Concept art for "The Five Orange Pips".

"The Five Orange Pips" (also known as "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips") is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the November 1891 issue of the magazine The Strand. It would be republished on October 14, 1892 as the fifth story in the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

In the story, a young man named John Openshaw approaches the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes for help and advice. Both John Openshaw's uncle Elias Openshaw and his father Joseph Openshaw had died shortly after receiving envelopes which contained five orange pips.[1] Although Elias Openshaw's death was ruled suicide and Joseph Openshaw's death was ruled accidental, John believes that the two men were murdered. The day before he went to see Sherlock Holmes, John Openshaw also received five orange pips in the mail. Sherlock Holmes recognizes the significance of the fact that John's uncle Elias Openshaw spent several years in the Southern United States of America, became a colonel in the Confederate Army and suddenly returned to England in 1869.

"The Five Orange Pips" is included in a list of the twelve best Sherlock Holmes stories which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle compiled for The Strand magazine in 1927.[2]


The story begins on a very stormy evening in September 1887. While Dr. John Watson's wife is at her mother's house, he is spending a few days visiting his friend Sherlock Holmes at the Baker Street home which they once shared. A visitor is heard entering the building where Holmes lives. Holmes realizes that any client who would come to see him on such a stormy night must be there on very serious business.

A young man enters the room. He introduces himself as John Openshaw of Horsham, Sussex. He explains that the problem which he now faces seems to have some connection to something which his uncle, Elias Openshaw, once did.

Seal of the Confederate States of America

Seal of the Confederate States of America.

Elias Openshaw emigrated to Florida when he was a young man and became a wealthy plantation owner. During the American Civil War, he fought for the Confederacy and rose to the rank of colonel. Around the year 1869, he returned to England and took up residency in a large house in Horsham. After he returned to England, Elias Openshaw lived the life of a recluse, never leaving the grounds of his house and gardens and often spending days in his bedroom. He shunned all company, even that of his only brother Joseph. However, he became very fond of Joseph's son John. When John was twelve years old, his father gave permission for him to go to live with his uncle, Elias. John frequently spoke to servants and tradespeople on his uncle's behalf. He was allowed to go anywhere in the house, except for one locked attic room. Although John never entered the room while his uncle was alive, he did look through its keyhole. However, he saw nothing but the boxes and trunks which one would expect to find in an attic room.

On March 10, 1883, Elias Openshaw received a letter from Pondicherry, India. When he opened the envelope, Elias found that it contained nothing but five orange pips[1] and that the letters "KKK" were written in red ink on its inside. Elias, obviously in fear for his life after receiving the unusual piece of mail, retrieved a small brass box from the locked attic room. He asked his nephew John to fetch a lawyer and ordered that the maid start a fire. When he was later called to see his uncle and the lawyer, John saw the open and empty brass box and the ashes from several blue papers in the fireplace. Elias told his nephew that he had left his house and all his property to his brother, John's father, Joseph, and that it would pass to John in time. However, Elias feared that his nephew would not be happy in the house, saying, "If you can enjoy it in peace, well and good! If you find you cannot, take my advice my boy and leave it to your deadliest enemy." Seven weeks later, on May 2, 1883, Elias Opensahw was found drowned in a shallow pond. The coroner concluded that his death was suicide.

After Joseph Openshaw inherited the house, he and John inspected the locked attic room. They found that it contained nothing but documents relating to Elias Openshaw's time in America, some of which revealed that he did not approve of the political changes which occurred in the South after the Civil War. A paper ticket found inside the brass box suggested that it had once contained documents related to the mysterious KKK.


Joseph Openshaw is surprised to receive five orange pips in the mail. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

In January 1885, Joseph Openshaw received a letter from Dundee, Scotland. When he opened the envelope, he found that it contained five orange pips and that the words, "Put the papers on the sundial. KKK." were written inside it. John told his father that "the sundial" must refer to the one in their garden and that "the papers" must mean the ones that Elias had burned. John was greatly troubled by the piece of mail but his father was not. A few days later, Joseph Openshaw died after falling into a chalk-pit in the dark. The coroner concluded that his death was accidental.

John Openshaw decided to stay in the house in Horsham, concluding that the mysterious KKK killed his uncle and father because of something that his uncle once did, which meant that he would be in just as much danger wherever he lived. On the day before he came to see Sherlock Holmes, John Openshaw received a letter with an East London postmark. The envelope contained five orange pips and had the words "Put the papers on the sundial. KKK" written inside it. The young man also shows Holmes that he has one piece of blue paper that appears to have escaped his uncle's fire. Written on it, in Elias Openshaw's handwriting, is a diary entry about having "set the pips" on men called McCauley, Paramore and John Swain. Further diary entries say, "McCauley cleared", "John Swain cleared" and "Visited Paramore. All well".

Holmes tells John Openshaw to go at once to Waterloo Station and get a train back to Sussex. He tells him that he should put the one remaining piece of blue paper in the brass box, together with a letter which explains that all the other papers have been destroyed, and place the box on the sundial in his garden.

Exhibit with Statue of Ku Klux Klan Member - National Civil Rights Museum - Downtown Memphis - Tennessee - USA

Exhibit from the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, with a model of a Ku Klux Klan member.

After John Openshaw leaves, Holmes asks Watson what Pondicherry, Dundee and East London have in common. Watson correctly answers that they are all seaports. Holmes points out that the murders of Elias Openshaw and his brother Joseph were both committed as soon as the murderer arrived in Horsham from the port. The fact that seven weeks passed between the day that Elias received the letter from Pondicherry and the day that he was killed means that his murderer must have been traveling on a sailing ship, the letter having been sent on a much faster steamship. Holmes thinks it is unlikely that one murderer could have fooled the coroner twice, suggesting that KKK are not the initials of a person but an organization.

Reading from an American encyclopedia, Holmes tells Watson about the Ku Klux Klan. He tells his friend that the Klan was founded by former Confederate soldiers and that its activities included, "the murdering and driving from the county of those who were opposed to its views". A secret warning would always be sent to enemies of the Klan first, a sprig of oak leaves, melon seeds and orange pips being used in different areas. Anyone who did not change their ways or leave the area after receiving such a warning from the Ku Klux Klan would be killed. Referring back to the diary entries that John Openshaw read, Holmes says that Elias Openshaw must have sent such secret warnings to people that he "set the pips" on, that "cleared" means "left the area" and that "all well" means "murdered". According to Holmes' encyclopedia, although similar acts of organized violence have sometimes occurred since that date, the Ku Klux Klan was suddenly disbanded in 1869.[3] Holmes speculates that this was because Elias Openshaw took important documents related to the Klan with him when he returned to England, which probably implicate important people from the South.

Sherlock Holmes in The Five Orange Pips

Holmes and Watson read about the death of John Openshaw in the newspaper. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

The following morning, Holmes and Watson read in the newspaper that John Openshaw has drowned after falling into the river near Waterloo Bridge.[4] Holmes determines to avenge the young man's death.

Holmes finds out that among the sailing ships in Pondicherry in January and February of 1883 was one with the distinctly American name of Lone Star. He finds out that the same ship was in Dundee in January 1885 and that it has just left London, bound for Savannah, Georgia. Since the captain and his two mates are the only members of the ship's crew who were born in the United States, Holmes concludes that they must be the former Klan members and murderers. Holmes places five orange pips in an envelope, writes, "S.H. for J.O." inside it and addresses it to, "Captain James Calhoun, Bark Lone Star, Savannah, Georgia". Holmes also plans to send a telegram to the police in Georgia, asking them to question Captain Calhoun about a murder.

Captain Calhoun never receives Sherlock Holmes' five orange pips because the Lone Star sinks during a storm in the Atlantic Ocean.


Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon 2

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

The 1945 Hollywood movie Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear, starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, is credited as an adaptation of "The Five Orange Pips". In the film, six of the seven members of a society called The Good Comrades appear to die mysterious deaths. Each one first receives a warning in the form of an envelope which contains orange pips.[1] The first one receives seven pips, the second receives six, the third receives five and so on.When asked by Holmes about the significance of orange pips, Bruce Alastair, the head of the society, says, "I seem to remember reading somewhere that among some obscure tribe of savages, orange pips are looked upon as a symbol of death". It is ultimately revealed that the six members of The Good Comrades faked their deaths as part of a scam in which they all claimed a share of the money from each other's life insurance policies.

Martin Freeman + Benedict Cumberbatch

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch during the filming of Sherlock in 2013.

Two episodes of the British TV series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson, reference "The Five Orange Pips". In the episode "The Great Game", which first aired on BBC One on August 5, 2010, an assassin organization sends five "pips" as a warning. The "pips" in the episode are five short electronic beeps, similar to the six short beeps of the Greenwich Time Signal or the "pips" that are broadcast on BBC radio at the start of the hour. In the New Year special episode "The Abominable Bride", set partly in Victorian England and partly in the present-day that first aired on BBC One on January 1, 2016, a murder victim receives five orange seeds in the mail before being killed. The episode also features a secret society which, although it does not greatly resemble the Ku Klux Klan, requires its members to wear hoods.

The title of "The Five Orange Pips" is referenced and some elements from the story are employed in "The Five Orange Pipz", the second episode of the third season of the American Sherlock Holmes TV series Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson, which first aired on CBS on November 6, 2014. The "Pipz" of the episode's title are a brand of plastic bead which prove toxic when children swallow them.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 In British English, an "orange pip" is an orange seed,
  2. In the list of his twelve favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle compiled for The Strand magazine in 1927, the author ranked "The Five Orange Pips" as his seventh best, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Dancing Men", "The Final Problem", "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Adventure of the Empty House".
  3. The original Ku Klux Klan had indeed largely disappeared by the 1870s. It was refounded in 1915.
  4. "The Five Orange Pips" is one of two Sherlock Holmes stories in which Holmes' client dies after having hired him, the other one being "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".

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