3 clergymen plan a murder in the Alps

Below is a speech I gave to The Alpine Ski Club at the Annual Dinner, 20th Nov 2015.  I enjoyed doing the research into Arthur Conan Doyle’s associations with skiing.  But I found it more surprising the attitudes towards different sources of wealth a hundred years ago.  With a clear separation of aristocratic, land owning, hereditary wealth (we might call this “rent seeking wealth” today) and entrepreneurial, creative, service orientated wealth creation – such as the travel business started by Henry Lunn.  Today we celebrate the entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.  A hundred years ago these type of people were rather looked down upon by the aristocratic members of society. 

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.  When we talk about the Alpine Ski Club, and what makes it unique – very often it all comes back to the members. The present day members and of course the history.
Last year I talked about Peter Lunn, and his adventurers tunnelling beneath Vienna and Berlin in order to listen into the telephone conversations on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Peter Lunn, of course, was a member and the son of Arnold Lunn, one of our founder members. This year I thought I would tell you a short story about Reverend Henry Lunn, Peter Lunn’s grandfather, who hosted the founding dinner of the Alpine Ski Club. And so I will tell you a brief anecdote, about how Henry Lunn he was an accomplice in a murder. This was no ordinary murder though, because in 1893 Reverend Henry was accomplice to the murder of a world famous detective.

It was also not really a murder, in part because the world famous detective was a fictional character.
Secondly, the world famous detective didn’t die. So Henry Lunn could not be held responsible for his murder. Instead when asked how he survived falling down the chasm of the Reichenbach Falls, the detective replied

“Well, then, about that chasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I never was in it.”

So Henry Lunn was accomplice to the non murder of Sherlock Holmes.
The story goes like this. In 1893, the Revered William Dawson, Henry Lunn, Benjamin Waugh and Silas Hocking were in Davos, when they met up with Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle the famous author. In case you have never heard of the other people, they were all Nonconformist clergymen. Benjaming Waugh founded the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and Silas Hocking had written a now forgotten book about street children in Liverpool called Her Benny, which had sold over a million copies.

They were staying in the Hotel de l’Europa and met up with Arthur Conan Doyle, who was of course, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. But over a long walk Henry Lunn recalled the author saying to him

“I have made up my mind to kill Sherlock Holmes; he is becoming such a burden to me that my life is unbearable.”

Of course, if you want to think of grisly ways to murder a world famous detective who better than a bunch of Nonconformist ministers. The label Nonconformist is applied to any non Anglicans – many of them were Quakers, Methodists, Wesleyians, famous for their pacificism.  Ironically, in A Study in Scarlett, Sherlock Holmes disguises himself as a Nonconformist Minister in order to meet “that woman”, Irene Adler.  Little did Holmes (or even Conan Doyle) suspect that years later Nonconformists would plot his demise.

It was Nonconformists that set up Cadbury’s chocolate and also the Rowntree’s, now owned by Nestle was originally set up by the Noncomformists, Bryant and May the match company, Friends Provident and Barclays Bank. Henry Lunn, of course set up his travel business taking people to the Alps, later to become Lunn Poly. The idea was that the Nonconformists were not the landowning, aristocrats class. They weren’t allowed to hold official positions, or join the professions.  Instead they channeled all their energies into running companies. They were the capitalist middle class, rather than the aristocratic landowning class. In 1867 the repeal of the Test Acts and the passing of the second reform Act in 1867 gave Nonconformists a lot more rights. But I do wonder if some of the attitudes towards the Nonconformists were still around a few decades later. And that might be why Henry Lunn held the founding dinner for the Alpine Ski Club, when Arnold Lunn was not allowed to join the Alpine Club.

Lunn himself did not come up with the idea of how to kill Holmes. Instead he let Reverend Dawson take the credit. Saying

“It was Reverend Dawson who suggested the spot, the Reichenbach Falls, near Meiringen, where Conan Doyle finished the great detective.”

However, these fine Christian fellows were just a little bit competitive. When it came to claiming credit for the murder of Sherlock Holmes, Hocking claimed later that on a walk near the Findelen Glacier with both Arthur Conan Doyle and Fred Benson, the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury that he said

“If you are determined on making an end to Holmes, why not bring him out to Switzerland and drop him down a crevasse? It will save on funeral expenses.”

Peter Lunn did later claim that his grandfather should take the credit for killing Holmes. The only person who seems to have wanted to keep Holmes alive was Conan Doyle’s mother. She pleaded with the author not to kill off the detective. But Conan Doyle went ahead with his plan, and published the dramatic scene in “The Final Problem”.
Holmes and Watson’s journey takes them to Switzerland where they stay at Meiringen. From there they fatefully decide to take a walk which will include a visit to Reichenbach Falls, a local natural wonder. Once there, a boy appears and hands Watson a note, saying that there is a sick Englishwoman back at the hotel who wants an English doctor. Watson goes to see about the patient, leaving Holmes by himself.
Upon returning to the Englischer Hof, Watson finds that the innkeeper has no knowledge of any sick Englishwoman. Realizing at last that he has been deceived, he rushes back to Reichenbach Falls but finds no one there, although he does see two sets of footprints going out onto the muddy dead end path with none returning. Watson sees that towards the end of the path there are signs that a violent struggle has taken place and there are no returning footprints. It is all too clear Holmes and Moriarty have both fallen to their deaths down the gorge while locked in mortal combat. 
According to legend, when the story appeared in Strand Magazine, City of London workers donned black arm bands in mourning. For more permanent memorials, you can go to the funicular station near the falls, there is a memorial plate to “the most famous detective in the world”.
Of course, Holmes didn’t really die. Almost a decade later Arthur Conan Doyle wrote many more stories, in part because the genre of detective stories had become so popular, and he was annoyed by his inferior, now forgotten, rivals.
Although Conan Doyle knew the Lunn’s, I don’t think there is any evidence that he was a member of the club. However, he did engage in ski touring, in March 1894 ACD did the Mayerfelder Furka Pass from Davos to Arosa. They actually climbed using snow shoes, and then made the descent on skis. He was accompanied by Tobias and Johannes Branger, who owned sports shop in Davos, and had ordered several pairs of Norwegian skis. At one point ACD took a fall but just ended up going down the mountain on his backside. He later commented that his tailor had assured him that Harris tweed suits were indestructible – but he had proved his tailor wrong. Conan Doyle claimed to be the first British man to traverse an Alpine Pass in Winter. He certainly helped popularise the sport.

Sources: Conan Doyle, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes Andrew Lycett

Living in an Alibi Society – Nicholas Stacey

English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit – Martin J Weiner