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.


Early. Dickens has a disappointing reunion with Maria Winter (Maria Beadnell).

January, 6 (Saturday). Charles Dickens holds a Twelfth Night celebration at his Tavistock House address, putting on a performance of The Fairy Extravaganza of Fortunio and his Seven Gifted Sons (by J. R. Planché). Amongst the cast are close friends Wilkie Collins and Mark Lemon.

January,10. Death of Mary Russell Mitford, novelist and dramatist (born in 1787).

January, 21 (Sunday). Crimean War Riot. Ten days later, Lord Aberdeen’s government falls.

January, 22 (Monday). French political exile Emmanuel Barthélemy is hanged at Newgate after being convicted of murdering a London man. Barthélemy had previously killed a fellow Frenchman in the last fatal duel in England, but has only been convicted of manslaughter on that occasion.

January, 25. Death of Dorothy Wordsworth, poet and diarist (born in 1771). She was the sister of the romantic poet William Wordsworth.

January, 29. Lord Aberdeen resigns as Prime Minister.

February, 5. Viscount Palmerston becomes Prime Minister.

February, 7. Charles Dickens’s 43rd birthday.

March, 2. Alexander II becomes Tsar of Russia.

March, 3 (Saturday). Dickens watches an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra at the Great National Standard Theatre in Shoreditch, east London.

March, 4 (Sunday). Dickens writes from Tavistock House to friend Wilkie Collins, criticising the adaptation of Anthony and Cleopatra he saw the previous night.

March, 31 (Saturday). Death of the author Charlotte Brontë (born in 1816).

March, 31 (Saturday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, accompanied by the Duke Cambridge and the Prince of Leiningen, visit the Crystal Palace (Sydenham) in the morning.

April, 2 (Monday). Dickens attends an annual dinner to raise funds for the General Theatrical Fund, held at the London Tavern.

April, 16 (Monday). Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France arrive at Dover at the start of visit to see Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Accompanied by Prince Albert, they travel to Windsor Castle.

April, 19 (Thursday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert along with Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France visit the Guildhall as guests of the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London. In the evening, the party attend the Royal Italian Opera (Theatre Royal Covent Garden), watching Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. Huge sums of money were said to have been paid by people eager to gain a seat at the event.

April, 20 (Friday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert host Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Thousands of people line the route of the 10-carriage royal procession whilst a crowd of 40,000 are reported at the Crystal Palace.

April, 21 (Saturday). Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France depart via Dover for Paris after their short visit to England.

May, 15. The Great Gold Robbery, the theft of gold bars from a train between London Bridge and Folkestone, occurs.

June, 11 (Monday). Dickens writes a letter from Tavistock House to Samuel Morley, saying he is unable to attend the inaugural meeting of the Administrative Reform Association (on 13 June) due to prior commitments.

June, 27 (Wednesday). Dickens gives a speech on administrative reform to members of the Administrative Reform Association, held at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London.

June, 29 (Friday). A law removing stamp duty from newspapers comes into force, making newspapers cheaper and opening up mass market media in the United Kingdom.

June, 29 (Friday). The Daily Telegraph newspaper is launched (originally called the Daily Telegraph & Courier).

July, 31. The Limited Liability Act passes through parliament, giving protection to investors in the event of corporate collapse.

July – Sept. Dickens rents a house overlooking the sea in Folkestone at 3 Albion Villas.

August, 30. Death of Feargus O’Connor, political radical and Chartist leader (born in 1794 in Ireland).

September, 3. The last Bartholomew Fair in held in London.

September, 9. In the Crimean War, during the Siege of Sevastopol, the Black Sea port of Sevastapol falls to the British and their allies.

October, 16 . Dickens rents the top of a house at No. 49, Avenue des Champs Elysées, Paris for six months for him and his family.

November, 17. Explorer David Livingstone discovers Victoria Falls in Africa.

November, 23. Augustus Dickens, youngest brother of Charles Dickens, joins the London Freemasons.

December. Little Dorrit is published monthly between December 1855 and June 1857.

December. Part I (1) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 1-4).

December, 10 (Monday). Swedish singing sensation Jenny Lind, often known as the Swedish Nightingale, performs at London’s Exeter Hall. Lind was one of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century. The Times reports ‘the hall was crammed to suffocation by an asembly almost as fashionable as in the full blaze of the Italian Opera‘. The performance is the first in a short series at Exeter Hall.

December, 19 (Wednesday). The first meeting of the newly established Metropolitan Board of Works is held at Burlington House in London. The organisation became the principal instrument of London-wide government until it was replaced by the London County Council in 1889. Joseph Bazalgette was later appointed as its first, and only, chief engineer.

December, 22. Dickens gives a reading of A Christmas Carol in aid of the Sheffield Mechanics Institute.

December, 31 (Monday). Jenny Lind performs Handel’s Messiah at London’s Exeter Hall.

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.