Charles Dickens dies - archive, June 1870

Charles Dickens died on Thursday 9 June 1870 at his home in Gadshill in Kent. He was 58. Our resource examines how the Manchester Guardian and Observer reported the author’s death

The Manchester Guardian related the circumstances of the author’s death on Friday 10 June 1870. Dickens had fallen ill at dinner on Wednesday, believing at first that he had toothache and would soon get better. He subsequently collapsed and became unconscious. Dickens never recovered from the stroke and died the following day. The account mentions that Dickens had fallen ill in Preston the year before and his doctor advised him that he could no longer continue with his famous reading tours.

Death of Dickens as reported in the Manchester Guardian 10 June 1870
Death of Dickens as reported in the Manchester Guardian 10 June 1870 Photograph: Guardian

The paper also reproduced a summary of his life from the biographical dictionary ‘Men of the Time’. It includes his birth in Portsmouth in 1809, early life as a journalist, writing, novels and speaking tours. His father’s spell in debtors’ prison that resulted in 12-year-old Charles working in a factory producing shoe blacking, which was to have a profound impact on his writing, is not mentioned.

The following Sunday, The Observer devoted three pieces to the author. There is a death notice, an obituary which starts with an account of his death similar to that in the Manchester Guardian and an opinion piece lamenting the death of the “genius” author who “To all of us, to young and old, to rich and poor, the tidings which saddened England on Friday, came home like the news of a friend’s death”.

On 15 June the Guardian noted that Dickens’s funeral had taken place almost unnoticed. The day before the author had been laid to rest in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Dickens had expressed a wish to be buried in a quiet ceremony near his home in Kent. His family had been persuaded by the Dean to change the location but insisted on privacy. The article notes: “Mr Dickens’s well-known repugnance to ostentatious display was well known and his wishes were faithfully observed”.

Extract from the report of the funeral of Charles Dickens in the Manchester Guardian, 15 June 1870
Extract from the report of the funeral of Charles Dickens in the Manchester Guardian, 15 June 1870 Photograph: Guardian

Full report of the funeral of Charles Dickens, Manchester Guardian, 15 June, 1870

Dickens appeared on many occasions in Manchester Guardian articles during his lifetime. Some examples include the author’s description of New York in 1843, various reviews of his books and his reading tours particularly in the north-west of England. In 1867 the paper reviewed Dickens at Manchester’s Free-trade hall as “glorious fun” stating “Mr Charles Dickens possesses an almost equal genius for rendering life-like creations of human character.” Dickens is also mentioned in reporting of the Staplehurst train crash in 1865, which killed 10 people. The author had a lucky escape out of a carriage window.

The newspaper marked the centenary of Dickens’ birth in 1912 with a feature on his work and Manchester connections. A series of articles were produced in 2012 to celebrate Dickens at 200.

In her biography of Dickens, Claire Tomalin suggests that Dickens may have fallen ill at the Peckham house of his mistress Ellen Ternan and was transported in a hackney cab to die at Gadshill. The Manchester Guardian and Observer accounts of his death may be relaying the version that his family wanted reported.

How to access past articles from the Guardian and the Observer newspapers

The life of Charles Dickens is a topic in the Education Centre’s Victorian news workshop for primary schools.


Margaret Holborn

The GuardianTramp

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