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[personal profile] lightconductor
A while ago, Rachelle did this and made up backstory for Holmes to replace the almost nothing that Doyle gave us. And I've been sort of jealous of this, bizarrely, because while yes, I've been playing Watson for like two years without doing something similar, Watson gets even less backstory than Holmes does.

This is what's canon for Watson's background:

1. His father's name seemed to have been H. Watson. No idea what the H stood for.
2. He had an older brother, who was probably also an H. Watson, who inherited an extremely expensive watch from their father, but treated it like shit and pawned it several times and eventually drank himself to death by about 1888, looks like.
3. He played rugby for the Blackheath Football Club as a young man. Incidentally, I love so much that Watson gets mentioned on the wikipedia entry, there. There is no real reason for it.
4. He seems to have lived in Ballarat, Australia at some point, and probably during the Victoria gold rush (which began in earnest in 1851 and stretched out through the 1860s) because he mentions the gold fields specifically.
5. He claims to have an experience of women spanning many nations and three continents.

He's most informative in the very first paragraph of A Study in Scarlet, in which he also informs us that:

6. He attended the University of London and graduated in 1878.
7. He joined the army, and served in India and Afghanistan, assistant surgeon for this regiment and this regiment.
8. He got shot at the Battle of Maiwand and nearly died and then got better and then got typhoid and nearly died again and then he got sent back to England, where, as of 1881, he had "neither kith nor kin" and also pretty much no money to speak of, despite coming from a family that has fifty guinea watches to be inherited. In fact, Watson's military history is highly based upon the military history of the actual surgeon-major of the 66th Foot, who was shot at Maiwand and invalided out of the army.

That is... more or less all I have been working with for the last two years. Almost nothing is known about Watson's life before he got his medical degree, and what there is has no order to it. We don't know what his family was like (presumably there was money at some point), we don't know how much of his youth he spent in Australia and how much in England and at what point or why he might have made the move. We don't know which three continents. Europe's a given, as is Asia. Does Australia count? If he was only a boy when he lived there, can he really be said to have had much experience of women at all while he was there?

For a while I've been dodging around a lot of this stuff, but sometimes... what actually happened would really make a difference to how Watson might feel about something.

Today, I'm going on an adventure to make a lot of shit up. Most of this will probably never be relevant, but this is kind of fun to do, so.

H. Watson, whatever his name might have been, was a Scotsman (this is not a stretch; "Watson" is a Scottish surname) from a decently wealthy family. After all, they could afford to buy their son a brand new fifty guinea watch when he he was a young man in the late 1830s/early 1840s.

(A guinea, incidentally, is an archaic amount of money equivalent to 21 shillings, or one pound and one shilling. Fifty guineas would be £52 10s 0d. This much money in 1840 has the spending power of £2,315.25 in modern UK funds, or $3,560.36 US. Now, granted, watches in general were more expensive then, but still. That is not a cheap watch.)

Unfortunately, H. Watson found himself somewhat disinherited, or at least unfavoured, when he found himself very much in love with a young woman his family did not approve of. He married her anyway, and they soon had a son, who was named for his father. A few years later, they had a second son, who was named John.

Without the full expanse of the family funds at hand, money was a little tighter than H. liked. Gold had been found in Australia some years earlier, and H. had always been a bit of an adventurous sort, so he left Scotland for Ballarat to try to strike it rich. Within a few years, he was doing very well for himself, indeed, and his family relocated to join him there.

(Incidentally, Wikipedia say: "During the 1860s Ballarat prospered on gold mining. Confidence of the city's early citizens in the enduring future of their city is evident in the sheer scale of many of the early public buildings, generous public recreational spaces, and opulence of many of its commercial establishments and private housing. The railway came to the town with the opening of the Geelong-Ballarat line in 1862." Doesn't sound like a bad place to live at all.)

As their two sons grew, when it came time for them to go be properly educated as befitted any young man of their class and station, they were sent to a boarding school in England. John, at least, found that his accent, a peculiar mix of Scottish burr and colonial Australian, was extremely hilarious to little English boys, and he worked hard at losing it; later in his life he would sound very English, although this would likely never fool certain consulting detectives. And then! Tragedy.

H. Watson died (illness, perhaps?), just as his older son finished his studies. H. Watson Jr. returned to Ballarat to step into his inheritance; John remained at school for the next several years, frequently writing letters to his mother and brother in Australia. He had long had a desire to go into medicine, and after leaving school he moved to London to attend the university there.

London was, then, the largest city in the world, and it was far beyond boarding school or Ballarat or his hazy memories of Scotland. School was fascinating. John was more than a bit of a wild man, too. While he took his studies very seriously indeed, he spent a great many evenings drinking, or at the music halls, or charming young ladies, or attempting to ignore his occassional impulses to charm a young man. There were, admittedly, one or two fellow medical students he indulged in this in, although nothing very serious or long-lasting. It was also during this time that he played rugby for Blackheath. It was an extremely exciting time for him.

A point of note: at the time, it was legal in England to practice medicine with a B.Sc in medicine, instead of a full M.D. You wouldn't technically be called "Doctor," although the title was often used anyway as a courtesy. It was very common for medical students who were going beyond the B.Sc to open a practice after they had earned the first degree, and use that practice to fund their schooling as they finished. John Watson does not appear to have done this. I think it's reasonable to assume that he felt secure in the family money being there for him.

Unfortunately, not all was well in Ballarat. In the mid-seventies, Mrs. Watson passed away as well; H. Jr. had been running the estate for some years, and he was, by nature, an untidy, careless, and irresponsible person. There had been certain financial difficulties. Without his mother's restraining influence, things quickly spiralled downwards. By the time John graduated in '78 with his MD, things were in a poor state, and H. insisted to his brother that there was nothing. How true this was, John never knew, but he could not start his medical practice without a little capital to start with, to find himself an office and equipment and supplies.

With few other options available to him, John joined the army. How well this went has been gone over before. When he returned to England, naturally gravitating to London, he was broken, ill, and utterly friendless, and not yet even thirty years old. He was also impoverished. In A Study in Scarlet, he says:

"I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air -- or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be."

Using my handy currency converter, that gives us a modern equivalent of £27.78, or a little over $43 US.

(I love working this out. I make more than that. Not a lot more, but enough to mean the difference between a very tight budget and some comfortable freedom. It's also a very marked difference between this and the fifty guinea watch.)

Of course, John (as I do as well) required a roommate, and a random encounter with an old acquaintance from medical school saw him introduced to someone else in the same situation... and that was history. :)

He was no longer in touch with his brother, feeling angry and resentful about the misuse of their father's money. A few years later, H. managed to scrape together enough from what was left to return to England, but John would have nothing to do with him. He spent the next few years squandering what money he managed to make, usually living in poverty, pawning and sometimes redeeming what few valuable items he still owned, including his father's fifty guinea watch, which by now was very scratched and banged up by his own mistreatment. He drank heavily, his health suffered, and he died around 1888.




There. That was... enjoyable, if a slightly silly exercise.

Date: 2010-09-01 05:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nomorememory.livejournal.com
5. He claims to have an experience of women spanning many nations and three continents.


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