him.

John Hopley Neligan is discovered, 1904 illustration by Sidney Paget

He is John Hopley Neligan—which matches the initials in the notebook—the son of a long-vanished, failed banker. He claims he was looking at Carey's logs to test a theory of his. His father disappeared with a box full of securities after his bank failed. He took them on a yacht bound for Norway. He believes that his father's boat may have been driven north on the North Sea by bad weather, and met the Sea Unicorn, captained by Carey. He believes that Carey knew something about his father's disappearance, and that possibly his father was murdered by the man who has now himself become a murder victim as he has traced some of his father's long lost securities back to Carey. Hopkins takes Neligan off to the station, even though Neligan swears that he has nothing to do with the murder. Holmes believes this to be true, because Neligan is a slight, anemic thin man, hardly capable of running a man through with a harpoon.

Holmes saves Neligan from the noose by finding the true killer in a most unusual way. He advertises for a harpooner, posing as a sea captain named Basil. He gets three applicants at 221B Baker Street for the job, and one of them is indeed Peter Carey's killer, as confirmed by his name, Patrick Cairns, and the fact that Holmes had established that he was once Carey's shipmate. Holmes also felt sure that a murderer would want to leave the country for a while. Holmes handcuffs the unaware Cairns after which Cairns confesses. While he freely admits to killing Carey, he furiously denies that it was murder, claiming self-defence. He was actually at Carey's cabin to extort hush money from him. Neligan's father had indeed come aboard the Sea Unicorn with his tin box of securities, and Carey had murdered him by throwing him overboard while he believed no-one was looking, though Cairns had witnessed the event. While Carey initially had agreed to the payoff, when Cairns came to collect, things were different. The two drank together, during which Carey's mood darkened. When Carey reached for his knife, which Carins viewed as a threat, he took action. Cairns then examined the box of securities, but finding them impossible for him to sell, escaped, leaving his tobacco pouch on the table.

The rum was another clue. Holmes was sure that it, and the fact that the brandy and whiskey had been left alone, were sure signs that the killer was a seaman. Neligan is released and the securities returned to him, although the ones that Carey sold cannot be recovered.

Publication historyEdit

Patrick Cairns, 1904 illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele in Collier's

"The Adventure of Black Peter" was published in the US in Collier's on 27 February 1904, and in the UK in The Strand Magazine in March 1904.[2] The story was published with six illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele in Collier's, and with seven illustrations by Sidney Paget in the Strand.[1] It was included in the short story collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes,[1] which was published in the US in February 1905 and in the UK in March 1905.[3]


Film and televisionEdit

A silent short film adapted from the story was released in 1922 as part of the Stoll film series starring Eille Norwood as Sherlock Holmes and Hubert Willis as Watson, with Teddy Arundell as Inspector Hopkins, Hugh Buckler as Patrick Cairns, and Fred Paul as Captain Peter Carey.[4]

The story was adapted for the 1968 BBC series with Peter Cushing. The episode is now lost.[5]

There's a visual reference to the "Black Peter" storyline in "The Hounds of Baskerville" (2012), the second episode of the second season of the BBC series Sherlock (2010–2017).

The first episode of the 2013 Russian TV series Sherlock Holmes is based on the story.

In March 2017, the US TV series Elementary (a modern version of Sherlock Homes) used the "Black Peter" story as the basis for an episode called "Dead Man's Tale".


A radio adaptation of "The Adventure of Black Peter", dramatised by Edith Meiser, aired on 11 May 1931 in the American radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Richard Gordon as Sherlock Holmes and Leigh Lovell as Dr. Watson.[6]

Edith Meiser also adapted the story as an episode of the American radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, that aired on 8 December 1940.[7] Another episode in the same series was adapted from the story by Max Ehrlich and aired in October 1948 (with John Stanley as Holmes and Wendell Holmes as Watson).[8]

Michael Hardwick adapted "Black Peter" as a radio production that aired on BBC Radio 2 in July 1969, as part of the 1952–1969 radio series starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson, with Arnold Peters as Inspector Hopkins and Henry Stamper as Cairns.[9]

"Black Peter" was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1993 by David Ashton as part of the 1989–1998 radio series starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. It featured Alex Norton as Cairns.[10]

The story was adapted as a 2012 episode of The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series on the American radio show Imagination Theatre, starring John Patrick Lowrie as Holmes and Lawrence Albert as Watson.[11]

Other mediaEdit

In 2014, Frogwares released a video game titled Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, the first case of which "The Fate of Black Peter" adapts the elements of this story.


  1. ^ a b c Cawthorne (2011), p. 122.
  2. ^ Smith (2014), p. 125.
  3. ^ Cawthorne (2011), p. 110.
  4. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. p. 131. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  5. ^ Stuart Douglas - "Missing Episodes". Archived from the original on 21 July 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  6. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 29.
  7. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 96.
  8. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 262.
  9. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 386. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  10. ^ Bert Coules. "The Return of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  11. ^ Wright, Stewart (30 April 2019). "The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Broadcast Log" (PDF). Old-Time Radio. Retrieved 17 June 2020.

External linksEdit