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John Dickens (1785 – 31 March 1851) was the father of English novelist Charles Dickens.


The son of William Dickens (1719 – 1785) and Elizabeth Ball (1745 – 1824), John Dickens was a clerk in the Royal Navy Pay Office at Portsmouthmarker in Hampshire. On 13 June 1809 at St Mary le Strand, London, he married Elizabeth Barrow, with whom he had eight children. He was later transferred to Londonmarker and then to Chathammarker, returning to live in Camden Townmarker in London in 1822 to work in Somerset Housemarker. John Dickens found it difficult to provide for his growing family on his meager income. Soon his debts had become so severe that all the household goods were sold in an attempt to pay his bills.

Marshalsea Prison

Described by his son Charles as "a jovial opportunist with no money sense", unable to satisfy his creditors, on 20 February 1824 John Dickens was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Debtors' Prisonmarker for debt under the Insolvent Debtor's Act of 1813, because he owed a baker, James Kerr, £40 and 10 shillings. His wife Elizabeth Barrow, and her three youngest children, joined her husband in the Marshalsea in April 1824. John Dickens was released after three months, on 28 May 1824, on the death of his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dickens, who had left him the sum of £450 in her will. On the expectation of this legacy, Dickens petitioned for, and was granted, release from prison. Under the Insolvent Debtors Act, Dickens arranged for payment of his creditors, and he and his family left Marshalsea for the home of Mrs. Roylance, with whom his 12 year old son Charles was lodging.

Some years later John Dickens was again briefly imprisoned for debt, and was released only when his son Charles borrowed money from his friends based on the security of his salary. However, on his release from prison John Dickens immediately wrote begging letters to those same friends of his son's also asking for money. He wrote to Thomas Beard claiming that his son Alfred "is walking to and from Hampsteadmarker daily in dancing Pumps".

Later years

Later he became a journalist, and in 1828 a parliamentary reporter, like his famous son before him. When Charles Dickens gained fame as a writer John Dickens frequently embarrassed his son by seeking loans from Charles' friends and publishers behind his back, and by selling pages from his son's early manuscripts. Concerned about his father's financial problems, Charles Dickens rented a cottage for his parents far from London, and, as he thought, far from temptation, at Alphington in Devonmarker. However, John Dickens merely continued to write to Charles' friends and publishers asking for money. Eventually, he and his wife returned to London.

Dickens depicted his father in the character of Wilkins Micawber in his semi-autobiographical novel David Copperfield.

John Dickens is buried with his wife Elizabeth in Highgate cemeterymarker.

Children of John Dickens


  1. [1] Dickens Family Tree website
  2. Allingham, Philip V. (2004). "Where the Dickens: A Chronology of the Various Residences of Charles Dickens, 1812-1870", Victorian Web, 22 November 2004
  3. Darlington, Ida (1955) Place" "Southwark Prisons", Survey of London, Volume 25: St George's Fields (The parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington), pp. 9–21 says he was imprisoned for £10.
  4. "Why Dickens had a conscience", BBC News, 3 December 2004.
  5. [2] John Dickens on 'Charles Dickens:Family and Friends
  6. Allingham 2004
  7. Ackroyd, pg 160
  8. [3] M. C. Rintoul 'Dictionary of Real People and Places in Fiction' Routledge, (1993) pg 362
  9. W. Oddie, 'Mr. Micawber and the redefinition of experience' The Dickensian (1967) 63:109
  10. [4] Charles Dickens Biography, Life, Books and his work on Literature

See also

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