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.


1838.

January. Part X (10) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 20–22).

January, 1. Notorious Magistrate Allan Stewart Laing, based at Hatton Garden Police Office, is dismissed on the order of the Home Secretary, John Russell. Dickens based the character of Magistrate Fang (Oliver Twist) on Laing. Laing had fabricated an assault against him by a Dr. Paine six months earlier.

January, 7 (Sunday). A severe frost sets in across the country. It would last a month and see a number of principal rivers across the country freeze over.

January, 8 (Monday). Charles Dickens begins writing Sketches of Young Gentlemen.

January, 9 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens visits the Sun offices to take out life insurance.

January, 10 (Wednesday). Fire destroys Lloyd’s Coffee House and the Royal Exchange in London.

January, 11 (Thursday). Charles Dickens, accompanied by friend and illustrator Hablot Knight Browne, travels to visit the ruins of Lloyd’s Coffee House and the Royal Exchange, destroyed by fire the previous day, in the City of London. The pair fail to see much, Dickens writing a diary entry later of ‘we saw as much as we should have done if we had stopped at home‘.

January, 13 (Saturday). A dense morning fog hits central London.

January, 14 (Sunday). During a severe frost, an estimated 4-5,000 people crowd the Serpentine in London’s St. James park to skate on the frozen lake. Two people are killed after falling into the ice.

January, 16 (Tuesday). Correspondence between the dismissed Magistrate A. S. Laing and the Home Office is published in The Times (see 1 January).

January, 17 (Wednesday). A letter appears in The Times from Dr. Paine, rebutting accusations against him from the dismissed Magistrate A. S. Laing (see 1 January).

January, 30 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne depart London, travelling by coach to Yorkshire to visit boarding schools. The couple reach Grantham between 9 and 10pm, staying over at an inn in the town.

January, 31 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne continue their journey to Yorkshire. Depart Grantham, boarding the Glasgow Mail coach before 7am. Around 11pm they reach Greta Bridge, a village in Northern England. In Dickens’s day, it was in the county of Yorkshire. Stay at the George and New Inn in the village.

February. Part XI (11) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 23–25).

February, 1 (Thursday). After breakfast, in the morning, Dickens writes to his wife Catherine, before he sets off, accompanied by Hablot Browne, to visit the town of Barnard Castle. Stays over at the King’s Head inn.

February, 7 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens’s 26th birthday. Dickens writes to John Forster that he has begun writing Nicholas Nickleby.

February, 10 (Saturday). Sketches of Young Gentlemen is published anonymously.

February, 26 (Monday). The book Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, edited by Dickens, is published.

March. Part XII (12) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 26–27).

March, 4 (Sunday). A large fire in the Devon town of Exmouth destroys 17 houses.

March, 6 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens’s second child, Mary, is born.

March, 12 (Monday). Charles Dickens watches a theatrical performance of Coriolanus, starring William Macready on its opening night, at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden.

March, 14. Death of the politician Wyndham Lewis (born in 1780). Lewis was a Tory Member of Parliament for Maidstone at the time of his death and a close associate of Benjamin Disraeli, helping to support the future prime minister’s election to Parliament.

March, 19. Death of Edward Barnes, Conservative Member of Parliament for Sudbury. A former soldier, Barnes had been wounded at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and served as a governor of Ceylon (1824-1831).

March, 27 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens watches a theatrical performance of Oliver Twist, but is embarrassed by the production which closes soon after.

March, 29 (Thursday). Charles Dickens and Catherine visit the Star and Garter in Richmond.

March, 31 (Saturday). Part I (1) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 1–4), the first of 19 monthly instalments to September 1839.

Two goggle eyes whereof one was a fixture.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 2.

March, 31 (Saturday). A review of Nicholas Nickleby appears in the Athenaeum literary magazine.

Spring. Charles Dickens is elected a member of the Athenaeum Club.

April. Part XIII (13) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 28–30).

Death, fires, and burglary, make all men equals.

Oliver Twist. Chapter 28.

April. Part II (2) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 5–7).

April, 8. The National Gallery first opens to the public in the building purpose-designed for it by William Wilkins in Trafalgar Square, London.

April, 8. The Great Western sets off for its maiden voyage from Bristol-New York. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel as the first steamship purpose-built for crossing the Atlantic, it arrived 15 days later, half the time that sailing ships normally took to make the journey.

April, 9. The rail line between Birmingham and London is completed, amongst much celebrations at Euston Square.

April, 10. At the Old Bailey, Benjamin Alison is found guilty of the fatal poisoning of Emma Cripps.

April, 20 (Friday). Public execution of William Hill at the entrance of Kirkdale Prison in Lancashire.

April, 23 (Monday). The Great Western arrives in New York, just fifteen days after leaving the English port of Bristol.

April, 24 (Tuesday). Trials of the steam-powered ship Columbus begin on the River Mersey in Liverpool.

April, 30 (Monday). Trial of Mrs. Jeffrey at Glasgow Circuit Court for the poisoning by arsenic of two of her lodgers at her Carluke residence. The hearing lasts 18 hours, finishing at 2.40 am on Tuesday morning. Jeffrey is found guilty and sentenced to death (see also 21 May).

May. Part XIV (14) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 31–32).

May. Part III (3) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 8–10).

May, 8 (Tuesday). The People’s Charter is launched by members of the London Working Men’s Association and six MP’s. Amongst the six demands was a call for universal suffrage for male voters.

May, 10 (Thursday). Queen Victoria holds her first grand ball in the new London royal palace, Buckingham Palace. Six-hundred nobility and gentry were present.

May, 21 (Monday). Chartists hold a large demonstration in Glasgow. Around 4,000 are reported to attend the afternoon rally.

May, 21 (Monday). Execution of Mrs. Jeffrey in Glasgow for poisoning two of her lodgers.

May, 22 (Tuesday). The SS Great Western arrives in Bristol, after sailing from New York in just eighteen days.

May, 24 (Thursday). The British Queen is launched on the River Thames, at the time the longest steamer in the world at 275 feet long.

May, 24 (Thursday). Several thousand people visit Surrey Zoological Gardens to watch a planned ascent of a large balloon. When it fails to launch a number of unhappy spectators vent their anger at the balloon, ripping it to shreds.

May, 26 (Saturday). Charles Dickens attends the 49th-anniversary dinner of the Literary Fund Society, held at London’s Freemasons’ Hall. Also in attendance are Edward Bulwer-Lytton, actor Charles Kean, illustrator George Cruickshank, and the lawyer and author Sergeant Thomas Talfourd.

May, 31. Battle of Bossenden Wood. A battle takes place between a small group of labourers and a detachment of soldiers near Hernhill in Kent. The group’s leader, the self-styled Sir William Courtenay, who was actually John Nichols Tom, an eccentric Truro maltster, is killed along with eight of his followers. A soldier and a man helping to apprehend Courtenay are also killed in the skirmish.

June. Part XV (15) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 33–34).

June. Part IV (4) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 11–14).

A man in public life expects to be sneered at – it is the fault of his elevated situation, and not of himself.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 14.

June. Charles Dickens and Catherine, along with their two young children, Charley and Mary, move into 4 Ailsa Park Villas, St. Margaret’s in Twickenham, for a summer holiday.

June, 4. The first section of the Great Western Railway train line is opened, running 2212 miles (36 km) from Paddington station in London to Maidenhead Bridge station (now Taplow station) in Buckinghamshire.

June, 15. Queen Victoria travels from Windsor to visit the new Houses of Parliament.

June, 16. A meeting is held at London’s Freemasons Hall to discuss plans for erecting a monument to Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square.

June, 18. The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway opens, the first line across England.

June, 28 (Thursday). Dickens attends the coronation of Queen Victoria at Westminster Abbey in London.

June, 28 (Thursday). Chartists hold a large demonstration in Newcastle. Thousands attend, one report putting the procession at least two miles long.

July. Part XVI (16) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 35–37).

July. Part V (5) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 15–17).

Miss Knag still aimed at youth, although she had shot beyond it, years ago.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 17.

July, 8. The SS Great Western arrives in Bristol, after sailing from New York in just fourteen and a half days.

July, 31. The Irish Poor Law Bill receives Royal Assent.

August. Part XVII (17) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 38–part of 39).

August. Part VI (6) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 18–20).

Both ladies had trembled very much, and been marvellously polite – certain indications that they were within an inch of a very desperate quarrel.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 20.

August, 10 (Friday). Charles Dickens signs an agreement with Henry Colburn to edit The Pic Nic Papers.

August, 29. The SS Great Western arrives in Bristol, after sailing from New York in just thirteen and a half days.

September. Part VII (7) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 21–23).

Both ladies had trembled very much, and been marvellously polite – certain indications that they were within an inch of a very desperate quarrel.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 20.

For nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 20.

September, 3-8. Charles Dickens and family holiday on the Isle of Wight, passing through Portsmouth en-route. The couple initially stay at the Groves Needles Hotel in Alum Bay. Dickens later writes a writing a humourous letter to its proprietor, James Groves.

September, 8-10. Isle of Wight. Charles Dickens and Catherine travel to Ventnor, staying at the Ventnor Hotel.

September, 7. Grace Darling and her father rescue 13 survivors from the Forfarshire, off the Farne Islands.

September, 17 (Monday). The London to Birmingham railway line opens, having taken four years to build. and the railway boom begins.

September, 18. The Anti-Corn Law League is established by Richard Cobden.

September, 24. Large meeting held on Kersal Moor, Salford, in support of Chartism.

October. Part XVIII (18) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters end of 39–41).

October. Part VIII (8) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 24–26).

October, 5 (Friday). Killough massacre. In the United States, eighteen settlers, including extended family members of Isaac Killough, Sr., are murdered or carried away in East Texas by Native American Cherokee Indians over a land dispute.

October, 13 (Saturday). Charles Dickens and John Forster watch a theatrical performance of The Tempest, starring William Macready.

October, 16 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens witnesses cruelty to a horse by an omnibus proprietor.

October, 19 (Friday). Charles Dickens gives evidence at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court regarding animal cruelty he had witnessed three days earlier.

October, 29/30. Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne visit Leamington Spa en route to the Midlands and Wales.

October, 31 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne travel through the Midlands to Shrewsbury, staying overnight at the Lion Hotel.

November. Part XIX (19) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 42–43).

November. Part IX (9) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 27–29).

I’m always ill after Shakespeare.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 27.

November. Charles Dickens resigns from the Garrick Club.

November, 1 (Thursday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne travel to Llangollen, staying over at the Travels to the Hand Hotel.

November, 2 (Friday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne travel to Capel Curig.

November, 4 (Sunday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne travel to Chester.

November, 5 (Monday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne travel to Liverpool, where they meet up with John Forster.

November, 6 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens dines in Manchester with merchant brothers William and Daniel Grant, said to be the models for the Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby.

November, 7 (Wednesday). The completed edition of Oliver Twist is published by Richard Bentley, appearing in three volumes with twenty-four illustrations by George Cruikshank.

November, 8 (Thursday). Charles Dickens and Hablot Browne travel to London by train after completing their visit to the north-west.

November, 17 (Saturday). A review of Oliver Twist appears in the Athenaeum literary magazine.

November, 19 (Monday). The first stage dramatization of Nicholas Nickleby opens at London’s Adelphi Theatre (at the time named the Theatre Royal, Adelphi). Runs for over a hundred performances.

November, 21 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens visits London’s Adelphi Theatre (at the time named the Theatre Royal, Adelphi) to see a performance of Nicholas Nickleby.

November, 25 (Sunday). Charles Dickens visits the home of Dr. Elliotson, accompanied by the illustrator and friend George Cruikshank, to see a demonstration of mesmerism.

November, 28 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens dines with the mesmerist Dr. Elliotson.

December. Part XX (20) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 44–46).

I am chained to my old life. I loathe and hate it now, but I cannot leave it.

Oliver Twist. Chapter 46.

December. Part X (10) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 30–33).

It is a hopeless endeavour to attract people to a theatre unless they can be first brought to believe that they will never get into it.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 30.

December, 1 (Saturday). A less than complimentary article about the writings of Charles Dickens appears in the Morning Post newspaper, along with a review of Oliver Twist. It concludes ‘the reading of Boz is the dram-drinking of the mind‘.

December, 5. Charles Dickens visits William Charles Macready having written The Lamplighter for him.

December, 10 (Monday). Along with John Forster, Charles Dickens again visits William Charles Macready for a reading of The Lamplighter for him.

December, 11 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens chairs an afternoon meeting of the Literary Fund. After, he travels to the Covent Garden Theatre and meets the illustrator George Cattermole.

December, 19. An explosion at the Church Pit coal mine in Wallsend (north-east England) kills 11 men.

December, 28 (Friday). Charles Dickens dines with the mesmerist Dr. Elliotson.


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.