Skip to main content

Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Six Napoleons

Coming after The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, The Adventure of the Six Napoleons is another of the most famous short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Initially first published on April 30, 1904, in Collier’s Weekly, it would appear the following week in the May edition of the Strand Magazine. The Adventure of the Six Napoleons would also be republished as part of the compilation work, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, in 1905.


As previously mentioned, The Adventure of the Six Napoleons is one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, helped in no small part by its Granada TV adaptation. In the Granada TV Series, which saw Jeremy Brett play Holmes, the TV adaptation of The Adventure of the Six Napoleons keeps closely to the original storyline. The plot is also the basis for the 1944 film The Pearl of Death, with Basil Rathbone as Holmes, although it is only a basis.

Lestrade Comes to Visit

 (1904), Illustration by Sidney Paget, in The Strand Magazine - PD-life-70

(1904), Illustration by Sidney Paget, in The Strand Magazine - PD-life-70

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary of the Adventure of the Six Napoleons

Detective Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard is making one of his frequent visits to 221B Baker Street, where he tells Holmes and Watson of a strange tale that hints of some mania having to do with Napoleon Bonaparte; for someone is going around destroying the busts of the famous Frenchman, even committing burglary to do so.

Holmes is intrigued and Lestrade tells of the first event four days previous when a plaster bust was destroyed in a shop by an unidentified man. The bust itself was worth very little, and so it appeared to be just a case of vandalism. The night before Lestrade's visit though two more connected cases occurred, with the residence and surgery also witnessing vandalism of Napoleon busts, with the two locations over two miles apart. Obviously, all acts of vandalism are connected.

Lestrade still thinks it is a case of mania rather than a “criminal” act, but of course, Holmes concludes that there will be more cases, and asks Lestrade to keep him informed.

The very next morning, Lestrade sends for Holmes, for burglary has escalated into murder; for during a robbery upon Mr. Horace Harker, an unidentified man had had his throat slashed, though the man did have a photo of another man in his pocket.

A broken bust of Napoleon was found in the garden of a house down the road. Holmes has to point out the street light to Lestrade to explain why the bust was broken there rather than somewhere else.

Holmes Makes Enquiries

(1904), Illustration by Sidney Paget, in The Strand Magazine - PD-life-70

(1904), Illustration by Sidney Paget, in The Strand Magazine - PD-life-70

Holmes and Watson then start to visit the sellers of the busts of Napoleon and end up at Gelder and Co, the firm that manufactured the busts. Holmes quickly finds out there was a set of 6 busts of Napoleon from the batch is seemingly target, and the man in the photo is also identified as Beppo, a man who had worked at the firm, but had been sent to prison after knifing a fellow Italian in the street outside the firm.

Travelling on to Harding Brothers, the last seller of the Napoleon busts, Holmes then finds the names and addresses of the people who brought the last two unaccounted-for busts.

Lestrade though has been on a different line of inquiries, and has managed to identify the man with the slashed throat, as Pietro Venucci a member of the Mafia; and the inspector believes that the death is to do with an internal dispute. Lestrade is now more interested in the murder than the broken busts and is confident of apprehending Beppo in the Italian quarter.

Holmes though manages to convince Lestrade to delay his search of the Italian quarter by one day, and instead Holmes invites the policeman to come to Chiswick with him that night.

Thus Holmes, Watson and Lestrade wait in Chiswick suitably armed, and are soon rewarded when a break-in occurs in front of their eyes. Soon the burglar is outside the house again, and sounds of breaking pottery are heard. Holmes, Watson and Lestrade jump onto the back of the burglar, and soon Beppo is in handcuffs. Holmes though is more interested in the broken bust than he is in the prisoner, but there seems to be no development in the case with these broken bits.

Holmes then invites Lestrade to come to his rooms the following evening for a full explanation of events.

Lestrade is pleased with his progress on the case, although the information that Lestrade had was nothing that Holmes did not already know. The gathering was interrupted at that point by the arrival of a Mr. Sandeford, who had answered an inquiry made by Holmes. Holmes had offered to buy the bust of Napoleon in Mr. Sandeford’s possession for £10; although Mr. Sandeford was honest enough to tell Holmes that he had paid less than £1 for the bust.

After Mr. Sandeford had departed, Holmes then took up his newly purchased bust and promptly broke it. Then with an exclamation of triumph, Holmes produced from the broken fragments the black pearl of the Borgias; an act that prompts Lestrade and Watson to applaud the detective.

Holmes explains events from the robbery of the Prince of Colonna’s bedroom at the Dacre Hotel, a robbery where the maid, Lucretia Venucc,i was suspected; and in all likelihood, the maid was the sister of the man with the slashed throat.

The robbery had occurred two days before the arrest of Beppo at Gelder and Co. and so Beppo, who had obviously been involved in the robbery in some way, had hidden the pearl within one of the drying busts of Napoleon just before his own arrest.

Pietro Venucci had obviously blamed Beppo for the disappearing pearl, and so Venucci had located Beppo during one of the burglary attempts, but had been killed himself in the struggle.

With two busts left, Holmes had deduced that Beppo would go for the nearest one first, leading to his arrest in Chiswick, and when the pearl was not in that bust, it was obvious that it had to be in the bust owned by Mr. Sandeford.

With his explanation given, Lestrade then gives his most memorable speech in the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -

“Well,” said Lestrade, “I’ve seen you handle a good many cases, Mr. Holmes, but I don’t know that I ever knew a more workmanlike one than that. We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.”

And so ends the Adventure of the Six Napoleons.

Another Broken Bust

(1904), Illustration by Sidney Paget, in The Strand Magazine - PD-life-70

(1904), Illustration by Sidney Paget, in The Strand Magazine - PD-life-70

The Adventure of the Six Napoleons

  • Date of Events - 1900
  • Client - Inspector Lestrade
  • Locations - London
  • Villain - Beppo

Questions & Answers

Question: Why does Lestrade call the case of Napoleon's bust "very queer"?

Answer: Lestrade considers the case of the Six Napoleons queer because it doesn't fit in with his experience of crime. The destruction of property might be a crime, but when the perpetrator targets only busts of Napoleon, then this is, to Lestrade, an indicator of mental illness, rather than a criminal enterprise.

Question: Whom did Holmes buy the bust from in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons?

Answer: Sherlock Holmes purchased the last of Harding Brother's bust of Napoleon from one Mr Sandeford of Reading

Question: What did Mr. Harker see in his study in "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"?

Answer: The journalist Mr. Horace Harker was in his den writing when he heard a noise from downstairs. As he was not paying attention to it, Harker was only disturbed when he heard the yell of a dying man.

Question: In "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," what was hidden inside the bust?

Answer: The black pearl of the Borgias was hidden inside the bust.