The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb

"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the ninth of the twelve stories collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in The Strand Magazine in March 1892. Within the narrative of the story, Dr. Watson notes that this is one of only two cases which he personally brought to the attention of Sherlock Holmes.

The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Hatherley loses his thumb whilst attempting his escape, 1892 illustration by Sidney Paget
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Genre(s)Detective fiction short stories
Published inStrand Magazine
Publication dateMarch 1892
Preceded by"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
Followed by"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"
Full text
The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb at Wikisource


The story, set in the summer of 1889, mainly consists of a young London consultant hydraulic engineer, Mr. Victor Hatherley, recounting strange happenings of the night before, first to Dr. Watson.

Hatherley had been visited in his office by a man who identified himself as Colonel Lysander Stark. He offered Hatherley a commission at a country house, in Eyford, Berkshire to examine a hydraulic press used, as Stark explains, to compress fuller's earth into bricks. Stark warned Hatherley to keep the job confidential, offering him 50 guineas (£52.50, equivalent to £6,173 in 2021[1]). Hatherley felt compelled to take this work, despite his misgivings, as his business was newly established and he had very little work.

Upon arriving late at night at the appointed train station, Hatherley is met by Colonel Stark and is driven a considerable distance in a carriage with frosted glass windows to the house where he is to examine the machine. (A minor detail is that the house was actually quite near the station; Holmes realizes that the carriage drove "six [miles] out and six back" to disguise the house's location from Hatherley.) Hatherley is still under the spell of the 50 guineas and does not become afraid even when a woman at the house warns him to flee. He is presently shown the press and makes his recommendations as to needed repairs. Then, he rashly decides to inspect the press more closely. His discovery that its floor is covered by a "crust of metallic deposit" confirms his suspicion that the machine is not used for pressing fuller's earth. When he rashly confronts Stark with the knowledge, Stark tries to kill him. He narrowly escapes getting crushed to death when Stark turns the machine on, but he escapes the press with the aid of the woman. Pursued by the murderous Stark, Hatherley is forced to jump from a second-story window, in the process getting his thumb severed by Stark's cleaver. Hatherley survives the fall but passes out in the rose-bushes, coming to hours later by a hedge near the rail station.

Holmes then makes sense of the happenings, recognizing Stark and his allies as counterfeiters (the machine had been to used to press the metal for half crowns; Hatherley's story also helps Holmes solve the mysterious disappearance of another consultant hydraulic engineer a year before), but he, Watson, and the police arrive too late: the house is on fire, and the perpetrators have fled. The press was destroyed when Hatherley's lamp was crushed inside it, setting the machine on fire and ruining the criminals' operation, although they escaped with several "bulky boxes" presumably containing counterfeit coins toward the direction of Reading, Berkshire.

This case is one where Holmes fails to bring the villains to justice.[2]

Publication historyEdit

"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" was first published in the UK in The Strand Magazine in March 1892, and in the United States in the US edition of the Strand in April 1892.[3] The story was published with eight illustrations by Sidney Paget in The Strand Magazine.[4] It was included in the short story collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,[4] which was published in October 1892.[5]


Film and televisionEdit

A silent short film adaptation was released in 1923 as part of the Stoll film series starring Eille Norwood as Holmes.[6]

The story was adapted for an episode of the 1954–1955 television series Sherlock Holmes starring Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as Watson. The episode was titled "The Case of the Shoeless Engineer"[7] and the story was altered so that Hatherley loses a shoe rather than his thumb, and Stark and his co-conspirator are captured by Lestrade with the assistance of Holmes.

The story was additionally adapted for the TMS Entertainment anime series Sherlock Hound, specifically in the episode "A Small Client" (1984). The general gist of the story was retained, but contained several differences, namely Professor Moriarty being in charge of the counterfeiting instead of Stark (who is not present in the episode at all), and the case being brought to Hound's attention through the engineer's young daughter instead of the engineer himself, who is being kept prisoner for the majority of the episode.

The story was also adapted in the 1986 Soviet TV movie The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. WatsonThe Twentieth Century Approaches.[8] There, the criminal (Col. Stark) is Eduardo Lucas from "The Adventure of the Second Stain", and the gang's work is economic sabotage by the German Empire. Upon hearing the details, Mycroft Holmes decides to balance the damage by producing an equal amount of counterfeit German currency.

An episode of the animated television series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century was based on the story. The episode, also titled "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb", aired in 2001.[9]


Edith Meiser adapted the story as an episode of the radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which aired on 17 December 1931, starring Richard Gordon as Sherlock Holmes and Leigh Lovell as Dr. Watson.[10] Another episode adapted from the story aired on 24 February 1935 (with Louis Hector as Holmes and Lovell as Watson).[11]

Edith Meiser also adapted the story as an episode of the radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, that aired on 20 October 1940.[12] Other episodes in the same series that were adapted from the story aired in June 1943[13] and January 1948 (with John Stanley as Holmes and Alfred Shirley as Watson).[14]

A radio adaptation aired on the BBC Light Programme in 1960, as part of the 1952–1969 radio series starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson. It was adapted by Michael Hardwick.[15]

"The Engineer's Thumb" was dramatized by Peter Mackie for BBC Radio 4 in 1991, as part of the 1989–1998 radio series starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. It featured John Moffatt as Lysander Stark.[16]

The story was adapted as an episode of the radio series The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring John Patrick Lowrie as Holmes and Lawrence Albert as Watson. The episode aired in 2015.[17]


  1. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  2. ^ (Others include "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", "The Five Orange Pips", "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", "The Adventure of the Resident Patient", "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge", "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client", "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual" and The Hound of the Baskervilles, though in all these cases Providence exacts vengeance on the villains. Exceptions to Providence exacting vengeance on villains are "A Case of Identity", "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange", "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet", "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" and The Valley of Fear)
  3. ^ Smith (2014), p. 64.
  4. ^ a b Cawthorne (2011), p. 68.
  5. ^ Cawthorne (2011), p. 54.
  6. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. pp. 132. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  7. ^ Barnes, Alan (2002). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. p. 137. ISBN 1-903111-04-8.
  8. ^ Hutchings, Stephen; Vernitskaia, Anat. Russian and Soviet Film Adaptations of Literature, 1900–2001: Screening the Word. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN 9781134400584.
  9. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 226. ISBN 9780857687760.
  10. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 40.
  11. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 63.
  12. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 96.
  13. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 130.
  14. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 246.
  15. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. pp. 387–388. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  16. ^ Bert Coules. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  17. ^ Wright, Stewart (30 April 2019). "The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Broadcast Log" (PDF). Old-Time Radio. Retrieved 16 June 2020.

External linksEdit