by Roger Oldfield
The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes

The Book

Outrage: The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes

A great Midlands mystery

The brutal Great Wyrley animal outrages of 1903.

A national sensation:

The trial and conviction of George Edalji, son of the local vicar, for the 8th of the outrages, a savage attack on a pit-pony.

A worldwide cause célèbre

Sherlock Holmes seemingly come to life when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle campaigned to prove George innocent.

A bit more...

The tale has been told many times, notably in Julian Barnes's Arthur and George short-listed for the Man Booker prize in 2005. Roger Oldfield however believes that the fame of Conan Doyle’s campaign has obscured the fascinating history of the Edalji family as whole: Shapurji, George’s father, a Bombay-born Parsi who served as an Anglican vicar for 42 years; Charlotte, George’s mother, descended from generations of English conquerors and looters of South Asia; and the three children, George, Horace and Maud, Anglo-Asians raised in an isolated English mining village. The lives of all five were haunted by the story of that dying pit-pony.

The author has an insider's perspective: he once taught in Great Wyrley and knew descendants of players in the Edalji family drama.

Outrage by Roger Oldfield

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The Story

The true story of an extraordinary family obscured till now by a dying pony and Conan Doyle’s world-famous campaign

This book hopes to appeal to Midlanders and others still intrigued by the sensational events in the region a century ago, to those who want to see the lives of real-life Asians and Anglo-Asians in Britain pulled out of the shadows, and to worldwide fans of Sherlock Holmes and Julian Barnes's Arthur and George. It explores late Victorian and Edwardian England from contrasting viewpoints, including those of the Edalji five, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Jawaharlal Nehru, Salman Rushdie and Julian Barnes. It also unpicks the ways in which versions of the Edalji story have changed through time.

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


The People

Significant people from Outrage: The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes

  • George Edalji

    His criminal case became one of the most famous in Edwardian England

    George Edalji (1876-1953), the son of an Anglo-Asian couple, was brought up in Great Wyrley in Staffordshire. He worked as a solicitor in Birmingham, but his career was blighted by his conviction for maliciously wounding a pony, the eighth of the notorious Great Wyrley animal outrages of 1903. He was released from prison after three years and appealed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Britain’s most famous contemporary writer, to help prove his innocence. Conan Doyle’s 1907 campaign made George and his family world-famous. The Home Secretary responded to Conan Doyle’s pressure by setting up a Committee of Enquiry, which concluded that George should be given a pardon. It added, however, that he had helped bring his troubles on himself by allegedly writing anonymous letters claiming he was one of a gang involved in the outrages. The Home Secretary’s failure to grant compensation for wrongful imprisonment provoked outrage in Parliament and elsewhere. Indignation over the case was a factor behind the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907.

    Roger Oldfield's book includes the most comprehensive biography of George Edalji ever published.

  • Rev. Shapurji Edalji

    A Bombay-born Parsi who became a Church of England pioneer

    Rev. Shapurji Edalji (c1841-1918) was born into a Parsi family in Bombay, but he converted to Christianity as a teenager and was disowned by his family. He trained at the Free Church of Scotland College in Bombay and served for a period as a missionary among the pre-literate Warali people north of Bombay. He then became an Anglican and travelled to England to train as an Anglican missionary at St Augustine’s College in Canterbury. To the College’s chagrin he never returned to India. After serving as a curate in seven parishes across England he became Vicar of Great Wyrley in Staffordshire in 1876 and remained there until his death. The 42 years in Great Wyrley were filled with struggle and controversy; Shapurji even had to appear in front of the Attorney-General in 1907, the year in which Conan Doyle made the Edalji name world-famous. He was a remarkable pioneer, perhaps the first native South Asian to have been preferred to an English living.

  • Charlotte Edalji (née Stoneham)

    Her English family was at the heart of British imperialism in India

    Charlotte Edalji (née Stoneham) (1842-1924) was the daughter of the Vicar of Ketley in Shropshire and lived almost the whole of her life in vicarages. She had a fascinating ancestry, claiming that one of her family fought in the Crusades and that another distant relative was related to Katherine Howard, wife of Henry VIII. From the 17th century, members of the Thompson, Swan and Stoneham branches of the family were involved in British exploitation and conquest of India. Some stayed in Bombay itself for a period. She campaigned passionately to have her son declared innocent of the attack on a pony for which he was convicted in 1903. She wrote, among others, to the King and the Queen, and appeared on a platform alongside George Bernard Shaw.

  • Horace Edalji

    Family outcast with a bizarre response to rejection

    Horace Edalji (1879-1953?) gave the police evidence that his brother may have been involved in some of the anonymous letter-writing which plagued Great Wyrley between from 1892 to 1895 and during 1903. He became the family outcast and when he married took on his wife’s surname.

  • Maud Edalji

    Keeper of the family archive covering over 300 years of history

    Maud Edalji (1882-1961) lived at St Mark’s vicarage in Great Wyrley until her father’s death and was a key witness to all that happened to her brother and the rest of her family. She moved from the Midlands to Welwyn Garden City in 1930, and George joined her. After his death in 1953 she pursued the campaign on his behalf into its sixth decade. As the last of the Edalji family she held the whole family archive in her house, including a chest full of material on George’s case, portraits from her mother’s Stoneham family going back to the 18th century, and documents about the Stonehams and their connections with South Asia.

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    The creator of Sherlock Holmes

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) wanted to be remembered by his historical romances, especially The White Company and Sir Nigel, but his worldwide fame rests on his creation of the detective Sherlock Holmes. He did try to kill Sherlock Holmes off at the height of his fame in 1893 by having him fall into the Reichenbach Falls with his arch-enemy Moriarty. In 1903, however, the year of the Great Wyrley outrages, he bowed to public demand and brought Sherlock Homes back to life in The Return of Sherlock Holmes. His first wife died in 1906, and it was in the period of turmoil which followed that George Edalji appealed to him to help prove his innocence. For six months in 1907 Conan Doyle poured all his energy into the campaign. The sight of a real-life Sherlock Holmes on the trail excited a worldwide public. Almost all of Conan Doyle’s biographers deal in detail with this episode in his life, though usually relying on Conan Doyle’s writings for most or all of their evidence. One or two researchers have questioned Conan Doyle’s approach to the case, pointing to his gullibility on other subjects such as spiritualism and photographs purporting to prove the existence of fairies.

  • George Anson

    Staffordshire Chief Constable for 42 years who declared war on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    George Anson (1857-1947), son of the Earl of Lichfield of Shugborough, was Chief Constable of Staffordshire from 1888 to 1929. The Edalji family’s troubles started in 1888 with the first of a series of anonymous letter-writing episodes which plagued Great Wyrley, on and off, for decades. Anson suspected George Edalji was involved. When Conan Doyle investigated George’s case in 1907 he came to the conclusion that a main reason for George Edalji’s wrongful conviction for wounding a pony had been the fact that George Anson had infected his police force with his racial prejudices. The relationship between Anson and Conan Doyle developed into seething hostility, with each of them eventually appealing to Home Secretary Winston Churchill for support.

  • Julian Barnes

    Leading British novelist, author of Flaubert’s Parrot

    Julian Barnes (1946- ) is one of Britain’s most famous contemporary writers. Three of his novels – Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), England, England (1998) and Arthur and George (2005) have been short listed for the Man Booker Prize. Arthur and George examines the converging lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Birmingham solicitor George Edalji, convicted for maliciously wounding a pit-pony in his home village of Great Wyrley in Staffordshire in 1903. The novel has been translated into several languages. Leading playwright David Edgar has adapted the story for the stage.

  • Dadabhai Naoroji

    A founding father of the Indian National Congress who became known as the ‘Grand Old Man of India’

    Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) was a Parsi educated at the same Bombay college as Shapurji Edalji. In 1885, along with Shapurji Edalji’s former classmate Dinshaw Edulji Wacha and others, he founded the Indian National Congress, which later became the leader of the Indian independence movement. His defeat as Liberal candidate in Holborn in the 1886 British general election led Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to make his notorious comment that ‘however great the progress of mankind has been, and however far we have advanced in overcoming prejudices, I doubt if we have yet got to the point of view where a British constituency would elect a black man’. In 1892 however Naoroji became the first Asian to be elected a member of the British House of Commons. He eventually became known as ‘The Grand Old Man of India’.

  • Rudyard Kipling

    Bombay-born imperialist who wrote about India with affection

    Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was born in Bombay. It is conceivable that Shapurji Edalji, who was an Anglican by that time, attended his baptism in St Thomas Cathedral. Kipling’s works with an Indian setting include Kim (1894) and Jungle Book (1901). The imperialist emphasis of his work is epitomised by the poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’ (1899). He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, the year of Conan Doyle’s campaign on George Edalji’s behalf.

  • Jawaharlal Nehru

    First Prime Minister of India after independence

    Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) was educated at Harrow (1905-7) and Cambridge (1907-10), where he was awarded a law degree. Whilst at Harrow he wrote to his parents complaining about George Edalji’s treatment. The case may have played a small part in changing his view of the British and becoming more self-consciously Indian. After his return to India he practised as a barrister but was eventually drawn into the struggle for independence, alongside Gandhi. He headed the Indian National Congress four times and, like Gandhi, was jailed several times for his part in civil disobedience campaigns. In 1947 he became the first Prime Minister of an independent Indian state.

  • Salman Rushdie

    Bombay-born novelist and biting critic of British imperialism

    Salman Rushdie (1947- ) was born in Bombay. He achieved world fame though his Midnight’s Children, which won the Booker Prize in 1981; the novel is about the children born on the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence in 1947. Much of the rest of his work is set in South Asia too. In a Channel 4 broadcast in 1983 he laid out his view of the impact of British imperialism on British people’s racial attitudes: ‘If you want to understand British racism... it is impossible even to begin to grasp the nature of the beast unless you accept its historical roots; unless you see that 400 years of conquest and looting, centuries of being told that you are superior to the fuzzy-wuzzies and the wogs... leave their stain on you all; that such a stain seeps into every part of your culture, your language and your daily life; and that nothing much has been done to wash it out...’

The Author

Roger Oldfield

Roger Oldfield

Outrage Author

Author Roger Oldfield has a personal connection with the Edalji story. He was Head of History at Great Wyrley High School from 1971 to 1986 and met descendants of players in the drama which had once made the village world-famous. His students produced inherited photographs and theories about the horrific animal outrages of 1903 to 1907. St Mark’s vicarage, the Edalji family home, was a few hundred yards from the school, and all the outrages were committed within two miles of the site.

Later, as Advisory Teacher for Multicultural Education in Staffordshire, he was able to investigate the wider experiences of the Edalji family and discover whole areas of their lives unreported by any other writer.

Academics, journalists, authors and television programme-makers have drawn on his research. He himself has appeared in television programmes about the events of 1903 to 1907, including the BBC’s Conan Doyle for the Defence and ITV’s Forensic Casebook with Matthew Kelly.

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Send an email to Roger Oldfield

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