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, 17 (Sunday). Charles Dickens finishes writing The Old Curiosity Shop.
January, 26. Britain occupies Hong Kong.
January, 29 (Friday). Charles Dickens begins writing Barnaby Rudge.
February, 7 (Sunday). Charles Dickens’s 29th birthday.
February, 8 (Monday). Charles Dickens and Catherine’s fourth child, Walter Savage Landor Dickens, is born.
February, 13 (Saturday). The first installment of Barnaby Rudge is published. It continues to appear weekly until November 27.
February, 24 (Wednesday) Dickens and Catherine visit Brighton, staying at the Old Ship Hotel.
March, 3 (Wednesday). Dickens and Catherine return to London (from Brighton). Discovers his pet raven, Grip, has died.
March, 4. William Henry Harrison is sworn in as the ninth President of the United States.
March, 15 (Monday). Notorious Buckingham Palace burglar Edward Jones (nicknamed ‘the boy Jones‘) is caught again inside palace grounds. He is sentenced to three months hard labour.
April, 4. Ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison dies of pneumonia, becoming the first President to die in office. Aged 68 at the time of his death, he served just 32 days in office, the shortest tenure of any President.
April, 6. John Tyler is sworn in as the tenth President of the United States.
April, 12. Charles Dickens Kneller Burnett is born, the second child of Charles Dickens’ beloved older sister, Fanny, and Henry Burnett.
April, 26 (Monday). Charles Dickens visits Tothill Fields Prison, along with the novelist Francis Smedley. See’s Edward Jones, an errand-boy who became infamous for breaking into Buckingham Palace multiple times (see 15 March).
May, 1. Suicide of Rufane Shaw Donkin, Member of Parliament for Sandwich (Kent). Donkin served as a British army officer during the Napoleonic era before becoming acting Governor of the Cape Colony (1820-21), naming Port Elizabeth in memory of his wife. He later became a Liberal MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed from 1832-1837 and for Sandwich from 1839 until his death.
May, 3. New Zealand becomes a British colony.
May, 12 (Wednesday). Dickens attends the annual meeting of the Literary Fund Society.
June, 1. Death of the Scottish scenic painter David Wilkie (born in 1785). Charles Dickens would mention his passing in his Edinburgh speech later in the month (see 25 June) and get involved in a committee to honour him with a statue (see 2 July 1842).
June, 6 (Sunday). The United Kingdom Census is held, the first to record names and approximate ages of every household member, and to be administered nationally.
June, 10. Dickens writes a second letter (to G. Lovejoy) from his Devonshire Terrace home declining an offer to stand as the Member of Parliament for Reading.
June, 15 (Tuesday). In Edinburgh, tickets go on sale for a public dinner in honour Charles Dickens, to be held at the Waterloo Hotel on 25 June, priced at one guinea.
June, 19 (Saturday). Charles Dickens and Catherine depart London for a visit to Scotland.
June, 20 (Sunday). Dickens spends the day visiting the Smithsons at Easthorpe Hall, near Malton, Yorkshire
June, 22 (Tuesday). Dickens and Catherine arrive in Edinburgh, staying at the Royal Hotel (until July 4th).
June, 23 (Wednesday). In the morning, Charles Dickens visits Parliament House in Edinburgh.
June, 25 (Friday). A public dinner is held in Edinburgh to honour Charles Dickens, who gives a speech. Held at the Waterloo rooms, Edinburgh [read speech].
June, 29 (Tuesday). At a meeting of Edinburgh Town Council, the bestowing of the freedom of the city on Charles Dickens is agreed, the members applauding the decision.
June, 30 (Wednesday). Dickens writes from the Royal Hotel, Edinburgh to the Lord Provost of the city, thanking him and the Magistrates and Council of Edinburgh, for bestowing the freedom of the city.
June, 30 (Wednesday). Great Western Railway completed throughout between London and Bristol.
July, 3 (Saturday) In the evening, Charles Dickens attends the Adelphi theatre, Edinburgh.
July, 4 (Sunday) Dickens and Catherine depart from Edinburgh for a tour of the Highlands. They are accompanied by their London servant Tom and also Angus Fletcher, advocate. Head to Callander, via Stirling, spending the night at Stewart’s Hotel, nine miles from Callander.
July, 5 (Monday). Thomas Cook arranges his first railway excursion, in England.
July, 14 (Wednesday). Dickens and Catherine spends two nights at Melrose. During the stay they visit Dryburgh.
July, 15 (Thursday). Dickens and Catherine at Melrose.
July, 17 (Saturday). Dickens and Catherine travel back to London, spending the night at York.
July, 17 (Saturday). First edition of the humorous magazine Punch is published.
July, 18 (Sunday). Dickens and Catherine arrive back in London.
August, 28. Lord Melbourne resigns as Prime Minister. He is replaced by Robert Peel.
September, 24. The Sultanate of Brunei cedes Sarawak to the United Kingdom.
October, 7 (Thursday). Dickens falls ill whilst in London.
October, 8 (Friday). Dickens undergoes an operation for the removal of a fistula.
October, 13. Death of Vice-Admiral Patrick Campbell (born in 1773). One of the most senior British Royal Navy officers of the early nineteenth century, Campbell was distinguished by his service in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He died at his home in Leamington Spa.
October, 30 (Saturday). A fire breaks out at the Tower of London, destroying the Grand Armoury.
November, 5 (Friday). Charles Dickens finishes writing Barnaby Rudge.
November, 6 (Saturday). Dickens checks-in to the White Hart Hotel in Windsor for rest (until 20th).
November, 9. Queen Victoria gives birth to her second child and first son, Edward (later King Edward VII).
November, 13 (Saturday). Scottish surgeon James Braid first sees a demonstration of animal magnetism by Charles Lafontaine in Manchester, which leads to the study of the phenomenon Braid calls hypnotism.
November, 20 (Saturday). Dickens checks-out of the White Hart Hotel, Windsor
December, 24. Sonning Cutting railway accident. A Great Western Railway mixed goods and passenger train runs into a landslide at Sonning Cutting, near Reading, Berkshire. Nine people died, many thrown from the open carriages. The tragedy led to the 1844 Railway Regulation Act legislation, requiring railway companies to provide better carriages for passengers.
December, 27 (Monday). Dickens watches a performance of The Merchant of Venice starring William Macready at London’s Drury Lane Theatre.
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.