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.
February. Charles Culliford Dickens returns to London from working overseas, in preparation for marriage.
February, 15 (Friday). Chatham Prison Mutiny. Around 350 convicts held on St Mary’s Island at Chatham Dockyard riot over poor food. 1,000 troops from a nearby garrison had to be sent to quell the disturbance.
February, 20. A severe storm damages the Crystal Palace in London and causes the collapse of the steeple of Chichester Cathedral.
March, 17 (Sunday). The Kingdom of Italy is proclaimed, following King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia being crowned King of Italy. The Kingdom lasted until 1946, when civil discontent led an institutional referendum to abandon the monarchy and form the modern Italian Republic.
April, 7. The 1861 United Kingdom census is held. The results reveal the population is more than double that of 1801.
April, 11. The furnishings and decorative arts manufacturer and retailer Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. is established by the artist and designer William Morris and friends from the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The company closed in 1875, to be succeeded by Morris & Co., which ran until 1940.
April, 12-13. The American Civil War begins following the bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina by the Confederate States Army, and the return gunfire and subsequent surrender by the United States Army.
May, 17. Thomas Cook runs the first package holiday from London to Paris.
May, 22. Charles Dickens hires a steamer for the day from Blackwall to Southend. Eight or nine friends, and three or four members of his family, were on board.
May, 29. During the early days of the American Civil War, the Battle of Aquia Creek breaks out between Union Navy gunboats and Confederate shore batteries in Stafford County, Virginia.
June, 13. Death of Henry Gray, aged 34, from smallpox. Gray was an anatomist and surgeon most notable for publishing the book Gray’s Anatomy.
June, 15-18 (Saturday-Tuesday). Dickens stays with friend and fellow-novelist, Edward Bulwer-Lytton at Knebworth House. Shows him the proofs of the final chapters of Great Expectations. Bulwer-Lytton suggests it would be too disappointing, forcing Dickens to rewrite a happier ending (see 24 June).
June, 24 (Tuesday). Dickens sends Edward Bulwer-Lytton his new version of the ending of Great Expectations for his comments (following his visit to him on 15-18 June).
July, 21 (Sunday). The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Battle of First Manassas, takes place, the first major battle of the American Civil War. Fought in Prince William County, Virginia, the battle is a Confederate victory over an ill-prepared Union army, who are forced into a retreat to Washington, D.C.
July, 31. The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act codifies company law.
August. Great Expectations published in volume form.
August, 6. The Criminal Law Consolidation Acts is granted Royal Assent, with most of the legislation coming into effect on 1 November.
August, 27. The last execution in Britain for attempted murder is held, of Martin Doyle at Chester.
September, 16. The Post Office Savings Bank opens.
October, 9. Death of Henry Austin, a brother-in-law of Charles Dickens, and a chief engineer of the Board of Health. Austin married Letitia Dickens (1816–1893). He died, at the age of 49, at his residence of The Hollies, Little Ealing.
October, 24 (Thursday). HMS Warrior, the world’s first ocean-going iron-hulled armoured battleship is completed and commissioned.
October, 28 (Monday). Charles Dickens gives the first of two readings in Norwich. Reads from six chapters from David Copperfield at St. Andrew’s Hall at 8pm.
October, 30 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens gives a reading in the Suffolk town of Bury St. Edmunds, held at the Athenaeum Hall at 8pm. Reads from six chapters from David Copperfield.
November, 4 (Monday). Charles Dickens gives reading of six chapters from David Copperfield at Canterbury, held at the Theatre Royal at 8pm.
November, 19. Charles Culliford Dickens marries Bessie Evans at St. Mark’s Church in Regent’s Park, London.
November, 23 (Saturday). Last of three nightly readings in Newcastle, held at the Music Hall. Dickens gives a reading of the story of Little Paul from Dombey and Son and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
December, 14. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, husband of Queen Victoria, dies at Windsor Castle at the age of 42 from typhoid fever.
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.