Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


BORN IN 1854, Sherlock Holmes matured during decades of significant scientific development. In particular, internal combustion promised concentrated power to accompany the flight experiments described yesterday in “Holmes and the Aeroplane Part 1.” This theme is expanded today in Part 2, with comments gleaned from a collection of Holmes memoirs assembled by Sherlockian Michael Harrison.

Harrison “edits and annotates” these memoirs with just enough fact to corroborate the whimsy of a stated Holmes authorship. For example, Holmes turns 60 in 1914 when he recalls the last time he saw “the woman,” as Dr. John H. Watson referred to the one romantic interest in Holmes’ life. Appropriate to today’s topic, there’s an aeronautical theme as well.

“I saw her last,” says Holmes, “at Hendon, some three years ago; we had both turned up… to see Mr. Claude Grahame-White try out his new flying-machine.”

Holmes says that seeing “the woman” was bittersweet: “We stood with our friends, near each other against a quickset hedge, out of the way both of the sharp wind and Mr. Grahame-White’s propellors. She had a man much younger than herself with her. She did not look in my direction. I am sure that she did not recognize me.”

More’s the pity.

Three years before would make it 1911 and, indeed, Claude Grahame-White was already a British aviator of some repute. In 1910, he had stunned Washington, D.C. by landing his Farman on West Executive Avenue near the White House. Later, back in England, in anticipation of World War I he rigged his aeroplane with electric lights proclaiming “Wake Up, England!”

My GMax model for Microsoft Flight Simulator of Grahame-White’s “Wake Up, England!” aeroplane.

Hendon Aerodrome, established in 1908, was about seven miles northwest of central London. It was the first stop in the 1911 Circuit of Britain Air Race.

Stage Four of the Round Britain Race was from Bristol to Brighton, with checkpoints at Exeter and Salisbury Plain, a total of 224 miles. Had Holmes been at home in late July/early August 1911, he could have seen the four aeroplanes (out of 21 starters) completing the race. Their route passed directly over his South Downs, Sussex, cottage.

On another matter entirely, Harrison offers Holmes’ description of meeting Orville Wright: “Only four years earlier [i.e., 1910], in the bar of the Lotti in Paris, Mr. Orville Wright, the eminent inventor and aëronaut, had shewn me—more with contempt than with anger (though there was anger in plenty, too!)—a letter from the Private Secretary of the First Lord of the Admiralty, to whom Mr. Wright and his brother, Wilbur, had offered their proven services in the design and construction of aëroplanes for the Royal Navy.”

The Hotel Lotti, Paris.

Holmes continues, “The letter, couched in those terms of a lofty and irrelevant imbecility which take one back to the specious days when the Dutch warships took their uninterrupted way up the Thames, thanked the Messrs. Wright for their kind offer, but explained to them that, after the most careful consideration by expert advisers, their Lordships were of opinion that aëroplanes would not be of any practical use to the Naval Service. And this insanity was written only four year ago!”

Michael Harrison sure has Holmes’ pawky personality down pat, doesn’t he?

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. Skip
    September 28, 2018

    I suppose Gen. Billy Mitchell would have empathized with the Wright brothers given that in the far distant days of 1921 he would have the same argument with the U.S. Navy, until he sank the Ostfriesland that is…..

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