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, 3. Great Western Railway opens its Swindon Works.
January, 6. Dickens hosts a Twelfth Night party at his house.
January, 20 (Friday). Dickens dines at Jack Straw’s Castle in Hampstead with Henry Austin and Thomas Mitton.
January, 20 (Friday). Civil servant and member of the Drummond banking family, Edward Drummond is fatally shot in Whitehall, London. It is believed the assassin, a Scottish woodturner called Daniel M’Naghten, was targeting Prime Minister Robert Peel.
January, 21-24. Charles and Catherine visit Bath.
February. Part 2 (chapters 4–5) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 31st birthday.
March. Part 3 (chapters 6–8) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
March, 2 (Friday). Trial opens of Daniel M’Naghten at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, for the murder of Edward Drummond (see January 20).
March, 3 (Saturday). Conclusion of the trial of Daniel M’Naghten. M’Naghten is found not guilty of murder “by reason of insanity”. This leads to the McNaughton Rules being developed by the House of Lords to establish the basis for the insanity defence in common law.
March, 17. The first sightings of a powerful comet are observed over southern England.
March, 17 (Friday). A minor earthquake is felt across northern England.
March, 21 (Friday). Death of Robert Southey, poet, historian, and translator and England’s Poet Laureate since 1813 (born in 1774).
March, 21. Death of Guadalupe Victoria, Mexican general and politician and the First President of Mexico (born in 1786).
March, 24. Battle of Hyderabad. The Bombay Army, led by Major General Sir Charles Napier, defeats the Talpur Emirs, securing Sindh province for the British Raj.
March, 25. Marc Isambard Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, the world’s first bored underwater tunnel, is opened in London.
April. Part 4 (chapters 9–10) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
If we look at our social and daily life, we shall see how constantly present the press is, and how essential an element it has become of civilised existence.Charles Dickens, 4 April 1843 (speech to annual dinner of the Printers’ Pension Society).
April, 4 (Tuesday). William Wordsworth becomes England’s new Poet Laureate.
April, 5 (Wednesday). In the early hours, a fire destroys a brewery attached to the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich. At the time, the brewery reportedly produced three pints of beer daily to pensioners residing there.
April, 17 (Easter Monday). Thousands of people descend on Greenwich on the opening day of the Easter Fair.
April, 25 (Tuesday). Queen Victoria gives birth to her third child and second daughter, Alice.
May. Part 5 (chapters 11–12) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
May, 4. Natal is proclaimed a British colony.
June. Part 6 (chapters 13–15) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
June, 29 (Thursday). Dickens attends a benefit dinner for the Sanatorium medical home, held at the London Tavern. Gives a speech to those assembled.
July. Part 7 (chapters 16–17) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
July, 19 (Wednesday). Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain is launched in Bristol. It becomes the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
July, 20 (Thursday). The steamship Pegasus, sailing from Leith to Hull, hits rocks and sinks with the loss of 57 lives and just six survivors. Amongst the casualties are the actor William Elton, a friend of Charles Dickens.
August. Part 8 (chapters 18–20) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
August – September. Dickens spends the summer in Broadstairs.
August, 5. Sarah Dazley, the last woman to be executed in public in England, is hanged for murder outside Bedford Prison
August, 19. A large fire breaks out at Topping’s Wharf, on the east side of London Bridge, causing considerable damage including to nearby St Olave’s Church.
August, 22. The Theatres Act passes, ending the virtual monopoly of theatrical performances held by the patent theatres and encouraging the development of popular entertainment.
September. Part 9 (chapters 21–23) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
September, 2. The Economist newspaper is first published.
September, 3. An uprising in Athens forces King Otto of Greece to grant a constitution.
October. Part 10 (chapters 24–26) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
October, 1. News of the World newspaper is first published.
October, 2. Dickens returns to London from Broadstairs.
October, 5. Charles Dickens gives a speech to members of the Manchester Athenaeum on the virtues of education and learning at the institution [read speech].
October, 5 – December (early). Dickens writes A Christmas Carol.
October, 10 (Tuesday). During a court case at London’s Marlborough Street, park-keepers patrolling Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens reveal that around fifty homeless people, mostly young girls, sleep nightly amongst the trees and hollows in the two parks.
October, 11 (Wednesday). The Times newspaper runs a strongly-worded editorial comment on destitution in the capital, following details of the court case at London’s Marlborough Street the previous day (see 10 October).
November. Part 11 (chapters 27–29) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
November, 3-4. The statue of Nelson is placed atop Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square.
November (late). Towards the end of the month, advertisements are taken out in newspapers for Dickens forthcoming work, A Christmas Carol.
December. Part 12 (chapters 30–32) of Martin Chuzzlewit published.
December, 19 (Tuesday). A Christmas Carol is published (in one volume). All 6,000 copies of the initial print run sell out within days.
December, 23 (Saturday). One of the earliest reviews of A Christmas Carol is published in The Athenaeum literary magazine, in which Dickens’s friend, H. F. (Henry Fothergill) Chorley, describes it as “wrought up with a thousand minute and tender touches of the true ‘Boz’ workmanship”.
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.