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.
January. Ninth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 2, Chapters 11-13).
February. Tenth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 2, Chapters 14-16).
February, 6. Death of Isabella Beeton, writer on household management and cookery, more commonly known as ‘Mrs. Beeton’ (born in 1836).
March. Eleventh part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 3, Chapters 1-4).
March, 25. During the American Civil War, Confederate forces temporarily capture Fort Stedman in Virginia from the Union.
April. Twelfth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 3, Chapters 5-7).
April, 2 (Sunday). Death of Richard Cobden, English manufacturer, Radical and Liberal MP (born in 1804). Cobden is noted for his work with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-Corn Law League and the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty. At the time of his death, he was serving as the Member of Parliament for Rochdale (Liberal Party).
April, 2 (Sunday). Death of John Cassell, publisher and entrepreneur (born in 1817). He founded the firm Cassell & Co, famous for its educational books and periodicals.
April, 2 (Sunday). During the American Civil War, a defeat at the Third Battle of Petersburg forces the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate government to abandon Richmond, Virginia.
April, 3 (Monday). Tributes to Richard Cobden are made in the British Houses of Parliament.
April, 4 (Tuesday). Official opening of Crossness Pumping Station, a major landmark in completion of the new London sewerage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette for the Metropolitan Board of Works.
April, 9 (Sunday). During the American Civil War, Confederate Army General in Chief, Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union Army Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the conflict.
April, 14 (Good Friday). Actor and Confederate sympathiser John Wilkes Booth shoots and mortally wounds U.S. President Abraham Lincoln whilst he is attending an evening performance of the farce Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
April, 15 (Easter Saturday). American President Abraham Lincoln dies after being shot the previous day. Vice President Andrew Johnson becomes the 17th President of the United States.
April, 15 (Easter Saturday). Following the death of Richard Cobden (see 2 April), a by-election is held in Rochdale, electing Thomas Bayley Potter (Liberal Party) as the Member of Parliament.
April, 26. John Wilkes Booth was killed by United States Cavalry soldiers after being hunted down to a farm in the state of Virginia, twelve days after he had fatally shot U.S. President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
April, 28. Death of Samuel Cunard, the Canadian-English shipping magnate who founded the Cunard Line (born in 1787).
May. Thirteenth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 3, Chapters 8-10).
May, 9. The American Civil War is declared at an end by President Andrew Johnson.
May, 12–13. The last land battle of the American Civil War takes place at the Battle of Palmito Ranch in far south Texas, more than a month after Confederate General Lee’s surrender, and ends with a Confederate victory.
May, 20 (Saturday). Dickens gives a speech at the second annual dinner of the Newspaper Press Fund, held at the Freemason’s Tavern, London.
May, 29. In America, President Andrew Johnson issues a ‘Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction‘. The proclamation calls on Confederate soldiers to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States, whilst their leaders must apply for a Presidential pardon to regain citizenship rights.
June. Fourteenth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 3, Chapters 11-14).
June. Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson Dickens emigrates to Australia.
June, 3. Birth of Prince George of Wales (later George V).
June, 8. Death of Joseph Paxton, gardener and architect (born in 1803).
June, 26. Jumbo, a young male African elephant, arrives at London Zoo and becomes a popular attraction.
June, 29. The new Poor Law Act improves conditions in workhouses.
July. Fifteenth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 3, Chapters 15-17).
July, 4. Lewis Carroll’s children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is published.
July, 5. The first speed limit is introduced in Britain by the Locomotive Act – 2 mph in town and 4 mph in the country.
July, 23. The SS Great Eastern departs on a voyage to lay a transatlantic telegraph cable.
July, 11-24. The 1865 United Kingdom general election is won by the Liberal Party led by Lord Palmerston.
August. Sixteenth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 4, Chapters 1-4).
August, 12. Disinfectant is used the first time during a medical surgery when Joseph Lister covers the compound fracture wound of a young boy with piece of lint covered in carbolic acid during an operation at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The subsequent use of antiseptics would save countless lives worldwide.
September. Seventeenth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 4, Chapters 5-7).
September, 2. Charles Dickens completes Our Mutual Friend (date of postscript).
October. Eighteenth part of Our Mutual Friend published (Book 4, Chapters 8-11).
October, 11. Morant Bay rebellion. An unsuccessful uprising against British rule at Morant Bay, Jamaica, is brutally suppressed with 400 rebels executed.
November. Final parts of Our Mutual Friend (19 and 20) published (Book 4, Chapters 12-17).
November. Our Mutual Friend published in volume form.
November, 12. Death of Elizabeth Gaskell, the novelist, biographer and short story writer, at the age of 55. Dickens had published a number of her works in his journal Household Words.
December. Second series of The Uncommercial Traveller published.
December, 16 (Saturday). Edward John Eyre, governor of Jamaica, dismissed and censured for his excessive actions during the suppression of the recent rebellion (see 11 October).
December, 18 (Monday). Slavery is formally abolished in America when the 13th Amendment is formally adopted into the United States Constitution.
December, 19 (Tuesday). Dickens gives a charitable reading for the Chatham Mechanics’ Institute, held at the Lecture Hall, Chatham, at 7pm. Reads from A Christmas Carol and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
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.