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.


1839.

January. Part XXI (21) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 47–49).

It was a ghastly figure to look upon. The murderer staggering backward to the wall, and shutting out the sight with his hand, seized a heavy club and struck her down.

Oliver Twist. Chapter 47.

January. Part XI (11) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 34–36).

Every baby born into the world is a finer one than the last.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 36.

January, 6 (Sunday). A Bengal Tiger escapes from Wombwell’s menagerie in east London. It kills a pet dog before being cornered and recaptured in a front garden.

January, 6 (Sunday). Ireland is struck by a violent storm.

January, 19. British forces capture Aden.

February. Part XXII (22) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapter 50).

February. Part XII (12) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 37–39).

February, 4 (Monday). A National Convention of Chartists is held at the British Coffee House (27 Cockspur Street, London). Attendees include John Frost, who would lead the Newport Rising ten months later.

February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 27th birthday.

February, 25 (Monday). A staged production of Oliver Twist opens at the Theatre Royal, Adelphi on London’s Strand.

March. Part XXIII (23) of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapter 51).

March. Part XIII (13) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 40–42).

March. Dickens visits Exeter, renting a cottage in nearby Alphington for his parents.

March, 9. The Anti-Corn Law League is founded in Manchester, England.

March, 26. Death of British judge and justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Stephen Gaselee (born in 1762). Dickens modelled Justice Stareleigh, judge at the trial of Bardell v. Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers on Gaselee.

March, 30. Dickens chairs a dinner given to William Charles Macready at the Shakespeare Club.

April. Part XXIV (24) and the final instalment of Oliver Twist is published in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany (chapters 52–53).

Everything told of life and animation, but one dark cluster of objects in the centre of all – the black stage, the cross-beam, the rope, and all the hideous apparatus of death.

Oliver Twist. Chapter 52.

April. Part XIV (14) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 43–45).

April, 16. Charles Dickens watches a performance of King Lear at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, starring the noted Shakespearian actor William Charles Macready. Dickens had been introduced to Macready two years earlier and the two became good friends.

April, 19. The Treaty of London was signed, establishing Belgium as a kingdom and guaranteeing its neutrality. The territory had previously been part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. It also confirmed the independence of the German-speaking part of Luxembourg. The treaty committed the great European powers of Austria, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia to guard Belgium’s neutrality in the event of invasion. When the German Empire invaded Belgium at the start of World War I (August 1914), the United Kingdom declared war days later on the basis of its obligations to the 1839 treaty.

April, 30. Charles Dickens rents Elm Cottage, Petersham (until Aug 31) and spends a lot of that summer there.

May. Part XV (15) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 46–48).

When I dramatise a book, sir, that’s fame. For its author.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 48.

May, 8 (Wednesday). 50th-anniversary dinner of the Royal Literary Fund is held in London’s Freemasons’ Hall.

May, 13. Protestors attack a toll gate at Efailwen in Wales, an early conflict in the so-called Rebecca Riots (1839-1843), a series of disturbances by groups of farmers in west Wales against high tolls, increasing rents, and tithes.

June. Part XVI (16) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 49–51).

Drinking-tents were full, glasses began to clink in carriages, hampers to be unpacked, tempting provisions to be set forth, knives and forks to rattle, champagne corks to fly, eyes to brighten that were not dull before, and pickpockets to count their gains during the last heat.

Nicholas Nickleby. Chapter 50.

June. A petition, signed by 1.3 million people from the Chartist movement, is presented to the House of Commons. MP’s vote, by a large majority, not to hear the petitioners.

June, 17. Dickens writes back to a ‘Miss JD‘, a Glasgow woman who was living in London and wanted help. He encloses some money.

July. Part XVII (17) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 52–54).

July, 1. An extension to the Great Western Railway opens, the train line now running from Paddington in London to Twyford in Berkshire.

July, 20. Dickens is a speaker at a banquet to honour William Charles Macready at the end of his tenure of Theatre Royal Covent Garden.

July, 25. Dickens writes a second letter to a ‘Miss JD‘, a Glasgow woman who was living in London and wanted help (see also 17 June). Apologises that he could not help her to get a job or send more money before, offering to send her a series of future payments.

July, 30 (Tuesday). Rioting breaks out in Newcastle.

August. Part XVIII (18) of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 55–58).

August, 13 (Tuesday). Rioting breaks out in Bolton.

August, 28. Death of the English geologist William Smith (born in 1769). In 1815, Smith had produced the first detailed, nationwide geological map of any country when he published a map covering the whole of England and Wales, and parts of Scotland.

September, 4. Battle of Kowloon. British vessels open fire on Chinese war junks enforcing a food sales embargo on the British community in Kowloon, China, the start of the three-year Anglo-Chinese First Opium War.

September, 20. Charles Dickens finishes writing Nicholas Nickleby.

September, 28. Author Mark Lemon marries Helen (Nelly) Romer in Kensington, London. Dickens and Lemon would later become good friends.

September (end). Parts XIX (19) and XX (20) and the final instalments of Nicholas Nickleby is published (chapters 59–65).

October, 5. A dinner to celebrate the completion of Nicholas Nickleby is held at the Albion Tavern. Dickens is presented with a portrait drawn by Daniel Maclise.

October, 23. Nicholas Nickleby is first published in one volume. The novel is dedicated to William Charles Macready.

October, 29. Dickens’s third child, Kate Macready, is born at Doughty Street.

November, 4 (Monday). Newport Rising. An armed rebellion of up to 10,000 Chartist sympathisers, led by John Frost, marches on the town of Newport, Monmouthshire. About 22 demonstrators are killed when troops open fire on them and the leaders of the rebellion later convicted of treason.

November, 25. Henry Augustus Burnett, Jr. is born, the first child of Charles Dickens’ beloved older sister, Fanny, and Henry Burnett.

December. The Dickens family move into large premises at Devonshire Terrace, near Regents Park.

December, 7 (Saturday). At an acrimonious annual dinner of the Shakespeare Society, chaired by Dickens, the society breaks up following an altercation provoked by John Forster.

December, 14 (Saturday). Dickens writes, from his Devonshire Terrace home, to the writer George Henry Lewes about the ‘unfathomable’ way the Shakespeare Society (which he calls the Shakespeare Club) regulates its proceedings.

December, 14 (Saturday). Dickens writes again to a ‘Miss JD‘, a Glasgow woman who was living in London and wanted help (see also 17 June, 25 July). Encloses some money and says he will write again.

December, 28 (Friday). Mesmerist Dr. Elliotson resigns as a lecturer on medicine at University College, and as senior physician to the North London Hospital.


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.