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. Part II (2) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 5–8).
January, 5 (Saturday). 302nd edition of Household Words is published.
January, 12 (Saturday). 303rd edition of Household Words is published.
January, 29. The Victoria Cross medal was introduced by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War.
February. Part III (3) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 9–11).
February, 4 (Monday). The sailing ship Grand Duke is wrecked off St. Govan’s Head in Pembrokeshire with the loss of 29 lives.
February, 7 (Thursday). Charles Dickens’s 44th birthday.
February, 17. Death of John Braham, opera singer (born in 1777).
February, 25. The Congress of Paris opens, a conference between representatives of the great powers in Europe to make peace after the almost three-year-long Crimean War.
March. Part IV (4) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 12–14).
March, 5. Fire destroys the Royal Italian Opera House (Theatre Royal Covent Garden) in Covent Garden.
March, 9 (Sunday). Dickens returns to London and visits the ruins of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, destroyed by fire four days earlier.
March, 12 (Wednesday). Dickens attends the annual general meeting of the Royal Literary Fund, held at its offices in Great Russell Street in the Bloomsbury area of London. Dickens makes a speech, critical of the adminstrative costs of running the charity [read speech].
March, 13 (Thursday). Dickens and guests watch a performance of Still Waters Run Deep at the Olympic Theatre as guests of proprietors, the Wigan family.
March, 14 (Friday). Dickens purchases Gad’s Hill Place, near Rochester in Kent.
March, 15 (Saturday). Dickens arrives in Dover for an extended stay.
March, 17 (Monday). Dickens attends an annual dinner to raise funds for the General Theatrical Fund, held at the London Tavern.
March, 18 (Tuesday). Jenny Lind performs Handel’s Messiah at London’s Exeter Hall.
March, 30. The Treaty of Paris is signed, marking the end of the Crimean War.
April. Part V (5) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 15–18).
April, 1. Aberdeen Waterloo railway station opens to serve the Great North of Scotland Railway main line to Keith.
April, 16 (Wednesday). Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visit wounded soldiers from the Crimean War recovering in military hospitals at Chatham.
April, 28. The Treaty of Paris is ratified (see 30 March).
May. Part VI (6) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 19–22).
May, 14-27. Trial of William Palmer for murder. Known as the Rugeley Poisoner, the case arouses huge national interest. An Act of Parliament (the Central Criminal Court Act 1856) was passed to allow the trial to be held at the Old Bailey in London. Dickens called Palmer ‘the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey‘.
May, 19 (Monday). Queen Victoria lays a foundation stone for a new military hospital at Netley, near Southampton. The Queen personally supported construction of what would be named the Royal Victoria Hospital. During a gunboat salute in Southampton Water, two sailors died when the gun they were loading exploded.
May, 23 Charles Dickens leaves Dover after a two-month stay.
June. Part VII (7) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 23–25).
June, 5 (Thursday). Dickens presides at an annual dinner of the Royal Hospital for Incurables, held at the London Tavern. Gives a short address to the assembled audience.
June, 14. Public execution of William Palmer at Stafford prison by hanging, watched by a crowd of 30,000 spectators.
July. Part VIII (8) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 26–29).
July, 15. An underground explosion at the Cymmer Colliery in the Rhondda, Wales kills 114 workers.
July, 19. Trial of William Dove for the poisoning of his wife with strychnine.
August. Part IX (9) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 30–32).
August, 9 (Saturday). Public execution of William Dove at York Castle.
August, 14. Death of William Buckland, geologist, palaeontologist and theologian (born in 1784).
August, 30. Death of the writer Gilbert Abbott à Beckett (born in 1811).
September. Part X (10) of Little Dorrit published (Book 1, Chapters 33–36).
September, 3. Collapse of the Royal British Bank with debts in excess of £500,000. The collapse gave rise to new legislation tightening banking regulation, including the publication of balance sheets and the auditing of accounts.
October. Part XI (11) of Little Dorrit published (Book 2, Chapters 1–4).
October, 8. The Second Opium War between several western powers, including the United Kingdom, and China begins with the Arrow Incident on the Pearl River.
November. Part XII (12) of Little Dorrit published (Book 2, Chapters 5–7).
November, 1. The Anglo–Persian War begins between Great Britain and Iran (Persia), ruled by the Qajar dynasty. The conflict, a dispute over control of the city of Herat, lasts six months.
November, 23. Death of Thomas Seddon, landscape painter (born in 1821).
December. Part XIII (13) of Little Dorrit published (Book 2, Chapters 8–11).
December, 2. The National Portrait Gallery in London is formally established.
December, 10. During the Anglo-Persian War (November 1856 – April 1857), the Battle of Bushire results in British control of the Iranian port city of Bushire.
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.