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, 1. In London, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade is formed (now the London Fire Brigade).
January, 7 (Sunday). Charles Dickens attends an evening lecture at St. Martin’s Hall in London’s Covent Garden. A number of people connected with science, politics and literature are present, including the geologists Charles Lyell and Richard Owen, political economists John Stuart Mill (then also an M.P.) and John Bowring, and scientists John Lubbock, Austen Henry Layard (then also an M.P.) and John Gardner Wilkinson The event is the first by the group, who seek to promote educational lectures on Sundays, particularly for those who did not attend church. The first lecture, titled ‘The Desirableness of Improving Natural Knowledge‘ is given by the biologist and anthropologist Thomas Henry Huxley.
January, 7 (Sunday). In the evening, strong storm winds hit England, damaging buildings and injuring people. The winds continue into the following day. There is at least one fatality in London.
January, 11. The auxiliary steamer SS London sinks in a storm in the Bay of Biscay on passage from the Kent port of Gravesend to Melbourne in Australia with the loss of 244 people and only 19 survivors.
January, 11. Death of the Irish stage actor G. V. (Gustavus Vaughan) Brooke (born in 1818). Brooke drowned on the SS London, which sunk during a storm in the Bay of Biscay. He was travelling to work in Australia at the time.
January, 12. The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain is formed in London (later the Royal Aeronautical Society). It remains the oldest aeronautical society in the world.
January, 16 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens attends a Lords Mayor’s banquet held in the Egyptian Hall of London’s Mansion House.
February, 14 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens attends the tenth anniversary festival of the Dramatic, Equestrian, and Musical Sick Fund, held at Willis’s Rooms, King Street, St. James’s, London. Gives a speech as president.
March – May. Charles Dickens undertakes a three-month national reading tour. He travels with his tour manager, George Dolby.
March, 3 (Saturday). The Association for the Improvement of the Infirmaries of Workhouses holds a public meeting at London’s Willis’s Rooms. Charles Dickens sent a letter a few days earlier apologising that he was unable to attend.
March, 18 (Sunday). Charles Dickens gives a private rehearsal at his rented accommodation at Southwick Place, Hyde Park, to test a new reading for his upcoming tour. Reads Doctor Marigold to a small audience of family and close friends, including Wilkie Collins and John Forster.
March, 24 (Saturday). Charles Dickens gives a reading at the Assembly Rooms, Cheltenham. Reads from Dombey and Son.
March, 28 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens gives a speech at the annual meeting of the Royal General Theatrical Fund, held at the Freemasons’ Tavern, London.
ROYAL GENERAL THEATRICAL FUND.-The 21st anniversary of this fund was celebrated in the Freemasons Tavern last evening. As might have been expected, there was a strong muster of theatrical and musical celebrities on the occasion. The Lord Mayor presided, having Mr. Charles Dickens on the right, and Mr. J. B. Buckstone on the left.The Times. Thursday, 29 March 1866.
April, 12 (Thursday). Charles Dickens gives a reading at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. Reads from Doctor Marigold and Nicholas Nickleby. After the performance he travels back to Liverpool, returning to the Adelphi Hotel.
April, 16 (Monday). Charles Dickens departs Liverpool for Scotland.
April, 17 (Tuesday). Charles Dickens gives a reading in the City Hall, Glasgow. Reads from Doctor Marigold and Bob Sawyer’s party from The Pickwick Papers.
April, 18 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens gives a reading in the Music Hall, George Street, Edinburgh. Reads from Doctor Marigold and Nicholas Nickleby.
April, 20 (Friday). Charles Dickens gives a reading in the Queen Street Hall, Edinburgh. Reads from Boots at the Holly-Tree Inn and both the Bob Sawyer’s party and trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
April, 21 (Saturday). Charles Dickens gives a reading in the Queen Street Hall, Edinburgh. Reads from David Copperfield.
April, 25 (Wednesday). In the afternoon, Dickens departs London by train, travelling to north-west England, for readings at Manchester and Liverpool. Whilst at Rugby in Warwickshire, the carriage DIckens and his travelling party are in catches fire, although he is initially unaware. The party transfer to another carriage and their journey continues.
May, 2 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens gives a reading in the concert room of Crystal Palace. At 3pm, he reads from Dombey and Son.
May, 2 (Wednesday). Battle of Callao. Peruvian defenders fight off the Spanish fleet at the port city of Callao during the Chincha Islands War.
May, 4 (Friday). Charles Dickens gives a reading at the Greenwich Literary Instituition. Reads from Doctor Marigold and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
May, 7 (Monday). Charles Dickens gives a speech to members of the Metropolitan Rowing Clubs during a dinner held at the London Tavern.
May, 9 (Wednesday). Charles Dickens gives a reading in the Victoria Rooms, Clifton. Reads from Doctor Marigold and Nicholas Nickleby.
May, 11 (Friday). Nottingham double by-election. Viscount Amberley (son of Lord John Russell) and Ralph Bernal Osborne are elected to the two parliamentary seats in the English town of Nottingham. Both previous MPs were unseated for corruption.
May, 11 (Friday). London bank Overend, Gurney and Company collapses precipitating a financial crisis.
May, 15 (Tuesday). Dickens and tour manager George Dolby take an 18-hour journey from London to Aberdeen. The party stay at the town’s Royal Hotel after arriving in the late evening.
May, 17 (Thursday). Dickens and Dolby travel from Aberdeen to Glasgow, stopping off at Perth where they undertake a walk along the banks of the River Spey. They dine in the coffee room of the George Hotel in Perth.
May, 18 (Friday). Dickens gives reading in the City Hall, Glasgow. At 8pm, he reads from Doctor Marigold and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
May, 19 (Saturday). Dickens gives reading in the Music Hall, George Street, Edinburgh. At 2pm, he reads from Doctor Marigold and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
May, 24 (Thursday). Portsmouth. Dickens gives the first of two readings St. George’s Hall, Portsea. Reads from Doctor Marigold and Bob Sawyer’s party from The Pickwick Papers. Whilst visiting Portsmouth, Dickens stays at the Southsea Pier Hotel.
June, 5 (Tuesday). Dickens gives the second of three readings in London, held at St. James’s Hall, that will round off his 30-reading national tour. Reads from David Copperfield and the Boots at the Holly-Tree Inn.
June, 12 (Tuesday). Dickens gives the last of three readings in London, held at St. James’s Hall, that will round off his 30-reading national tour. Reads from Doctor Marigold and the trial scene from The Pickwick Papers.
June, 14. Start of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, also known as the Seven Weeks’ War.
June, 16 (Saturday). The Golden Dustman, a dramatic adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, is performed at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. The play, in four acts, is four and a half hours long.
June, 18 (Monday). Prime Minister Lord Russell loses a vote of no confidence against his government.
June, 24. Battle of Custoza. In the first battle of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austrian army defeats the Italian army.
June, 26. Lord Russell resigns as Prime Minister, following splits in the Liberal Party over parliamentary reform. The Earl of Derby takes over, leading a minority Conservative administration.
June, 27. Battle of Náchod. During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austrian army repels a Prussian advance but suffer heavy losses.
July, 5. Marriage of Princess Helena, third daughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein at Windsor.
July, 20. Battle of Lissa. During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austrian Navy defeats the Italian Navy near the island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea.
July, 23 – 25. Demonstrations in London’s Hyde Park, in favour of parliamentary reform, turn violent.
July, 27. The SS Great Eastern successfully completes laying the transatlantic telegraph cable between Valentia Island, Ireland and Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, permanently restoring a communications link.
August, 1. The National Olympian Association stages the first National Olympian Games field events at the Crystal Palace in south London.
August, 23. The Austro-Prussian War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Prague.
October, 4. Death of Augustus Dickens, youngest brother of Charles Dickens, from tuberculosis in America at the age of 39.
October, 21 (Sunday). The Royal Standard Theatre in Shoreditch, east London, is destroyed by fire. The theatre, seating over 3,000 people, was originally opened in 1837 on the site of the Royal Standard Public House and Pleasure Gardens. It was promptly rebuilt and expanded, reopening in December 1867.
December, 12 (Wednesday). A series of explosions at Oaks Colliery near Barnsley, Yorkshire kills at least 360 miners and rescuers. It remains one of the worst mining accidents in the United Kingdom.
December, 13 (Thursday). An explosion at the Talk-o’-Th’-Hill Colliery, near Newcastle-under-Lyne, Staffordshire, kills 91 miners.
December, 26. Gads Hills. Dickens holds a sports day for local people from the Chatham area at Gads Hill and meadow behind the property. Games held included three-legged races, sack races, and hurdles with prizes awarded. Two tents are erected for the occasion.
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.