The following is a detailed timeline we are compiling of the movements of the life of the Victorian writer Charles Dickens during for each year of his life, as we come across them in letters, newspaper articles and other research. We have also included some key contemporary events that occurred in society and major news events from across the world at the time.
January. Tooting Cholera Tragedy. Peter Drouet’s Establishment for Pauper Children in Tooting is at the centre of a national scandal after many children in his care die from cholera. The event leads Charles Dickens to write four articles over the coming months published in the The Examiner.
January 7. Dickens sets off for a short holiday with Mark Lemon and John Leech, travelling to Norwich. Visits Norwich Cathedral and Stanfield Hall, the scene of an infamous double murder six weeks earlier that shocked Victorian society. The party then depart for Yarmouth, staying two days at the Royal Hotel.
January 8. In Yarmouth. Walks to Lowestoft and back.
January, 9. Departs Yarmouth. Returns to London, via Cambridge.
January, 16. Dickens’ eighth child, Henry Fielding Dickens, is born.
February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 37th birthday.
March, 18 (Monday). In the evening, Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon are victims of an attempted robbery whilst walking along Edgware Road. They give chase and manage to apprehend the culprit.
March, 19 (Tuesday). Dickens and Mark Lemon attend Marylebone Police Court to hear the case of the attempted robbery the previous night.
March, 29 (Thursday). The Royal Olympic Theatre is burned down by a large fire, which also destroys several nearby buildings. The theatre, located at the junction of Drury Lane, Wych Street and Newcastle Street in London, was rebuilt in several months, reopening in December.
April, 20 (Wednesday). Sarah Thomas, aged 17, is publicly hanged at Bristol’s New Gaol for the murder of her elderly mistress, who had maltreated her. Many people were said to have been repulsed by the execution of the young servant girl, including the executioner William Calcraft and the prison governor.
April, 21 (Thursday). James Rush, a Norfolk farmer, is hanged at Norwich Castle for a double murder that became one of the most celebrated murder trials of Victorian England. A special excursion train from London was even put on for the occasion. Dickens had visited the scene of the murder (see 7 January) and refers to Rush in his letter to The Times, published on 19 November.
May. David Copperfield is published monthly between May 1849 and November 1850.
May, 19 (Thursday). William Hamilton attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria as she rides down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace. Found guilty at a later trial, Hamilton was sentenced to transportation for seven years.
May, 29. Death of John Fielden (born 1784), British industrialist and Radical Member of Parliament for Oldham between 1832 and 1847. Fielden was a supporter of the Chartists and had entered Parliament to support fellow local MP William Cobbett.
June, 15 (Sunday). Death of James K. Polk, American lawyer and politician, 11th President of the United States (born in 1795).
July – October. The Dickens family spend three months in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, staying at Winterbourne House.
November, 17 (Saturday). From his Tavistock House home, Dickens writes a follow-up letter to The Times on his position on executions following criticism in the paper.
November, 19 (Monday). A follow-up letter on Dickens’s position on executions is published in The Times.
November, 19 (Monday). In the wake of the public execution of the Mannings (see November 13), abolitionists hold a large meeting at the Bridge Hotel (near London Bridge), in Southwark calling for an end to capital punishment. The meeting is organised by the Quaker politician Charles Gilpin (1815 – 1874).
November, 27. Dickens visits Rockingham Castle.
December, 26 (Wednesday). Royal Olympic Theatre in London reopens after being destroyed by a fire (on 29 March).
December, 27 (Thursday). Dickens resigns his membership of the Garrick Club (for a second time).
Missing a date? if you know of any movements not covered here we would welcome letting us know, along with a reference to any source material so we can try to fill in the gaps.