Dr. Joseph Bell JP, DL, FRCS was a famous Scottish lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh in the 19th century. He is perhaps best known as an inspiration for the literary character Sherlock Holmes. He is the great grandson of Benjamin Bell, a forensic surgeon.
Bell was a master of the differential diagnosis through close observation, using all senses to identify the cause of one’s illness. He possessed spectacular gifts of observation, analysis and inference. He advised his students: “Do not just look at a patient, but feel him, probe him, listen to him, smell him.” To illustrate this, he would often pick a stranger and, by observing him, deduce his occupation and recent activities. These skills caused him to be considered a pioneer in forensic science (forensic pathology in particular) at a time when science was not yet widely used in criminal investigations.