Frances Dickens (1810-1848), more commonly known as “Fanny”, was the beloved older sister of Charles Dickens and the first child of John Dickens and Elizabeth Barrow following their marriage the previous year.

Early Life.

Frances “Fanny” Dickens Burnett was born on October 28, 1810 in Landport, Portsmouth.

Royal Academy of Music.

Fanny had a talent for music and began attending the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 14 which was then based at 4 Tenterden Street near London’s Hanover Square. She won their silver medal and second prize for piano. Three years later the family were again plunged into financial difficulties and Fanny was forced to leave, but continued to study part-time in return for teaching. In 1829, the Academy could not afford to keep paying her and Fanny turned to becoming a professional musician.


In 1837, Fanny Dickens married Henry Burnett, a fellow pupil from the Royal Academy of Music. On leaving the Academy Burnett was engaged as a principal tenor at Drury Lane and Covent Garden.

Around 1840 the couple moved to the Ardwick area of Manchester where they became music teachers whilst Henry also continued his work as a tenor. They had two children together, Charles and Henry, although Henry was a weak and deformed child.

Charles Dickens and Fanny Dickens.

Charles Dickens was very fond of his elder sister throughout his life. They grew up together and shared many happy memories in Portsmouth and Chatham as well as the upsets faced by their parents John and Elizabeth because of debt and constantly having to move home. Like Charles, she was full of energy and hard-working.

Charles used the character of Fanny’s weak and deformed child Henry as the inspiration behind the characters of Tiny Tim in the novella A Christmas Carol and Paul Dombey in the novel Dombey and Son.

Fanny’s husband, Henry Burnett, was somewhat disliked by Charles Dickens who ridiculed him. Henry Burnett was an Evangelical Christian and Fanny had converted under her husbands influence.


Fanny Dickens died of consumption (tuberculosis), aged 38, on 2 September, 1848. She was buried at Highgate Cemetery in London. The young Henry died soon after, at the age of 9, and was buried alongside his mother. Fanny’s husband Henry Burnett moved from Manchester around ten years after the death of his wife. He died in 1893, aged 82, in Titchfield, Hampshire.