PortCities London

The port in literature

Sherlock Holmes

Pursuit on the Thames

In Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Sign of Four (1890), the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful assistant Dr Watson investigate the murder of Bartholomew Sholto. As the assassins attempt to flee London on the small steamer Aurora, Holmes and Watson follow in hot pursuit...

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At that moment, however, as our evil fate would have it, a tug with three barges in tow blundered in between us. It was only by putting out helm hard down that we avoided a collision, and before we could round them and recover our way, the Aurora
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had gained a good two hundred yards...
Steam tug towing large sailing ship off the Surrey Docks.
View full size imageA steam tug towing a large sailing ship off the Surrey Docks. © NMM

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We had shot through the pool, past the West India Docks, down the long Deptford Reach, and up again after rounding the Isle of Dogs. The dull blur in front of us resolved itself now into
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the dainty Aurora...
Shipping off Cubitt Town, c. 1884.
View full size imageShipping off Cubitt Town, c. 1884. © NMM

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At Greenwich we were about three hundred paces behind them. At Blackwall we could not have been more than two hundred and fifty.... never did sport give me such a wild thrill as this mad, flying manhunt down the Thames. Steadily
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we drew in upon them, yard by yard.
Blackwall Reach.
View full size imageBlackwall Reach, by W.L. Wyllie. © NMM

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It was a clear reach of the river, with Barking Level upon one side and the melancholy Plumstead Marshes on the other... It was a wild and desolate place, where the moon glimmered upon a wide expanse of
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marshland, with pools of stagnant water and beds of decaying vegetation.

Shortly afterwards, the chase ends...



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