Zounds! What Have We Here?

Here are important items and events from Dr Watson’s life. Please reply by clicking on “Comments” and posting a minimum 400 word essay reply on the links between these items and Dr Watson. The prizes for each the first four essays to be posted is a First Edition of The Autobiography of Sherlock Holmes.

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Comments

Zounds! What Have We Here? — 6 Comments

  1. Do I need 400 words to say that these all refer to the first few paragraphs of STUD,where Watson tells of his experiences in India. Gotta go!

    • Wonderful and concise reply. However, is a Jezail bullet a true bullet or a ball? What are the differences between Afghan fighters by tribe? Was there a shoulder or leg wound as evidenced by Murphy’s carry of Watson? Was the Maiwan ambush from a hill or a gully? There is so much to explore….

  2. Much of what we know about the background of John H. Watson is found in the opening words of his first published chronicle of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet. Here, we read of his receiving the M.D. degree, and of his service in Her Majesty’s Army, the subject of our quiz challenge:
    I was … attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, my orderly, who threw me across a pack-horse, and succeeded in bringing me safely to the British lines.

    By Watson’s own description, we know he was wounded by a bullet fired by a Jezail rifle or musket, one of which is shown in the first picture. These Jezails were a traditional style of long gun used in Afghanistan. They had a distinctive curved stock, as seen in the photo, and utilized a flintlock ignition system which was outdated in the West decades before the Second Afghan War in 1880. The barrels were long and of large caliber, usually .50 to .75 caliber. Most were old-fashioned smoothbore muskets, but some are reported to have been rifles. The spiral grooves cut into the inside surface of the barrel in these rifles made them much more accurate than the standard musket, whose barrel was, in effect, nothing more than a plain pipe.
    These Jezails were reputed to have a fantastic range, said by some to be accurate to up to 500 yards. Speaking as one who has fired a .69 Charleville flintlock musket in target competition, a range of 50 to 100 yards would have been much more common. However, various factors, including the size of the gunpowder charge firing the bullet; the efficacy of the gunpowder; how snugly the bullet fits in the barrel; the skill of the marksman; and whether the firearm was a rifle or smoothbore, could greatly increase its effectiveness, so long-range claims should not be dismissed out of hand.
    How did Watson know he had been shot by a Jezail bullet? The answer is in the second photo, which illustrates two different projectiles used at Maiwand by two different types of Afghan forces. The bullet to the left is the type used in a muzzle-loading .577 Enfield rifle, which was the weapon used by the Afghan Army commanded by Ayub Khan at Maiwand. The ball next to it would have been fired from an old-style Jezail, which was the weapon used by the Ghazis, or indigenous tribal warriors who joined Khan’s army en route to Maiwand. Watson was apparently lucky enough to be wounded by a round musket ball from a Jezail rather than a far more deadly Enfield bullet. (To put the difference in American terms, the Khan’s men were using Civil War weapons, and the Ghazi, guns from the Revolutionary War.) This makes sense, as the Berkshires’ position was attacked and overrun by Ghazis in the mid-afternoon of the battle.

    There are many descriptions of Afghans using their Jezails in mountain passes, as shown in the third illustration, and this is often the image we have of the combat Watson saw. While such sniping was widely seen, it was not the case at Maiwand. This battle was held in an open plain which was partially ringed by ravines, which the Afghans used to their advantage in attacking the British in the middle.
    The fourth illustration is clearly not a battle scene; the group looks more like it’s enjoying a turkey shoot (or ibex shoot, or whatever they shoot for fun over there besides the British). It does show the traditional method of aiming and firing a Jezail with a bi-pod to support the heavy barrel.
    The last picture presumably shows the orderly Murray rescuing Watson from imminent capture and death. This is not mere hyperbole; at Maiwand, England’s worst defeat in the Second Afghan War, the badly outnumbered British forces lost 960 killed and 177 wounded out of approximately 2,500 men engaged. To my eyes, the print is problematic. Whose sword is Murray holding along with his rifle – Watson’s? Did Army doctors in the field wear swords? American Army doctors certainly didn’t. More importantly, does it settle the question of where Watson’s wound was? No. I’d argue that it seems his left arm is dangling rather uselessly, reflecting a shoulder injury, and that the way Murray is squeezing Watson’s legs together would seem terribly uncomfortable for someone with a shot in the leg, but that’s just my take on the matter. What I think we can all agree upon is, the world owes a great debt of thanks to gallant Murray of the Berkshires.

    • Very nice and informative. I believe the illustration of Watson and Murray was from a German edition of “Study”, so I wouldn’t expect accuracy in British military custom. Rescue of military doctors from battlefields by men named Murray must not have been an unusual occurrence–F. Habakuk Jephson “was severely wounded at Antietam, and would probably have perished on the field had it mot been for the kindness of a gentleman named Murray, who had me carried to his house and provided me with every comfort.”

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