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Dickens’ work was published in serial format which was the norm of the time, and each of his instalments was always eagerly anticipated. Indeed, so great was and is Dickens’ appeal, not a single one of his books has ever been out of print.
Though his characters are “larger than life” many of them have a grounding in people Dickens had met throughout his life. He was a man who was deeply affected by seeing the suffering of the poor at the hands of the law and this, as well as his own dissatisfaction with the way he himself was treated as a working class boy, became the central themes that he returned to again and again.
Dickens was married in 1836 to Catherine Hogarth and, though they had 10 children, it was an ultimately unhappy marriage and Charles separated from her (divorce would have been unthinkable for a man in his position in the public eye by this time) and spent an increasing amount of time with Ellen Ternan, an actress whom many scholars believe to be the reason for his unhappiness in his marriage.
CHARLES DICKENS (Literature):
Born in Portsmouth in 1812, died in Kent aged 58 in 1870. As well as being acclaimed as one of the greatest writers of the Victorian, and indeed any, era, Charles John Huffman Dickens was also a great social campaigner. This was reflected in his writings which, though criticised by some for being overly sentimental, always had a message or moral fairly evident in the story.
In 1865 Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst Rail Crash (whilst travelling with Ms Ternan) and it is thought that this was the beginning of the decline in his health. His work output was dramatically reduced, finishing only one novel and starting another, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He spent his time on reading tours of the British Isles and America and, in 1870 he became ill whilst on tour. This downturn in health has been partly ascribed to the vast amounts of energy that he put into reading with different character voices!
Charles Dickens died at home, in Kent, on 9th June 1870 and was buried in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey.
The inscription on his tomb reads:
“He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world”.
He was mourned by legions of readers and social reformers alike.
Brunel is best remembered today for his creation of the Great Western Railway and many famous bridges including the Hungerford Bridge in London, the Royal Albert Bridge in Plymouth and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. The Clifton Suspension Bridge was over 700ft long and 200ft high, and was, at time of construction the longest bridge in the world.
ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL (Engineering):
Born in Portsmouth 1806, died 1859.
He was educated in Paris and then went on to work for his father’s engineering company which built the Thames Tunnel, the first major sub-river tunnel which runs from Rotherhithe to Wapping in London and is still in use today.
Brunel also became involved in designing ships for transatlantic shipping. His boat, The Great Western was at the time the largest steam ship in the world and first sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1837.
During the Crimean War, Brunel developed the pre-fabricated army hospital to allow the troops to get hygienic, easy-to-use aid closer to where they were fighting.
The first of these was erected in 1855 and had space for 1,000 beds. He designed the hospital in response to a letter to the War Office from Florence Nightingale asking for extra aid.
Brunel was a man of boundless energy and ideas who was said to sleep only 4 hours each night. He died at the age of 53 from a stroke and kidney failure.
Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force and their base at Scotland Yard. He first employed 1,000 constables who were affectionately known as ‘Bobbies’ or ‘Peelers’, terms still used today, and they were very successful in cutting crime in London.
Robert Peel was highly concerned about people’s welfare and introduced the Factory Act in 1844 which restricted the number of hours that children and women could work in a factory and set basic safety levels for the machines that were used.
ROBERT PEEL (Law & Order):
Born in Lancashire 1788, died 1850. His father was a highly successful textile manufacturer and also a Member of Parliament.
Peel was educated at Oxford University and became a Conservative politician, his first constituency being in Tipperary, Ireland.
CHARLES DARWIN (Science):
Born 1809, died 1882.
Darwin first studied medicine at Edinburgh University and then Theology at Cambridge.
However, at university he became very interested in natural history and when he finished his studies, spent 5 years on The Beagle, a ship dedicated to geological study and research. He collected a large number of living organisms, many of them new to science.
When on the Galapagos Islands, he noticed that birds of the same species from different islands had different features and characteristics depending on their surroundings, which inspired him to develop his theories on natural selection. The fourteen different species of finches that he discovered on these islands are now known as ‘Darwin’s Finches’.
He published several scientific works during his life, in the most famous of which, The Origin of the Species, he proposes and provides scientific evidence that all species of life have evolved over time from one or a few common ancestors through the process of natural selection.
His theory, although controversial at the time due to its direct opposition to the theological creation story, now provides the basis of modern evolutionary theory.
She was very active in her local community, collecting clothes for the poor, visiting the sick and starting a Sunday school to teach poor children to read and write.
When Elizabeth visited Newgate Prison, she was appalled by the conditions there. The prison was overcrowded and filthy, especially in the women’s section which was packed full of women and children, some of whom had not even had a trial.
In 1816 she founded the prison school system for children who were in prison with their parents. She also taught the female prisoners to read and to sew.
ELIZABETH FRY (Nursing):
Born 1780, died 1845.
Elizabeth Fry was born in Norwich to a Quaker family. Her mother died when she was12 so Elizabeth, as the eldest girl, brought up her younger brothers and sisters. She was inspired by the teachings of William Savery, an American Quaker and, motivated by his words, she began to take an interest in the poor, the sick and prisoners.
Her brother in law, Thomas Fowell Buxton, was a Member of Parliament, and Elizabeth Fry became the first woman to give evidence to the House of Commons committee, when she presented her findings on the state of prisons in England.
After seeing the body of a homeless boy on the streets of Brighton, Fry set up a ‘night shelter’ for the homeless and destitute.
In 1840 Fry opened a training school for nurses. Her programme inspired Florence Nightingale who took a team of Fry's nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.
It is reported that over 1,000 people stood in silence at the graveside as Elizabeth Fry’s body was buried, proving her to be a powerful and influential woman and role model.
He set up the first ‘Dr Barnardo Home’ in Stepney, London in 1870 and at the time of his death there were 112 homes throughout the United Kingdom.
The institutions were started to search for and to receive homeless children, to feed, clothe, educate, and, where possible, to give an industrial training suitable to each child.
Admission was free and immediate and there were no restrictions of age or sex, religion or nationality; the one necessary qualification being destitution.
He also founded a hospital for terribly sick children, an escape home for girls in danger and a convalescent seaside home.
His work is carried on today by the Barnardo Foundation.
DOCTOR BARNARDO (Welfare):
Dr Thomas John Barnardo was born 1845, died 1905.
Dr Barnardo trained as a doctor in London and his work during the cholera epidemic in the east end of London in1866 first drew his attention to the great numbers of homeless and destitute children in the cities of England.
At the age of 23 Bell emigrated to Canada and then on to the United States the following year where he taught deaf-mute children. In 1872 he founded his own school (later to become part of Boston University) to train teachers of the deaf.
Bell had been interested for many years in the idea of transmitting speech and, in 1875, he developed his first simple device for turning electricity into sound. The question of who actually invented the first telephone is still a contentious one - at the same time that Bell was working on his device an Italian-American named Antonio Meucci was developing something similar.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (Invention):
Born 1847, died 1922.
Bell was born in Edinburgh and was also educated there, as well as in London. From the age of 16 he began to research the mechanics of the voice and speech. He was no doubt influenced in this choice of career by the fact that both his father and grandfather were considered authorities on elocution.
It was Bell, however, who was granted the patent on 7th March 1876 and everything developed quickly from there. Just a year later the Bell Telephone company was formed (making Bell a rich man).
Bell became a naturalised US citizen in 1882. In 1885 Bell bought land in Nova Scotia where he built a summer residence in which he continued his experiments, branching out into aviation!
1888 saw Alexander Graham Bell and as one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society, was President (of the society!) from 1896 to 1904, and also helped to establish the journal.
It was in his Nova Scotia home that Bell died on 2nd August 1922, aged 75.
It was only whilst living in Portsmouth, waiting for his new medical practice to take off, that Conan Doyle began writing again. It was in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887 that Arthur Conan Doyle's first significant story was published. It was "A Study in Scarlet" and heralded the arrival of one of Literature's greatest detectives, Sherlock Holmes.
Conan Doyle himself acknowledged that Holmes was based in large part on his former tutor at University, Dr Joseph Bell, who was so well known for his deductive skills that he was apparently able to deduce a patient's illness simply by looking at them!
SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (Literature):
Born 1859, died 1930
Born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle in Edinburgh on the 22nd May 1859 he was the third of ten siblings.
Conan Doyle studied Medicine at Edinburgh University and, following his 5 years of study, he was employed as Ship's Surgeon on the SS Mayumba for it's voyage to Africa.
He published his first short story at the age of 19.
Sherlock Holmes featured in a total of 56 short stories and 4 full novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - even though he considered the writing of them to be a distraction from "better things". He always considered his historical works of non-fiction to be far superior to his more famous works and only continued writing his Holmes stories because of financial need and public pressure.
Conan Doyle was married twice and fathered 5 children, 2 with his first wife and 3 with his second. He died in Crowborough, East Sussex, on July 7th 1930. His last words were to his wife - “the greatest and most glorious adventure of all—you are wonderful.”
Later in life, following the death of various family members, Conan Doyle became interested in Spiritualism and wrote books on the subject. He was seemingly convinced of the existence of fairies and spirits. He was so sure of these beliefs that he was convinced that his friend, Harry Houdini, had supernatural powers even though Houdini repeatedly tried to convince him that all of his work was down to illusion and trickery. In the end the two had a very bitter public falling-out.
Stevenson had a love of storytelling from a very young age and, even though he was a late writer, he was first published at age 16, a historical account of The Pentland Rising. The publication was paid for by his father, who encouraged his son’s story writing even though it was hoped he would become a lighthouse engineer as this was the family business. In fact he was “wonderfully resigned” to Robert choosing to become a man of letters in 1871, though he was also disappointed according to Stevenson’s mother.
Hugely popular author of such books as Kidnapped, Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
A celebrity in his own life time, Stevenson suffered with a weak chest throughout. He was a sickly, thin child who struggled to fit in with other children especially as he was kept away from his first school with illness a lot and had many private tutors. His Nurse would read to him regularly from story books and the Bible alike.
ROBERT LOUIS BALFOUR STEVENSON (Literature):
Born1850, died 1894.
In 1873 his father was not so understanding when he rejected Christianity. At this time Stevenson lived in London, becoming a member of the literary set. Ill health prompted a stay on the French Riviera and, when he returned, he studied, and qualified for, the Scottish Bar in July 1875.
He enjoyed travel very much (as is reflected in many of his better known stories) and it was on a canoeing trip in Belgium and France that he met the lady who would one day be his wife. Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne was, at the time, separated but not divorced from her first husband and it was when they met 3 years later, in 1877 that a relationship began between them. She returned to her home land in the United States in 1878 and he followed a year later. His voyage across America to San Francisco nearly killed him and it was Fanny herself who eventually nursed him back to health in time to marry him in May 1880.
The family split their time between various places as dictated by Stevenson’s health and it was over these years that he produced his best known works.
In 1888 Stevenson fulfilled a long-held dream and chartered a yacht to sail through the Pacific. He spent three years on the seas, visiting many different places and even befriending the King of Hawaii. He eventually settled on Upolu, a Samoan island. He spent the rest of his life here, getting involved in island politics and becoming well regarded by the islanders. He took the Samoan name Tusitala (Teller of Tales). He died unexpectedly on the evening of 3rd December 1894 whilst opening a bottle of wine for his wife. His final words were to ask his wife, “Does my face look strange?”. He then collapsed, dying a few hours later of a suspected cerebral haemorrhage.
He moved up the ranks of the Conservative Political Party, becoming Home Secretary in 1822 and then Prime Minister in 1834.