Sydney Smith Haldimand Dickens

Sydney Dickens c.1860

Sydney Smith Haldimand Dickens (18 April 1847 2 May 1872) was a Royal Navy officer; the fifth son and seventh child of English novelist Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine.[1]


An endearing child, nicknamed "The Ocean Spectre" and "The Admiral" by his father, Sydney Dickens was born at 3 Chester Place[2] and baptized at the church of St. Mary in Marylebone in London on 24 June 1847, his godfathers being William Haldimand of Lausanne, and Henry Porter Smith (1797 - 1880), an actuary for the Eagle Life Assurance Company.[3] He was educated at Brackenbury's Military School at Wimbledon and at Mr Gibson's boarding school in Boulogne-sur-Mer, with his brothers, Alfred and Henry.[4]

When aged 3, and staying with the family at Broadstairs, his father asked him if he would walk to the railway station to meet John Forster, who was coming for a visit. Without hesitation Sydney answered "Yes" and set off through the garden gate and down the street until another of the children ran after him and fetched him back.[5] Aged 13 he joined Eastman's Naval Academy in Southsea, intending to train as a naval officer, a move designed by his father to encourage him to become self-sufficient in life. As a boy he had shown great energy and character, and was described by his father as a "born little sailor".[6] On 11 September 1860, aged 14, Sydney Dickens joined the Royal Navy as a cadet on the training ship HMS Britannia. After his initial training he was posted to HMS Orlando on 6 December 1861.

He was promoted midshipman on 7 March 1862.[7] On 19 May 1864 his career suffered a setback when he was docked a year's seniority "for misconduct"; however, following a period of satisfactory conduct, 8 months of that time was restored to him on 9 November 1866.[7][8][9] On 30 August 1867 he was promoted to acting sub-lieutenant, and received substantive promotion on 30 November 1867.

He was promoted acting lieutenant on 20 April 1868, reverted to sub lieutenant on 27 August 1868, had a further period as an acting lieutenant from 19 July 1869 to 28 February 1870, and finally received substantive promotion on 6 February.[7] Charles Dickens was proud of Sydney's naval career, but was unhappy that he had fallen heavily into debt, and refused to help him.[10] Indeed, at one stage Sydney became so reckless with money that his father refused to allow him into the house, and in later years his sister, Mamie Dickens, said she thought of him with "contempt" and even "horror".[6]

Whilst serving on HMS Topaze Sydney Dickens was invalided out of the Navy due to ill health on 22 April 1872.[8] He remained aboard Topaze for the passage home from India to England, and died at sea a few days later.[7][8] He was buried at sea in the Indian Ocean.[11]

See also


  1. The Children of Charles Dickens
  2. 'Charles Dickens' by Una Pope Hennessy Published by Read Boks (2007) pg 275 ISBN 1-4067-5783-7
  3. 'The Letters of Charles Dickens: The Pilgrim Edition Volume 2: 1840-1841' Published by Oxford University Press (1969) ISBN 0-19-811478-8 pg 251
  4. Dickens, Henry Fielding 'The Recollections of Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, K.C.' Published by William Heinemann Ltd (1934) p 11
  5. Peter Ackroyd 'Dickens' Published by Sinclair-Stevenson (1990) pg 604
  6. 1 2 Ackroyd, pg 878
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Image details—Dickens, Sydney Smith H—Sub Lieutenant—Naval cadets to Admirals" (fee usually required to view full image of original service records). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  8. 1 2 3 "Image details—Dickens, Sydney Smith Haldiman—Lieutenant—Executive Officers' Services" (fee usually required to view full image of original service records). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  9. "Image details—Dickens, Sydney Smith Haldiman—Lieutenant—Commission and Warrant Branch: Executive Officers A-L" (fee usually required to view full image of original service records). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  10. Family and Friends of Charles Dickens
  11. 'The Family Tree of Charles Dickens' by Mark Charles Dickens Published by the Charles Dickens Museum (2005)

External links

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