The Adventure of the Gloria Scott


The Adventure of the Gloria Scott

The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes". This story is related mainly by Holmes rather than Watson, and is the first case to which Holmes applied his powers of deduction, having treated it as a mere hobby until this time.

ynopsis

In his college days, Holmes spends a month with his only friend, Victor Trevor, at the Trevor estate in Norfolk. While there, Holmes amazes his host, Victor's father, who had been a Justice of the Peace and a landowner besides. He had made his fortune in the goldfields in Australia. Among Holmes's deductions, the young detective discovers that the elder Trevor had once been connected to someone with the initials J. A. whom he now wishes to forget. At this point, Trevor passes out on the table. It seems that Holmes has broached upon a touchy subject. When the older man comes to, he relates how J. A. had been an old lover. Holmes views the elder Trevor's explanation with skepticism.

Holmes perceives that he is making his host uncomfortable and decides to take his leave. The evening before he does this, another older man suddenly appears at the house. Visibly perturbed, the elder Trevor rushes to procure a shot of brandy before greeting the guest. It turns out that the two had been shipmates, some 30 years prior. This old acquaintance, by the name of Hudson, secures employment with the elder Trevor. Soon afterwards, Holmes and his friend find Mr. Trevor drunk.

Holmes spends the next seven weeks at his chemistry experiments. His studies are interrupted when a telegram arrives from young Trevor, begging him to come back to Norfolk. Upon arriving, Holmes is told that the elder Trevor has been in a critical state since suffering a stroke which coincided with the arrival of a certain letter. The two soon discover that the elder Trevor has died during Holmes's arrival.

After Holmes had left the house seven weeks earlier, it seems that this Hudson who had come looking for work proved to be as unruly an employee as could be imagined. He had demanded to be promoted from gardener to butler and had got what he wanted. He had taken unforgivable liberties which would normally have resulted in an employee's dismissal. He was often drunk. Victor could not stand him and would have beaten Hudson up if he had been younger. The other staff were just as scandalized by Hudson's behaviour as Victor was. For some reason, Victor's father never reprimanded his old shipmate. Then, without warning, Hudson announced that he had grown tired of Norfolk and that he would be going to see Beddoes, another old shipmate, in Hampshire.

Now, Holmes's friend had become thin and careworn by the ordeal. He had thought that the trouble was over when Hudson had left. To frustrate his hopes, the post brought the fatal letter from Fordingbridge, Hampshire. It read: "the supply of game for London is going steadily up. Head-keeper Hudson, we believe, has been now told to receive all orders for fly-paper and for preservation of your hen pheasant's life."

This cryptic message had related nothing to Victor. It is some time, even, before Holmes sees anything in it. Holmes discovers that, if one reads every third word, beginning with the first, an intelligible message emerges. It reads: "the game is up. Hudson has told all. Fly for your life."

Holmes deduces that "the game" must be blackmail. Hudson is in possession of some information connected to some guilty secret concerning the elder Trevor. The old man's dying words to his doctor give further evidence. On these instructions, they find a confession in Mr. Trevor's Japanese Cabinet.

The elder Mr. Trevor had once borne the name James Armitage (initials: J. A.) and had been a criminal having embezzled money from the bank where he worked and been caught. He was sentenced to Transportation.

Once on the ship, the "Gloria Scott", bound for Australia from Falmouth, Armitage found out from a neighbouring prisoner that there was a conspiracy to take over the ship. The neighbour, Jack Prendergast, had financed the scheme out of the nearly £250,000 in unrecovered money from his crime. Many of the crew, even officers, were in his employ, and even the chaplain, who was not truly a clergyman at all. He, while pretending to minister to the prisoners, was actually furnishing them with pistols and other equipment to be used when the time was right. Armitage also drew his other neighbour, Evans, into the scheme.

As might be expected, all did not go as planned. The takeover was accomplished unexpectedly when the ship's doctor discovered a pistol while treating a prisoner. The prisoners then had to make their move right away or they would lose the element of surprise. In the ensuing mêlée, many men were killed, and there arose a dispute between Prendergast with his supporters and a group including Armitage over what to do with the few loyal crewmen still left alive. Armitage and others would not stand for coldblooded murder. They asked to be cast adrift in a small boat to make their way as they would.

Shortly after leaving in their small boat, the "Gloria Scott" blew up as the result of the violence spreading to where the gunpowder was kept. The men in the small boat, among whom was also Evans, hurried back to the site and rescued one survivor — Hudson.

The next day, as luck would have it, the men were rescued by another ship, the "Hotspur", also bound for Australia. They passed themselves off as survivors from a passenger ship and once in Australia, headed for the goldfields. Armitage changed his name to Trevor, and Evans changed his name to Beddoes. Both later returned to England as rich men.

All had gone well until Hudson had suddenly shown up.

Since no scandal involving the "Gloria Scott" ever follows the odd message from Beddoes (Evans), and since neither Hudson nor Evans are ever heard from again, the Police come to believe that Hudson had done away with Beddoes. Holmes posits that Evans may have killed Hudson, labouring under a misapprehension regarding the latter's silence and fled with as much money as he could lay his hands on.

Commentary

The phrase "smoking gun" meaning undeniable guilt is often attributed to this short story. A passage in the text relates to the murder by an impostor posing as a chaplain aboard the prison ship "Gloria Scott": "We rushed into the captain's cabin...there he lay...while the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand..." Although the word pistol is used, this reference is thought to be the origin of the popular expression. On the syndicated TV show Jeopardy!, the Final Jeopardy clue on November 19, 2007 contained a reference to this passage.

Discrepancy

The confession account contained a scribbled footnote from the elder Trevor that recorded the fatal note delivered to him. This contradicts the stated fact that Trevor never regained consciousness until the very end of his life, at which time he merely revealed where the confession lay.

According to Trevor's confession the "Gloria Scott" left Falmouth "thirty years ago" and precisely in 1855, but that would set Holmes' enquiry in 1885 and not in his college years, like he told Watson. Since further in the story the elder Trevor writes also: "For more than twenty years we have led peaceful and useful lives", we can assume that the exact date is around 1875, that would fit Holmes's reference to his college years.

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