The Adventure of the Lion's Mane

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"The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"
AuthorArthur Conan Doyle
SeriesThe Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
Publication date1926

"The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" (1926), 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 Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. It is notable for being narrated by Holmes himself, instead of by Dr. Watson (who does not appear in the story).


Holmes is enjoying his retirement in Sussex when one day at the beach, he meets his friend Harold Stackhurst, the headmaster of a nearby preparatory school called The Gables. No sooner have they met than Stackhurst's science teacher, Fitzroy McPherson, staggers up to them, clearly in agony and wearing only an overcoat and trousers. He collapses, manages to say something about a "lion's mane", and then succumbs. He is observed to have red welts all over his back, possibly administered by a flexible weapon of some kind, for the marks curve over his shoulder and round his ribs.

Moments later, Ian Murdoch, a mathematics teacher at The Gables, comes up behind them. He has not seen the attack, and has only just arrived at the beach from the school. Holmes sees a couple of people far up the beach, but thinks they are much too far away to have had anything to do with McPherson's death. Likewise, the few fishing boats off the beach are too far out.

It emerges that Murdoch and McPherson were friends, but had not always been. Murdoch is an enigmatic fellow with an occasional bad temper. He once threw McPherson's dog through a plate-glass window, for instance. Despite this, Stackhurst is sure that the two were on good terms with each other.

McPherson also had a lover, and on further investigation, it turns out that Maud Bellamy was McPherson's fiancée. A note confirming a meeting with her was found on McPherson, although it gave no clear details.

Holmes goes to look at the lagoon formed by a recent storm that local men have been using as a bathing pond. He sees McPherson's towel lying there dry and concludes that he never went into the water. Holmes arranges to have the caves and other nooks at the foot of the cliffs searched. Nothing and no-one turns up, which is what Holmes expected would be the case.

Stackhurst and Holmes decide to go and see Miss Bellamy to see whether she can shed any light on this perplexing mystery. Just as they are approaching The Haven, the Bellamys' house, they see Ian Murdoch emerge. Stackhurst demands to know what he was doing there, and an angry exchange ensues with Murdoch declaring in effect that it is none of Stackhurst's business. Stackhurst loses his temper and sacks Murdoch on the spot. Murdoch then storms off to get ready to move out.

They visit the Bellamys and find an amazingly beautiful woman in Maud Bellamy, but two extremely unpleasant men in her father and muscular brother. It seems that Mr. Bellamy and his son did not approve of the liaison between Maud and McPherson; indeed, they do not even find out about the engagement until this meeting, so secret had been the affair. Maud says that she will help however she can. It emerges that Murdoch was once a potential suitor to Miss Bellamy. This, in turn, causes Holmes to suspect that he may be responsible for McPherson's death, out of jealousy.

Then McPherson's dog is found dead at the pool where McPherson met his end. It obviously died in agony, much as its master had. At this point, Holmes begins to suspect something else. The dead McPherson's dying words, "lion's mane", have triggered a memory, but he cannot quite place it.

Inspector Bardle of the Sussex Constabulary visits Holmes to ask if there is enough evidence to arrest Murdoch. Holmes is sure that there is not. Murdoch has an alibi. He also could not have singlehandedly overcome McPherson, who was quite strong, despite having heart trouble. The two men also consider McPherson's wounds. The weals actually looked as though they may have been administered by a hot wire mesh, or perhaps a cat o' nine tails. Holmes is about to go back to the bathing pond to test a theory he has formed which might explain McPherson's death. As he is about to leave, Murdoch arrives, helped in by Stackhurst, who is afraid that Murdoch might be dying; he fainted twice in pain. He has the same wounds on him that McPherson had. In great agony, he passes out, but finally recovers.

At the bathing pond, Holmes spots the murderer: a lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), a deadly creature about which Holmes has read. Holmes takes a rock and kills it. Murdoch is exonerated. It turns out that, given his former relationship with Maud, he acted as a go-between for her and McPherson, but for the same reason, did not wish to discuss it with anyone. Stackhurst forgives Murdoch and gives him his job back.


This is one of only two stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to be narrated by Sherlock Holmes himself instead of Dr. Watson. The other story is "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier".


"The Lion's Mane" was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1994 by Bert Coules as part of his complete radio adaptation of the canon, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson.[1] "The Lion's Mane" was indirectly referenced in the BBC adaptation Sherlock in "The Six Thatchers", where Sherlock and John, while solving cases, jokingly comment on the stupidity of arresting a jellyfish. In the CBS adaptation Elementary, in the introduction of The Geek Interpreter, Sherlock briefly reports solving the 1926 cold case death of Fitzroy McPherson, identifying the Lion's Mane jellyfish as the culprit.


  1. ^ Bert Coules. "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.

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