Moline Memories - MHS 66 Friends

Monday, December 26, 2011

Moliners Paid for the Funeral of Charles Dickens' Son:
Grave at Riverside

Dr. Jamieson, Moline.

Mrs. Jamieson

Dr. Alexander Wallace Jamieson (1839-1889) met Inspector F.J. Dickens in an Ottawa, Ontario hotel. They struck up a friendship and Dr. Jamieson invited Francis Dickens to visit him in Moline, Illinois. Whilst in Moline Dickens read to the Jamieson children from his author father's works. The books are still in possession of the Jamieson descendants. Dr. Jamieson assisted in covering the costs of Dickens' funeral in Riverside Cemetery, Moline.

Photos courtesy of - Mr. and Mrs. Darrel (Betty) Hagberg, Moline.
Mrs. Hagberg is Dr. Jamieson's Great, Great Grandaughter.


Here is a unique tale from Canada’s historic North West. It is a tale within a tale for Francis Jeffrey Dickens was the son of a very famous father, the renowned English author Charles Dickens. Dickens Senior wrote many stories but the short life of third son, Francis Jeffrey is an interesting, little known story of adventures.

Francis Jeffrey was the fifth child out of ten as parented by Charles and his wife Catherine. He was born in London, England January 15, 1844. The previous Christmas had seen the great success of ‘A Christmas Carol’. As was his practice Charles while playing with his children, gave them nicknames and eventually Francis Jeffrey would be called ‘Chickenstalker’ which carried hints of another Christmas book ‘The Chimes’.
The moneyed English tradition of sending children away to boarding school at an early age held true with Francis Jeffrey and he was sent to attend an English boys’ boarding school in Boulogne, France. Within a few years he was writing from another school in Hamburg, Germany where he was unsuccessful in studying pre-medical subjects. Upon return to London he was employed for a time with his father’s magazine. It was reported that Francis was a bit hard of hearing and had a stutter on occasion.

In 1863 Francis went out to India to serve with the Bengal Police. Upon his father’s death in 1870 Francis Jeffrey returned to England. In October 1874 he obtained commission as a Sub-Inspector in the newly formed North West Mounted Police and sailed for Canada. He arrived too late to participate in what would become known as The March West of the NWMP during the summer of 1874. However he was posted to Fort Dufferin near the 49th parallel for the winter of 1874/75.

During 1875 he was stationed at Fort Livingston on the Swan River (Manitoba) and then at Fort Macleod. Both postings necessitated long hours in the saddle travelling the seemingly endless parkland then prairie. The following year all of the Canadian and American Great Plains were in turmoil after the massacre of Custer and his men at the Battle of the Little Big Horn by Chief Sitting Bull and his warriors. Both countries were on war alert as the aboriginal peoples far outnumbered the whites.

The following year 1877 Sitting Bull moved into the Cypress Hills under the watchful eyes of the NWMP at Fort Walsh and Wood Mountain. Bull and his people would remain in Canadian territory for almost three years. During 1877 while stationed at Fort Macleod, Dickens was present at The Blackfoot Crossing for the signing of Treaty Number Seven with the Blackfoot Indians.
In 1878 Sub Inspector Dickens was transferred to Fort Walsh where he overlapped with Sitting Bull. In 1879 Francis Jeffrey was still at Fort Walsh and during this year his mother died and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. (His famous author father had been buried in Westminster Abbey). In November 1879 NWMP Constable Graburn was murdered while attending to horses near Fort Walsh and this led to increased tensions in the area 

In June 1880 Dickens was promoted to the rank of Inspector and was transferred from Fort Walsh to Fort Macleod. The following year ‘Chickenstalker’ moved to The Blackfoot Crossing on the Bow River about 50 miles east of Fort Calgary. He was involved with at least one confrontation with a brave who had stolen a horse. This incident was settled by the wise intervention of Chief Crowfoot and the support of NWMP personnel who forced marched from Fort Macleod.

Dickens remained at The Blackfoot Crossing during 1881 and the first half of 1882 and was well aware that vast changes were about to occur in the country with the westward progress of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. No longer would arduous, dusty route marches need to be made down to Fort Benton Montana Territory on the Missouri River to catch a paddlewheeler headed for Bismark, North Dakota to gain rail transport back to the east. During Dickens 12 years of service with the NWMP he never left the frontier.
In 1883 Dickens was transferred to Fort Pitt on the North Saskatchewan River and placed in charge of the small, poorly located fortification which lay on the main river highway supply route from Fort Carlton to Fort Edmonton. Ever since Sitting Bull had massacred Custer and the Seventh Cavalry in 1876 tensions throughout the whole region were high. Fort Pitt was in the heart of the most volatile regions where both Big Bear of the Crees and the Metis were in a state of unrest. There was also ongoing concerns that Louis Riel who had led the Red River Rebellion of 1870 would return from self-imposed exile in Montana to lead another uprising.

Inspector Dickens repeatedly warned of unrest in the area and in March 1885 it all came to a head with NWMP battles at Duck Lake followed by the burning of Fort Carlton then the Crees murdering priests and Hudson Bay Company employees and family members at Frog Lake. This site was 35 miles north west of Fort Pitt. Dickens sent out three scouts to reconnoiter. When they returned they were attacked by Cree warriors; one escaped unharmed, one was wounded - played dead then crawled to the ‘fort’, the other Constable Cowan was killed within sight of Fort Pitt then the warrior cut out young Cowan’s heart and ate a piece of it before the horrified defenders of the fort.
The NWMP detachment were outnumbered and outgunned 200 to 20. Negotiations led to the civilians agreeing to become prisoners of the Cree and Big Bear. The Chief gave Dickens and his men a short time to abandon the fort. This they did, and travelled amongst the ice pans in a leaky scow. Scouts from Fort Battleford reported that everyone at Fort Pitt had been massacred however after six days on the river Dickens and his men arrived at Battleford and received a hero’s welcome.
On November 2, 1885 eight aboriginal men were hanged at Ft. Battleford for their part in the uprising. Louis Riel was hanged at the NWMP barracks in Regina November 16. Dickens had left prior to the executions, travelled overland to Swift Current where he travelled by CPR to Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. He resigned in March 1886.

While in Ottawa he became friends with Dr. Alexander Jamieson of Moline, Illinois who was an admirer of the writings of Francis Jeffrey’s father, Charles. ‘Chickenstalker’ accepted Dr. Jamieson’s invitation to travel to Moline to give talks about his experiences in the Riel Rebellion of 1885. June 11 while sitting down to dinner prior to his scheduled speech, Francis Jeffrey took a glass of ice water, then clutched his chest in pain. He was escorted to an adjoining room but died of an apparent heart attack. He was 42 years old. The townsfolk of Moline made all the arrangements and carried most of the expenses of Inspector Dickens’ funeral and burial. In time a cement marker was placed at the grave and many years later a bronze plaque was attached to the original marker.
Since childhood David J. Carter has been a fan of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ and since 1993 has been carrying out research re: Francis Jeffrey Dickens. 

In 2001 funds were generated (led in particular by Jean Carter and the Medicine Lodge Coulee Heritage Society) to cover the costs of an official NWMP headstone which was placed at the grave of ‘Our Mutual Friend’ Inspector F.J. Dickens of the NWMP. The headstone was carved in Medicine Hat by Michael Anctil.  It was officially unveiled September 24, 2002 by an entourage of present members of the RCMP and former members of the RCMP representing The March West Committee. (Inspector Daun Miller-Co-ordinator.)


In 1874, when Northwest Mounted Police Inspector Francis Dickens arrived at Dufferin, an outpost along the west side of the Red River near the Manitoba-U.S. Border, he was angry and upset, first because he had arrived too late to take part in the original trek west, and second because he would have to remain at what he considered one of the most unpleasant places in the entire British Empire. [1] George A. French, the first commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, described the site, where he would assemble nearly 300 people in preparation for a march into Canada’s far west, as a “small shanty town surrounded by a few brothels and grog shops.” [2] In his memoirs, a young NWMP recruit described Dufferin in similarly unflattering terms. “Dufferin ... was [he wrote] of small account ... a Government warehouse, a Hudson’s Bay Company Store, two whiskey saloons and a few log shanties, inhabited by half-breeds ...” [3] Contemporary photographs do little to alter these descriptions. They show a collection of unpainted buildings in a muddy, bleak, and untidy setting. Yet it was from this site that two major and very significant events in Canadian history not only began, but also ended.
A group of North West Mounted Police in 1874. Francis Dickens is standing second from right.
Source: Archives of Manitoba


Charles Dickens Website
Francis Jeffrey DickensFrank was third son of Charles and Catherine Dickens. He was born on 15 January 1844. Catherine had been"exceedingly depressed and frightened" during the pregnacy.
During his infacy Frank began to show what his father hoped was a real promise. As a boy Frank attended a private school in Boulogne, France with his brothers Alfred and Sydney. He left for Germany to study language but quickly abandoned his dream to become a doctor. He had thoughts of sailing to Canada or Australia to become a gentleman farmer. Dickens took him into the office of All the Year Round but Frank proved ill-suited to office work and journalism. Dickens then arranged a commission for him in Bengal Mounted Police. He sailed for India in January 1863. He was expecting to meet his brother Walter there but the time he arrived Walter had died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm in Calcutta. Frank acquitted himself well and remained in India for seven years. After his father´s death 1870, Frank returned in England squandered his share of Dickens´s money. He lost his Bengal appointment. His aunt Georgina helped him to get a commission as a sub inspector in the North West Mounted Police, Canada. He arrived in Ottawa in the fall of 1874. On 16 February 1886 he resigned from The Force. He died 11 June 1886 while visiting Dr. A.W.Jamieson of Moline, Illinois. His brothers wished the body to remain in Moline and be placed in a quiet spot in Riverside Cemetery.

The grave was marked by a simple block of marble with the inscription:

"In Memory of
Francis J Dickens
Third Son of the Distinguished
Born Jan 15, 1844.
Died June 11, 1886.
Take Ye heed. Watch and Pray. For Ye know
Not When the Time Is".

The Dickensian No. 410: Vol.82 


Dickens of the Mounted

Friday, September 23, 2011
Klondike Friday: The Beginning of the NWMP

In my research on the North-West Mounted Police for the Klondike Gold Rush series, I recently bought an out of print book titled Dickens of the Mounted by Eric Nicol (who sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 91). The book is fiction, but based on fact. Francis Dickens, son of Charles, was an Inspector in the NWMP for twelve years. Francis himself died in 1886 just a short while after leaving the police.

The book is very Flashman-esque. It takes what little is known about the real life of Dickens and proposes to be a book of letters he wrote back to England during his time in the NWMP.

His career was, shall we say, less than stellar and apparently his lasting contribution to Canadian history was that from then on the officer corps of the NWMP showed a ‘growing antipathy… towards Englishmen.’

The book is hilarious in places, poignant in others (Francis lived in his father’s shadow his entire life) and most importantly, in my opinion, a darn good historical read.

Francis Dickens joined the NWMP in 1874 (he secured his position as a Sub-Inspector through family connections while still in England – he had never been a police officer). He was slightly too late to take part in the Great March West which left in July. Dickens followed by train. There being at the time no Canadian train route, he had to go through the U.S. to St. Paul and then by stagecoach to Winnipeg.

The March West of the NWMP is one of the key pivotal points in the creation of Canada west of Winnipeg and in the creation of the Canadian identity (the police were sent to bring law and government to Indian lands, not the Army.) It is, naturally, almost completely unknown to any but the keenest follower of Canadian history.

Although Francis Dickens was too late for the March, he soon caught up and spent the remainder of his career in such outposts as Fort Pitt, Fort Walsh, and Fort MacLeod. (In Alberta, where I visited the historical NWMP fort in the spring). He was there for treaty negotiations with the Blackfoot, dealings with Sitting Bull after he and his people came to Canada following the Little Big Horn, met Louis Riel, and fought the rebels in the North West Rebellion.

In the book, he meets and comments on Sam Steele, James Walsh, Sitting Bull, Louis Riel and many other historic characters. Sam Steele, incidentally, was an important player in the Klondike Gold Rush being the NWMP commissioner at that time. One of the towering figures of Canadian history, he is (of course) almost completely unknown.

A laugh out loud incident happens in the book when Dickens meets the Governor General (and son-in-law of Queen Victoria) and the GG wants to speak to him privately once he realizes Francis is the son of Charles Dickens.
“I wonder, Inspector Dickens, whether you can recommend a good publisher back home?”
“A publisher, Your Excellency?”
“Yes. You see, I do a bit of writing myself.”


Famous Residents of Riverside Cemetery

Notice Dickens on the back cover of this excellent book.
If you want to know the beginnings of Moline, read this book.

The book sells for $20 and is available from these outlets:

Moline, Illinois:
Model Printers, 310 15th Street
Lagomarcino's Confectionary, 1422 Fifth Avenue
Trevor True Value Hardware, 2842 16th Street
Rock Island County Historical Society, 822 11th Avenue

Davenport, Iowa: 

Lagomarcino's Confectionary, Village of East Davenport
Pretend you are going to Lago's for the book. Everyone will think you are a new-born scholar.


  1. Private Doctor London
    The book is very Flashman-esque. It takes what little is known about the real life of Dickens and proposes to be a book of letters he wrote back to England during his time in the NWMP

  2. I was in Galveston, Texas (December 1996) They dress in Victorian garb to re-enact the famous "A Christmas Carol" in honor of Charles Dickens' grandson, who lived there (he was 87-years old then)[Charles and Catherine Dickens had ten children, I do not know which grandson lived in Galveston]