Orsini affair.

An attempt to assassinate the French Emperor Napoleon III in Paris by a group of people led by Felice Orsini fails, but leaves eight people dead and the wounding of another 142. Orsini and his accomplices threw three bombs at the imperial carriage as the Emperor and Empress were on their way to the theatre in Paris. Orsini was sentenced to death and executed by guillotine two months later.


Great Eastern launched.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s giant iron sailing steamship, SS Great Eastern, is launched at Millwall in London’s Isle of Dogs. At the time she was the largest ship ever built, originally designed with a capacity to carry 4,000 passengers from England to Australia without refuelling.


Dickens turns 46.

Charles Dickens’s 46th birthday was on 7 February 1858.


Lord Derby Prime Minister.

Palmerston resigns as Prime Minister, following the rejection of a counter-terrorism bill in the wake of the Orsini affair (see 14 January). He is replaced by the Earl of Derby, forming a new Conservative government.


St. Martin’s Hall readings.

Charles Dickens begins the first commercial performances of his reading career with 17 performances between April and July, held at St. Martin’s Hall in the Covent Garden area of London.


Great Stink.

In central London hot weather exacerbates the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent in the River Thames. The smell affects work inside the Houses of Parliament who are forced to soak curtains in lime chloride. The event prompts authorities to accept a proposal from civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette to build a sewer system that takes waste beyond the metropolitan area.


Transatlantic comms.

The first transatlantic cable is laid between Newfoundland, Canada and County Kerry, Ireland. The project, which began in 1854, was undertaken by the Atlantic Telegraph Company led by American businessman and financier Cyrus West Field. The first message is sent eleven days after completion.


Provincial reading tour.

Following the success of the London readings (April – July), Charles Dickens starts a provincial commercial reading tour with 87 readings in 42 towns, starting in Clifton and ending at Brighton.