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. 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 Examiner.

MR. DICKENS’s NEW CHRISTMAS BOOK.—this day is published, price 5s, elegantly bound in cloth, with illustrations by Clarkson Stanfield, R.A., Frank Stone, John Leech, and John Tenniel, the HAUNTED MAN and the GHOST’s BARGAIN: a Fancy for Christmas Time. By CHARLES DICKENS. London. Bradbury and Evans, 11, Bouverie street.

The Times. Thursday, 4 January 1849 (Advertisement).

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.

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, 9 (Tuesday). The New London Cattle-market, in London’s Islington area, opens.

January, 15 (Monday). Inquest opens into children in the care of the Board of Chelsea Guardians who died after being removed from Peter Drouet’s Establishment for Pauper Children in Tooting opens in the boardroom of the Chelsea workhouse at Arthur Street, Chelsea. It is supervised by Thomas Wakely M.P., (also Coroner for the Western Division of Middlesex). Drouet is also present. The inquest is adjourned.

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, 20 (Saturday). The Paradise at Tooting, the first of four articles by Charles Dickens about the Tooting Cholera Tragedy, is published in The Examiner.

January, 22 (Monday). The Siege of Multan. During the Second Anglo-Sikh War the last Sikh defenders of Multan, Punjab, surrender after holding out for nine months against forces controlled by the British East India Company.

January, 26 (Friday). Inquest into children in the care of the Board of Chelsea Guardians killed at Tooting resumes.

January, 27 (Saturday). The Tooting Farm, the second of four articles by Charles Dickens about the Tooting Cholera Tragedy, is published in The Examiner.

January, 29 (Monday). Death of Henry Augustus Burnett, Jr., the sickly first child of Charles Dickens’s beloved older sister, Fanny, and Henry Burnett.

January, 30 (Wednesday). Inquest into children in the care of the Board of Chelsea Guardians killed at Tooting resumes.

January, 31 (Wednesday). Inquest into children in the care of the Board of Chelsea Guardians is resumed and concluded. The Coroner’s jury finds a guilty verdict of manslaughter against Peter Drouet.

February, 7 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens’s 37th birthday.

February, 9 (Friday). A heated vestry meeting is held in Chelsea to discuss the behaviour of the Board of Chelsea Guardians in light of the verdict of the coroner’s jury on 31 January.

February, 12 (Monday). During questions in the House of Commons, it emerges that 223 children still remain at Peter Drouet’s Establishment for Pauper Children in Tooting, recently ravaged by a cholera outbreak. All belong to the Chelsea union.

March, 3 (Saturday). A Recorder’s Charge, the third of four articles by Charles Dickens about the Tooting Cholera Tragedy, is published in The Examiner.

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, 22. Battle of Novara. During the First Italian War of Independence (23 March 1848 to 22 August 1849), Austrian forces defeat the Piedmontese (Sardinian) army at Novara, 28 miles (45 km) west of Milan.

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, 10 (Tuesday). In the United States, Walter Hunt of New York was granted a patent for the modern safety pin. Hunt had developed the pin, made from a single piece of wire coiled into a spring at one end and a separate clasp and point at the other, after trying to invent something that would help him pay off a debt of fifteen dollars. He later sold his patent rights for four hundred dollars.

April, 13 (Friday). The trial of Bartholomew Peter Drouet, for the deaths of children whilst in his care at his Tooting children’s home, commences at the Old Bailey.

April, 14 (Saturday). The trial of Bartholomew Peter Drouet is concluded at the Old Bailey. He is found not guilty of all charges.

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). The Verdict for Drouet, the last of four articles by Charles Dickens about the Tooting Cholera Tragedy, is published in The Examiner.

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.

April, 26 (Thursday). Singing sensation Jenny Lind performs again at London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, to much acclaim.

May. Part I (1) of David Copperfield is published (containing chapters 1–3). It will continue to be serialised monthly until November 1850.

May, 10 (Tuesday). Astor Place Riot. In the United States, over twenty people are killed by law enforcement forces during a riot outside the Astor Opera House in New York’s Manhattan area. The civil unrest had its origins in a dispute between Edwin Forrest, one of the best-known American actors of the time, and the noted English Shakespearian actor (and close friend of Charles Dickens) William Charles Macready.

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, 6 (Wednesday). The world’s first public Reptile House opens at the Zoological Gardens in London’s Regent’s Park.

June, 15 (Sunday). Death of James K. Polk, American lawyer and politician, 11th President of the United States (born in 1795).

June, 16 (Monday). Charles Dickens visits the Isle of Wight. Agrees on the use of Winterbourne House in Bonchurch. Writes from Shanklin to tell his daughter, Kate.

July. Part III (3) of David Copperfield published (chapters 7–9).

July, 2 (Monday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert travel from London to stay at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight.

July, 20 (Friday). Between 400-500 prisoners are transferred by boat from Millbank prison due to a cholera outbreak inside the jail. The inmates are moved to a temporary prison inside Shoreham Cliffs barracks, on the Sussex coast.

July, 25-26 (Wednesday-Thursday). Violent storms hit 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 accommodate 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, 1 (Wednesday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert depart the Isle of Wight, embarking on a tour of Ireland.

August, 2-12. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert tours Ireland, visiting Cork, Dublin and Belfast.

August, 3. Queen Victoria visits Cork, becoming the first reigning British monarch to visit the Irish city.

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 Charles Dickens would attend and be horrified by.

August, 11. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are in Belfast, visiting the Botanic Gardens and neighbouring newly-built Queen’s College.

August, 14. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visit Glasgow, arriving on the steam yacht Broomielaw, and visiting the University and Cathedral. The visit was the first by a reigning monarch to visit the city since the 1600’s. Huge crowds, estimated at up to 400,000 people, lined the streets. Later that day the couple depart by train from Queen Street Station, travelling to Perth.

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 (born in 1809).

October, 27. A review of Macready‘s performance in King Lear at London’s Haymarket theatre appears in The Examiner.

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, 13 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens attends the public execution of the Mannings at Horsemonger Lane Gaol (see 9 August). Writes a strongly worded letter to The Times newspaper later that day.

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.