The following is a detailed timeline we are compiling of the movements of the life of the Victorian writer Charles Dickens during for 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. Tooting Cholera Tragedy. Peter Drouet’s Establishment for Pauper Children in Tooting is at the centre of a national scandal after many children in his care die from cholera. The event leads Charles Dickens to write four articles over the coming months published in the The Examiner.
January, 5 (Friday). Tooting Cholera Tragedy. Mr. Grainger, a professor at St. Thomas’s Hospital, inspects Peter Drouet’s Establishment for Pauper Children in Tooting amid reports of a number of deaths of children in his care.
In one room eighteen feet by sixteen, and eight high, were nine beds, containing sixteen girls. In three rooms, including the preceding as the largest, were forty girls ill with cholera. In another room there were eighteen beds nearly touching each other, containing forty-five boys ill of cholera. Some of the beds contained four boys. The attendance was totally inadequate—one male and one female nurse for the whole establishment. The sudden and spasmodic action of cholera deprives the patient of all self-control; and for want of due assistance the beds and floor were in a most filthy state. In the surgery there was this provision of implements—one pair of scales, and one spatula; many of the medicines were un-labelledThe Spectator. Saturday, 13 January 1849 (on the observations of Mr. Grainger visiting the Tooting on 5 January).
January 7 (Sunday). Charles Dickens sets off for a short holiday with Mark Lemon and John Leech, travelling to Norwich. Visits Norwich Cathedral and Stanfield Hall, the scene of an infamous double murder six weeks earlier that shocked Victorian society. The party then depart for Yarmouth, staying two days at the Royal Hotel.
January 8 (Monday). Charles Dickens remains in Yarmouth. Walks to Lowestoft and back.
January, 9 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens departs Yarmouth. Returns to London, via Cambridge.
January, 16 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens’ eighth child and sixth son, Henry Fielding Dickens, is born. Dickens named him after the novelist Henry Fielding. Arguably the most successful of all of Dickens’s children, he would grow up to become a distinguished lawyer, living until 1943.
January, 29 (Monday). Death of Henry Augustus Burnett, Jr., the sickly first child of Charles Dickens’ beloved older sister, Fanny, and Henry Burnett.
February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 37th birthday.
March, 17 (Sunday). Death of William II, King of the Netherlands, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and Duke of Limburg (born in 1792).
March, 18 (Monday). In the evening, Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon are victims of an attempted robbery whilst walking along London’s Edgware Road. They give chase and manage to apprehend the culprit.
March, 19 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon attend Marylebone Police Court to hear the case of the attempted robbery the previous night.
March, 29 (Thursday). The Royal Olympic Theatre is destroyed by a large fire, which also engulfs several nearby buildings. The theatre, located at the junction of Drury Lane, Wych Street and Newcastle Street in London, was rebuilt in several months, reopening in December.
April, 20 (Friday). Sarah Thomas, aged 17, is publicly hanged at Bristol’s New Gaol for the murder of her elderly mistress, who had maltreated her. Many people were said to have been repulsed by the execution of the young servant girl, including the executioner William Calcraft and the prison governor.
April, 21 (Saturday). Christening of Charles Dickens’s eighth child and sixth son, Henry Fielding Dickens. at St. Mary’s Marylebone Parish Church.
April, 21 (Saturday). James Rush, a Norfolk farmer, is hanged at Norwich Castle for a double murder that became one of the most celebrated murder trials of Victorian England. A special excursion train from London was even put on for the occasion. Dickens had visited the scene of the murder (see 7 January) and refers to Rush in his letter to The Times, published on 19 November.
May, 19 (Thursday). William Hamilton attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria as she rides down Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace. Found guilty at a later trial, Hamilton was sentenced to transportation for seven years.
May, 28. Death of Anne Brontë, English novelist and poet, and the youngest member of the Brontë literary family (born in 1820).
May, 29. Death of John Fielden (born in 1784). British industrialist and Radical Member of Parliament for Oldham between 1832 and 1847, Fielden was a supporter of the Chartists and had entered Parliament to support fellow local MP William Cobbett.
June. Part II (2) of David Copperfield published (chapters 4–6).
June, 15 (Sunday). Death of James K. Polk, American lawyer and politician, 11th President of the United States (born in 1795).
July. Part III (3) of David Copperfield published (chapters 7–9).
July, 25-26 (Wednesday-Thursday). Violent storms hits London, with lightning striking the clock tower of St. Saviour’s church in Southwark. At Woolwich barracks, lightning hits a group of soldiers on the parade ground, killing one.
July, 30 (Monday). The Bishop of London lays a foundation stone for a new workhouse serving the parishes of Fulham and Hammersmith. The five acre site is designed to accomodate 450 people.
Summer. Karl Marx moves from Paris to London, where he will spend the remainder of his life.
July – October. The Dickens family spend three months in Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, staying at Winterbourne House.
August. Part IV (4) of David Copperfield published (chapters 10–12).
August, 9. The Bermondsey Horror murder. Marie Manning and her husband, Frederick, murder Patrick O’Connor in London. On 13 November they are hanged together publicly at Horsemonger Lane Gaol for the crime, an execution Charlers Dickens would attend and be horrified by.
September. Part V (5) of David Copperfield published (chapters 13–15).
October. Part VI (6) of David Copperfield published (chapters 16–18).
October, 7. Death of Edgar Allan Poe, American short story writer, poet, and critic (b. 1809).
November. Part VII (7) of David Copperfield published (chapters 19–21).
November, 1. Buchanan Street railway station in Glasgow is opened by the Caledonian Railway..
November, 17 (Saturday). From his Tavistock House home, Charles Dickens writes a follow-up letter to The Times on his position on executions following criticism in the paper.
November, 19 (Monday). A follow-up letter on Dickens’s position on executions is published in The Times.
November, 19 (Monday). In the wake of the public execution of the Mannings (see November 13), abolitionists hold a large meeting at the Bridge Hotel (near London Bridge), in Southwark calling for an end to capital punishment. The meeting is organised by the Quaker politician Charles Gilpin (1815 – 1874).
November, 27 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens visits Rockingham Castle.
December. Part VIII (8) of David Copperfield published (chapters 22–24).
December, 12. Death of the engineer Marc Isambard Brunel (born in France, 1769).
December, 26 (Wednesday). Royal Olympic Theatre in London reopens after being destroyed by a fire (see 29 March).
December, 27 (Thursday). Charles Dickens resigns his membership of the Garrick Club (for a second time).
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.