The following is a detailed timeline we are compiling of the movements of the life of the Victorian writer Charles Dickens during 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, 26. First performance of Douglas Jerrold‘s comic nautical melodrama Black-Eyed Susan; or, All in the Downs at the Surrey Theatre in Lambeth; it will run for a new record of well over 150 performances.

January, 28. Hanging of body-selling murderer William Burke in Edinburgh. His associate William Hare, who has testified against him, is released.

February, 2 (Monday). A fire, started deliberately, badly damages York Minster.

February, 5 (Thursday). The body of William Burke is put on display in Edinburgh. It was reported that 24,000 people came to view the partially dissected body in the seven hours that it was on display.

February, 7 (Saturday). Charles Dickens’s 17th birthday.

February, 11. Death of the Russian poet, playwright, and composer Alexander Griboyedov (born in 1795).

March, 21. A duel is fought between the Prime Minister (the Duke of Wellington) and George Finch-Hatton, 10th Earl of Winchilsea, in Battersea Fields.

March, 27. The Zoological Society of London receives its royal charter.

April, 13. King George IV reluctantly grants royal assent to the Roman Catholic Relief Act, removing the most substantial restrictions on Catholics in the United Kingdom, including the right to become a Member of Parliament and to hold most public offices.

April, 15. Robert Peel introduces his Metropolitan Police Act at Parliament. It receives Royal Assent on 19 June, thereby establishing the Metropolitan Police Service for London.

June, 10. The first Boat Race between the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge is held at Henley-on-Thames, won by the Oxford University Boat Club.

June, 19. The Metropolitan Police Act receives Royal Assent, paving the way for the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Service In London. The first officers of the new Service begin patrolling three months later (see also 15 April, 30 September).

July, 4. George Shillibeer begins operating the first bus service in London.

August, 14. King’s College London is founded by Royal Charter.

September, 29. The first police officers of the Metropolitan Police Service go on patrol in London.

October. The Rainhill Trials are held, a competition set by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway to prove their planned railway could be reliably operated by steam locomotives. Five locomotives were entered, running along a 1 mile (1.6 km) length of level track at Rainhill, in Lancashire, with only George Stephenson‘s Rocket the only locomotive to complete the trials.

December, 13. Thomas Maynard is hanged at London’s Newgate Prison for forgery, the last person in Great Britain to have this punishment. The death penalty for forgery was abolished in 1832.

(?) Dickens becomes a freelance reporter at the Doctors’ Commons.

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.