"The Adventure of the Empty House"
Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle
1903 illustration by Sidney Paget in The Strand Magazine
Publication date1903
SeriesThe Return of Sherlock Holmes

"The Adventure of the Empty House", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in Collier's in the United States on 26 September 1903, and in The Strand Magazine in the United Kingdom in October 1903.[1]

Public pressure compelled Conan Doyle to bring the sleuth back to life, and explain his survival after his deadly struggle with Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem". This is the first Holmes story set after his supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls, as recounted in "The Final Problem".


On the night of March 30, an apparently unsolvable locked-room murder takes place in London: the killing of the Honourable Ronald Adair.

Holmes reunites with Watson. Art by Sidney Paget.
Sebastian Moran is arrested. Art by Sidney Paget.

Dr. Watson visits the murder scene. He runs into an elderly deformed book collector, later revealed as Sherlock Holmes in disguise. Contrary to what Watson believed, Holmes won against Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, explaining that he spent the next few years traveling to various parts of the world.

That evening, they enter an abandoned building known as Camden House whose front room overlooks Baker Street. Holmes's room can be seen across the street. In the window is a lifelike waxwork bust of Holmes in profile. At approximately midnight, a sniper, who has taken the bait, fires a specialized air gun, scoring a direct hit on Holmes's dummy. Inspector Lestrade arrests the gunman, who is revealed as Colonel Sebastian Moran, Adair's whist partner and murderer.

1903 illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele in Collier's

Holmes speculates that Adair had caught Moran cheating at cards, and threatened to expose his dishonourable behaviour. Moran, who earned a living playing cards crookedly, got rid of the one man who could rob him of his livelihood.

Publication history

"The Adventure of the Empty House" was published in the US in Collier's on 26 September 1903, and in the UK in The Strand Magazine in October 1903.[1] The story was published with seven illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele in Collier's, and with seven illustrations by Sidney Paget in the Strand.[2] It was included in the short story collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which was published in the US in February 1905 and in the UK in March 1905.[2]


Andrew Glazzard has suggested that the author may have been hinting his audience of the royal baccarat scandal in which Sir William Gordon-Cumming, 4th Baronet, an army officer and tiger hunter, had been accused of cheating at baccarat. He sued his accusers and the trial called prince Edward (later king Edward VII).[3] Glazzard also suggests that the oblique references that Holmes makes about his "missing years" are hints to the explorations of Sven Hedin in Tibet and Francis Younghusband's expedition to that country, and also to pro-British espionage in Mahdist Sudan.[3]


Film and television

This story was adapted as a short film released in 1921 as part of the Stoll film series starring Eille Norwood as Holmes.[4]

The 1931 film The Sleeping Cardinal (also known as Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour) is loosely based on "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Final Problem".

Many elements of "The Adventure of the Empty House" were used in the 1939–1946 Sherlock Holmes film series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943), Holmes disguises himself as a German bookseller in Switzerland. The Woman in Green (1945) uses the scene in which a sniper attempts to shoot Holmes from across the street and shoots a wax bust instead, and is apprehended by Holmes and Watson who lie in wait. Colonel Sebastian Moran appears as the villain in Terror by Night (1946) as the last of Moriarty's gang.

The story was adapted for a 1951 TV episode of We Present Alan Wheatley as Mr Sherlock Holmes in... starring Alan Wheatley as Holmes, Raymond Francis as Dr. Watson and Bill Owen as Inspector Lestrade.[5] The episode is now lost.[5]

The story was adapted in 1980 as an episode of the Soviet TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson starring Vasily Livanov.[6] The episode has some minor departures: Moran tries to shoot Holmes during his fight with Moriarty (he actually appears in the story before Moriarty, and both Holmes and Watson are aware of his motive to kill Adair from early on), with Holmes pretending to be hit to fake his death, Adair is still alive at the start of the episode, Watson unsuccessfully tries to protect him as instructed by Holmes, and Watson briefly becomes a prime suspect in Adair's murder.[7]

The story was later adapted in 1986 as an episode of The Return of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett.[8] The episode is rather faithful to Doyle's story, except that Moran tries to shoot Holmes in Switzerland instead of dropping boulders on him, and it is Watson – not Holmes – that deduces the reason that Moran had for killing Ronald Adair. It was the first episode to feature Edward Hardwicke as Dr Watson, replacing David Burke who had played the role in the preceding episodes (Hardwicke reenacted a scene from "The Final Problem" in a flashback, consisting of Watson at the waterfall shouting to Holmes and reading his letter, which had been performed by Burke).[8]

"The Adventure of the Empty House" was adapted as an episode of the animated television series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. The episode, also titled "The Adventure of the Empty House", first aired in 1999.[9]

In "The Empty Hearse", the first episode of the third series of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch which aired on 1 January 2014, Holmes returns to London two years (instead of three) after faking his death. Although Watson is surprised that Sherlock is alive, he is furious that Sherlock didn't contact him in the last two years. He reluctantly teams up with Sherlock to investigate an underground terrorist network.


Edith Meiser adapted the story as an episode of the American radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The episode aired on 5 October 1932, with Richard Gordon as Sherlock Holmes and Leigh Lovell as Dr. Watson.[10] A remake of the script aired on 15 October 1936 (with Gordon as Holmes and Harry West as Watson).[11]

Meiser also adapted the story as an episode of the American radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, that aired on 29 September 1940.[12] Another episode in the same series that was also adapted from the story aired on 11 April 1948 (with John Stanley as Holmes and Alfred Shirley as Watson).[13]

John Gielgud played Holmes with Ralph Richardson as Watson in a radio adaptation of the story that aired on NBC radio on 24 April 1955.[14]

Michael Hardwick adapted the story as a radio production that aired on the BBC Light Programme in 1961, as part of the 1952–1969 radio series starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson, with Noel Johnson as Colonel Moran.[15]

"The Empty House" was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1993 by Bert Coules as part of the 1989–1998 radio series starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. It featured Michael Pennington as Professor Moriarty, Frederick Treves as Colonel Moran, Donald Gee as Inspector Lestrade, and Peter Penry-Jones as Sir John.[16]

"The Adventure of the Empty House" was combined with "The Final Problem" for an episode of The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series on the American radio show Imagination Theatre, starring John Patrick Lowrie as Holmes and Lawrence Albert as Watson. The episode, titled "The Return of Sherlock Holmes", first aired in 2009.[17]

Other media

The story, along with "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax", "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", and "The Red-Headed League", provided the source material for the 1923 play The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

In 1975, DC Comics published Sherlock Holmes #1, a comic which adapted "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Final Problem".[18] It was intended to be an ongoing series, but future issues were cancelled due to low sales.

In the last short story in the book Flashman and the Tiger (1999) by George MacDonald Fraser, Fraser's anti-hero Harry Flashman sets out to murder Moran, who is blackmailing Flashman's granddaughter. He trails Moran to Camden House, but instead witnesses Holmes capture him.[19]


Baritsu is the name given to a form of martial art used to explain how Holmes had avoided falling into the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty. As Holmes himself explained his survival:

We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went.

In 1982 Fromm and Soames, followed by others including Y. Hirayama, J. Hall, Richard Bowen, and James Webb, suggested that Doyle had meant to refer to Bartitsu, an eclectic martial art that had been founded by Londoner E. W. Barton-Wright in 1899: several years after Holmes had supposedly used it, but two years before publication of the story.[20]

It is uncertain why Holmes referred to "baritsu", rather than "Bartitsu". It is possible that Doyle, who, like Barton-Wright, was writing for Pearson’s Magazine during the late 1890s, was vaguely aware of Bartitsu and simply misremembered or misheard the term, perhaps in part due to Japanese phonology's prohibition on consecutive non-nasal consonants; it may even have been a typographical error, a concern about copyright, or a deliberate alteration to match the aforementioned Japanese phonological pattern. A newspaper report on a Bartitsu demonstration in London, published in 1900, had likewise misspelled the name as "baritsu".[21]

The Japan Sherlock Holmes Club, formed in 1977,[22] evolved from the "Baritsu Chapter" founded in 1948.[23]


  1. ^ a b Smith 2014, p. 117
  2. ^ a b Cawthorne 2011, p. 110
  3. ^ a b Glazzard, Andrew (8 January 2014). "Inside the Empty House: Sherlock Holmes, For King and Country". The Public Domain Review. Retrieved 8 April 2024.
  4. ^ Eyles 1986, p. 131
  5. ^ a b Barnes 2011, p. 296
  6. ^ Barnes 2011, p. 140
  7. ^ Barnes 2011, p. 142
  8. ^ a b Barnes 2011, pp. 154–155
  9. ^ Barnes 2011, p. 225
  10. ^ Dickerson 2019, p. 47
  11. ^ Dickerson 2019, p. 76
  12. ^ Dickerson 2019, p. 95
  13. ^ Dickerson 2019, p. 251
  14. ^ Dickerson 2019, p. 287
  15. ^ De Waal 1974, p. 388
  16. ^ Bert Coules. "The Return of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  17. ^ Wright, Stewart (30 April 2019). "The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Broadcast Log" (PDF). Old-Time Radio. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  18. ^ "A Study in Sherlock". www.astudyinsherlock.net. Sherlock Holmes #1. DC Comics. Archived from the original on 30 April 2013.
  19. ^ Kingston 2007, p. 269
  20. ^ Fromm, Alan; Soames, Nicolas (1982). Judo: The Gentle Way. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-71009-025-6.
  21. ^ Godfrey, Emelyne (5 May 2009). "Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Baritsu". History Today. 59 (5): 4–5. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  22. ^ Redmond, Christopher (2009). Sherlock Holmes Handbook: Second Edition. Dundurn Press. pp. 283–284. ISBN 9781459718982.
  23. ^ Hirayama, Yuichi (2013). East Wind Coming: A Sherlockian Study Book. MX Publishing. ISBN 978-1780923802.