7 February 1812 -
9 June 1902
Ten things you might not
know about Charles
He had a thing for nicknames
Dickens not only named many of his ten children after his favourite authors but he also appointed
nicknames to each other them including “Chickenstalker,” “Skittles,” “Lucifer Box” and “Plorn.” His
own nickname? “Boz.”
He was obsessive-compulsive
Looking in the mirror and combing his hair was an obsession of Dickens. He would do this hundreds
of times each day as well as rearranging furniture in his home because if it wasn’t in the “correct”
position, he wouldn’t be able to concentrate. He also made sure that his bed was always aligned north-
south, he believed that this would improve his writing. He’d touch certain objects three times for luck
and was so fixated on cleanliness that he would frequently clean other people’s homes too.
Inside Dickens’ study was a secret door designed like a bookcase. The shelves were filled with fake
books that had witty titles such as Noah’s Arkitecture, a nine-volume set called Cat’s Lives and a
multi-volume series called The Wisdom of Our Ancestors that dealt with subjects like ignorance,
superstition, disease and instruments of torture. There was a companion book that went with The
Wisdom of Our Ancestors called The Virtues of Our Ancestors that was super narrow.
He practiced hypnotism
Dickens was always interested in mesmerism and often practiced on his wife (a hypochondriac), his
children and friends — to great results.
He was epileptic
At a young age, Dickens suffered from epilepsy and applied that to some of his characters, describing
three, specifically, as having seizures. For a time where little was known about this disorder, doctors
were impressed by how accurate and descriptive he could be. The characters that had seizures were
Edward Leeford (Oliver Twist), a headmaster (Our Mutual Friend) and a maid (Bleak House).
Spontaneous Human Combustion
Dickens believed that humans could die from spontaneous combustion and even wrote in his novel
Bleak House that one of the characters, Krook, died from it.
A Christmas Carol
Most of the characters in A Christmas Carol were based on people he actually knew, like Ebenezer
Scrooge (a counselor in Edinburgh). This was also Dickens’ first unserialized piece of work.
In June 1865, Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan were in the Staplehurst rail crash. They were in
one of the eight cars that didn’t crash into the river below and he helped out some of the other
passengers to safety before running back to save the manuscript for his novel Our Mutual Friend.
Dickens’ son, Francis Jeffrey Dickens, was a member of the North-West Mounted Police from 1874 –
There’s a Charles Dickens amusement park
Dickens World in Kent, England is a Dickens themed attraction that promises to “take you back to an
authentically themed Dickensian England.”
From: National Post (2012) http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/02/07/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-charles-
dickens/ accessed 09/02/2012
The Australian connection…
Dickens had contemplated a lecture tour of Australia in 1862 and intended to write a travel book, 'The
Uncommercial Traveller Upside Down', but the tour was abandoned. In Australia, as in England, his
novels were adapted as stage plays; with Our Emily, Old Curiosity Shop and Cricket on the Hearth as
perennial favourites. The articles from Household Words and All the Year Round were widely
published in the Australian press and helped to impose Dickens's own view of Australia on Australian
life and society.
Dickens died on 9 June 1870. Of his surviving sons, Alfred D'Orsay Tennyson (b.1845), had migrated
to Australia in 1865. He bought a partnership in a stock and station agency in Hamilton, Victoria, but
after his wife died left in 1882 to join the Melbourne branch of his brother's agency. After a lecture
tour he died in the United States in 1912. The youngest son, Edward Bulwer Lytton (b.1852), went to
Australia in 1869 and settled at Wilcannia where he became manager of Momba station; in 1880 he
married Constance Desailly. He opened a stock and station agency, was elected to the local council
and bought a share in Yanda station near Bourke. He lost heavily from bad seasons and in 1886 he
became a civil servant. He represented Wilcannia in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in
From: Lansbury, Coral, 'Dickens, Charles (1812–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography,
Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dickens-charles-3409/text5183, accessed 9 February
2012. This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972
Unlike fellow 19th-century novelists Mark Twain, Anthony Trollope and Robert Louis Stevenson,
Dickens never came here. Yet many of his most famous works are littered with Australian references.
The best known is Magwitch from Great Expectations, the transported convict who metamorphosed
into one of the richest men in the colonies. But there is a host of others, including the Artful Dodger
who is transported at the end of Oliver Twist.
"Several of the characters in David Copperfield come to Australia at the end of the novel," says Dr
Alan Dilnot, a former president of the Melbourne Dickens Fellowship and one of the leading
Australian experts on the author. Among them are the Peggotty family and the unforgettably debt-
ridden Mr Micawber. "They all do very well here. Mr Micawber eventually becomes a magistrate and
he also edits a newspaper."
However, Dickens's passion for Australia went far deeper than his fiction. He wrote many serious
essays, published in his magazines, Household Words and All The Year Round, extolling the virtues of
voluntary emigration. Much of his information was gleaned from friends living here. Many of his
replies, written in his precise, firm hand, are in the collections of the National Library of Australia and
the State Library of NSW.
From such letters and treatises, it's obvious Dickens had a huge admiration for what was being
achieved "down under". As Dilnot puts it, there were two conflicting views of Australia among the
literary classes of 19th-century London. "Either you felt it was the dead end of the world, which was
Oscar Wilde's view. Or you thought it was going to be a country with a great future."
Dickens was firmly in the latter camp. The working class of Britain, he felt, would have a much better
life in a new continent than in the filthy, crime-ridden cities of the industrial revolution. For him,
Australia was the ultimate land of opportunity - a country where a man needed only ingenuity and a
capacity for hard work to succeed. No greater proof of his idealism could exist than the fact that he
encouraged two of his sons to emigrate - Alfred d'Orsay Tennyson Dickens and Edward. Both sons
were minor celebrities in their day but history forgot about them until 1973 when Mary Lazarus
published her book, A Tale of Two Brothers. Alfred, the fourth son, was the first to arrive, in 1865. He
was only 20 and desperate for adventure. Four years later he was followed by Edward, known to the
family as "Plorn".
Alfred began well, working on a property at Corona, on the borders of NSW and South Australia. But
Edward took longer to settle. Effectively he was dismissed from his first station after leaving a letter
critical of his boss open for his fellow workers to read. Dickens was not impressed. Shortly before he
died in 1870, the author wrote a letter to Alfred (now in the National Library) wondering aloud
"whether Plorn is taking to Australia".
With his share of Dickens's estate, Alfred purchased Wangagong station, near Forbes. However in
1874 he moved to Hamilton, Victoria, to take up a position as a station agent. By that time he had
married Jesse Devlin in a fashionable wedding in Toorak. They were to have two daughters, Kathleen
and Violet. But just before Christmas 1878 Jesse was tragically thrown out of her carriage when a
pony bolted. She was killed instantly. Heartbroken, Alfred moved to Melbourne, persuaded by Plorn
to start up their own stock and station agency, EBL Dickens and Partners.
By now Edward was the one who appeared to have prospered. He too was married, to Constance
Desailly, whose family owned a station near Wilcannia. He had managed various properties and was
enthusiastic about the new venture, which would see Alfred based in Melbourne and Edward roaming
In those days Wilcannia was a thriving river port and Edward had become one of its leading identities.
He played with the local cricket team, owned racehorses, was prominent in politics. But financially he
was on shaky ground. Droughts restrained his business and there's a suspicion he may have had a
Frustrated, Edward stood for Parliament in 1889. For the next five years, he seems to have been a
conscientious local member. But in 1894 he was unceremoniously dumped by the electorate.
Life had become a struggle for both brothers. In Melbourne, Alfred had married again. His bride,
Emile, 17 years his junior, soon proved an unsuitable match. Badly damaged financially when
depression hit Victoria in the early 1890s, Alfred began giving public lectures, telling personal
anecdotes about his father. They proved popular enough to take him from Melbourne to Sydney, and
finally in 1910 to Britain and the US. On December 30, 1912, he died in New York's Astor Hotel as he
was due to deliver another lecture.
He had outlived Edward by 10 years. How disappointed Charles Dickens would have been to witness
his little Plorn in those final years. Edward seemed crushed, physically battered by the harsh outback
climate and emotionally estranged from his family back in England who never fully forgave him for
not repaying an 800 loan from his most successful brother, Henry. After losing his parliamentary
seat, Edward struggled to find permanent employment. His health was poor and his finances in
disorder. He died on January 23, 1902, debt-ridden and childless.
The last immediate link between Australia and Charles Dickens was severed when Alfred's two
daughters emigrated to Britain in the 1920s.
From: Meacham, Steve. ‘Dickens of a time’, Sydney Morning Herald. 24 December 2002,
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/12/23/1040511009543.html, accessed 9 February 2012.
Charles Dickens’ Novels
In chronological order:
The Pickwick Papers (1836–1837)
Oliver Twist (1837–1839)
Nicholas Nickleby (1838–1839)
The Old Curiosity Shop (1840–1841)
Barnaby Rudge (1840–1841)
A Christmas Carol (1843)
Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–1844)
Dombey and Son (1846–1848)
David Copperfield (1849–1850)
Bleak House (1852–1853)
Hard Times (1854)
Little Dorrit (1855–1857)
A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Great Expectations (1860–1861)
Our Mutual Friend (1864–1865)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (unfinished) (1870)
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