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A Bevy of Boxes

A Bevy of Boxes

“Somewhere in the vaults of the bank of Cox and Co., at Charing Cross, there is a travel-worn and battered tin dispatch-box with my name, John H. Watson, MD, Late Indian Army, painted upon the lid.”

– The Problem of Thor Bridge (THOR)

One of the great pleasures reading and rereading the Canon is the realization that there is always an unanswered question lurking somewhere in the text. No matter how often one returns to these tales, some new uncertainty or challenge is always to be found a recurring theme is the fact that while we know much about what happened in the sixty stories, we often have little information as to why it happened however, recent research into the life of another fascinating historical figure may yet shed some light on one of those yet-to-be answered questions.

In THOR, Watson tells us:

Somewhere in the vaults of the bank Cox & Co., at Charing Cross, there is a travel-worn and battered in dispatch-box with my name, John H. Watson, M.D., Late Indian Army, painted upon the lid. It is crammed with papers, nearly all of which are pieces that illustrate the curious problems which Mr. Sherlock Holmes at various times to examine.

We now know that Watson kept his notes, memoirs, and records in that box. How much would any Sherlockian give for a few hours of time reading through the contents of that container! But while we are told that Watson banked at Cox and Co., we’re not told why he chose that particular establishment. Surely there were other good banks in London at that time. Perhaps there were some that were more convenient to Watson’s place of residence. Yet, of all the financial institutions, Watson chose Cox and Co.,

The basis for Watson’s choice may be discerned from a reading of a new and illuminating book on the financial aspects of the life of that always fascinating and larger-than-life figure, Winston Churchill. In No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money (Picador, New York, 2015), author, and financial expert David Lough examines the minute details of Churchill’s income and expenses throughout his entire life.

As is well known, Churchill attended Sandhurst and began his career in the military. Lough tells us that, while still a student at Sandhurst, Winston asked his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, for money “to be sent each month to a new account that he had opened with the army’s bankers, Cox and Co.” (34).

So Cox and Co. served as financial agents and bankers for the military and both Churchill and Watson were in the Army. How did Cox and Co. attain this role? Lough points out that:

Cox and Co. had served British army officers since 1758, when Richard Cox became secretary to Lord Ligonier, Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. Among the tasks Ligonier delegated to Cox was the disbursement of pay to his officers and men. Cox was so efficient that by 1815 he had been asked to perform the same task for the Household Brigade, Royal Artillery and almost all cavalry and infantry regiments. (34)

By the late 1870’s, when Watson was sent to serve with an infantry regiment, Cox and Co. had long been the banker to the Army. Watson simply went with tradition and used the bank for his financial business, continuing with them after he left military service. If his accounts, including his wound pension, were with Cox and Co., then it would be reasonable to store his valuable records, his dispatch-box, in the vaults of his regular bank.

This is a simple enough explanation of Watson’s choices. But is there more to the story, perhaps something quite unexpected? Again, Lough’s research provides us some direction.

In 1896, Churchill writes to his mother seeking her help in arranging a transfer with the army. He tells her that:

A few months in South Africa would earn me that S.A. Medal and in all probability the [British South Africa] company’s star… Thence hot foot it to Egypt – to return with two more decorations in a year or two – and beat my sword into an iron dispatch box. (39)

Perhaps Churchill’s was a box of iron, rather that tin. But it was a dispatch-box nonetheless. After gaining fame in both Egypt and South Africa, perhaps Churchill did obtain a dispatch-box after all. He likely purchased it rather than fashioning it himself out of his sword. Yet it would have served the same purpose as Watson’s box: A storage place for papers and records.

Might these be the most personal records and papers of a man whose life was at least as remarkable and important as that of Sherlock Holmes? It’s astounding that both Watson and Churchill, each having served in India, each banking with Cox and Co., would make use of a dispatch-box.

In perhaps the most extraordinary of all ironies, these two boxes, replete with astonishing stories, might have been stored in the vault of the bank used by both Churchill and Watson. Cox and Co. had its offices on Craig’s Court so they could only have gone to one venue. Might they have in adjoining spaces? Might both Watson and Churchill have gone to the vault to add papers to their boxes at the same time? While we now know why Watson banked at Cox and Co. and stored his tin box in their vault, we will never know if he and Churchill did their bank chores at the same moment. Yet the thought of these two great men, sitting in their cubicles at Cox’s vault, each perusing their records and memoirs, thinking of the great events and deeds each had witnessed, is a lovely thought indeed.

Dr. Robert S. Katz, the 29th Garrideb, is the current head-mastiff of the Sons of the Copper Beeches of Philadelphia and is the founder of the Epilogues of Sherlock Holmes of New Jersey. Katz holds the investiture of Dr. Ainstree in the Baker Street Irregulars and is a Two Shilling award winner in that group. He has served as co-editor of several volumes of the BSI Manuscript Series, with the next volume due out in early 2018.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of The Watsonian, Volume 4, Number 1, the official journal of the John H. Watson Society.

Arthur Conan Doyle and the Order of the Crown of Italy

Arthur Conan Doyle and the Order of the Crown of Italy

“If you have a fancy to see your name in the next honours list” – The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans (BRUC) In 1898, Arthur Conan Doyle visited Italy with his brother-in-law, E. W, “Willie” Hornung (the novelist who created the gentlemen burglar “Raffles”). During his tour, King Umberto I of Italy conferred the Order… Continue Reading

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Awarded Medal of Freedom

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Awarded Medal of Freedom

“… one of the most honoured.” – The Adventure of The Dancing Men (DANC) At a White House ceremony yesterday, President Barack Obama honored retired NBA basketball player and author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and 20 others, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award from the United States government. “The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not… Continue Reading

The Decorated Judy Dench of “A Study In Terror”

The Decorated Judy Dench of “A Study In Terror”

“… she is a most consummate actress …” – The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (CARD) The 1966 film A Study in Terror featured noted actress Judi Dench in just the third film of her long and illustrious career. Dench would play the role of Sally, who assisted her uncle in running a hostel / soup kitchen.… Continue Reading

Faces of Holmes: Stewart Granger

Faces of Holmes: Stewart Granger

“… besides being an incomparable actor.” – A Study in Scarlet (STUD) On February 12, 1972, the American Broadcasting Company televised a new version of The Hound of The Baskervilles, starring Stewart Granger as Sherlock Holmes and Bernard Fox as Doctor Watson. This was the first version to be filmed in color in the United States. The… Continue Reading

The Indian General Service Medal of Colonel Sebastian Moran

The Indian General Service Medal of Colonel Sebastian Moran

“This, gentlemen, is Colonel Sebastian Moran, once of Her Majesty’s Indian Army …” – The Adventure of The Empty House (EMPT) After the arrest of Colonel Sebastian in The Final Problem, Holmes and Watson retire to 221b Baker Street. While conversing, Watson mentions that he was not familiar with the Colonel. Holmes looks through his index… Continue Reading

Faces of The Woman: Charlotte Rampling

Faces of The Woman: Charlotte Rampling

“… I have been trained as an actress myself.” – A Study in Scarlet (STUD) Charlotte Rampling got her start in acting during the 1960’s, being an extra in the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night. With a few other acting roles, she landed the role of Meredith in Georgy Girl. She would expand her repertoire with French and… Continue Reading

Faces of Moriarty: John Huston

Faces of Moriarty: John Huston

“… the actor in some strange drama …” – The Adventure of The Yellow Face (YELL) John Huston was an Oscar winning screenwriter, director and actor with a career that spanned over 50 years. Many of the films he was involved with are considered classics – The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African… Continue Reading

Dr. Watson’s Afghanistan Campaign Medal

Dr. Watson’s Afghanistan Campaign Medal

“The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster.” – A Study In Scarlet (STUD) With that comment, within the first two hundred words of STUD, we are given a strong viewpoint of Dr Watson’s regarding his participation in the Second Anglo-Afghanistan War of 1878 – 1880.… Continue Reading

The Decorated Major Sholto

The Decorated Major Sholto

“He destroyed us all. And he gets a medal for it.” – The Sign of Three In The Sign of Three episode of BBC’s Sherlock, Major John Sholto appears at John Watson’s wedding in his full military uniform. He commented to John that he was allowed to retain his uniform due to a special dispensation. Sholto is displaying nine… Continue Reading