To readers of McMurdo’s Camp –
A new contributor, M. Vernay, resident of Princetown, Michigan provided the following. This is a challenge to readers. The examples of murderous décor within are not the only ones in the Canon. Please let us know if you identify others. Use the comment feature at the bottom of the article and your contributions will be noted.
DECORATING FOR MURDER (by M. Vernet)
This past Winter I re-read the Canon after moving into my ‘new’ home that was built in 1910. I was quietly thrilled that in some point in time some other person must have read a brand new Sherlock Holmes story, maybe “His Last Bow” in my very room!
Unpacking, cleaning, painting, and decorating were on my mind as I relaxed on those icy nights and spent some time with Sherlock and the Good Doctor. I was reading ” The Adventure of Black Peter,” and thought to myself, “If I were such a dreadful man I wouldn’t decorate with harpoons. Maybe some nice sailor valentines or handmade silk cushions from far away lands!” Then I began to wonder how many murdered Victorians could have been saved by more carefully chosen wall art? Turns out in Sherlock’s world, quite a few.
It’s not just a plot device, it’s really true! Mary Gilliatt’s ” English Country Style,” a decorating book, is full of examples of weapons as decor. Swords, shields, flintlocks, rifles, maillots, and maces, all hung right where you could easily get at them during a heated argument.
Lord Tennyson wrote in “The Princess” (1847):
Jumbled together; Celts and Calumets,
Claymore and snowshoe, toys in lava, fans
Of sandal, amber, ancient rosaries,
Laborious orient spere in spere,
The Cursed Malaysian crease and battle clubs
From the Isles of Palm. And higher on the walls
Betwixt the monstrous horns of elk and deer,
His own forefather’s arms and armour hung.
Was his Lordship thinking of Love or of his own safety? After all a Malaysian crease is a dagger with a curved blade, and those monstrous horns sound painful too.
Thomas Hope’s (1807) ” Household Furniture and interior Decoration” gives us a little history. Medieval Halls ( like Sir Hugo’s Baskerville Hall) looked rather like churches because at the time it was technically impossible to roof a wide span. They had a narrow but lofty nave (the main body of the hall) and flanked by wide, corridor-like spaces, edged with wooden posts or stone pillars which supported separate sloping roofs. There was a central hearth with smoke curling up through a droughty hole in the roof. Wood screens evolved into an inner wall with doors leading into the main space so that they formed a long corridor known as the “Screens Passage.” ( This may have been where Jack Douglas hid in Birlstone Manor.)
At the end of the hall was a dais where the family ate. The walls around the dais would be either panelled or hung with tapestries. Arms and armour were always in plain sight and heraldic shields and crested helmets belonging to the Landlord and his band of knights or Squires, hung on the walls.
For centuries the Hall continued to be the place for dining, carousing, meetings, Law Courts, (called ‘the Moot’ hence the Moot Halls in English villages and the moot points in an argument.) Who else would have arms and armour in a courtroom?
So this English tradition is why a steel Harpoon was found deep in Peter Carey’s broad breast. (The Adventure of Black Peter.)
And… Mr. Eduardo Lucas was found stabbed to the heart with a curved Indian dagger, plucked from a Trophy of Oriental arms which adorned one of the walls. (The Adventure of the Second Stain.)
And… Young Mr Willoughby Smith was murdered with a small sealing was knife with an ivory handle, part of the fittings of Professor Coram’s desk.(The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez.)
And… Poor Brenda Tregennis! Had a secret lover who decorated with African Curiosities and loved to show his guests his untraceable poison that leads to madness and death and instruct them how to use it! (The Adventure of the Devil’s foot.)
Perhaps, Dear Reader, you would like to continue my search for Murderous Decor?
( I wonder if my set of Ginsu knives would look good hung on the kitchen wall? Nooooo… better not chance it.)