On 9 June 1865 Dickens was travelling back from France with Ellen Ternan (so impressive was his propaganda machine that arguments as to whether she was his actual mistress continue to this day) and her mother. They had joined the tidal train from Folkestone to Charing Cross and had reached Staplehurst when the train dramatically crashed and several coaches fell into the river when parts of a bridge collapsed. It transpired that a foreman working on repairs to the railway had misread the timetable and the train was not expected for another two hours. Dickens’s first class coach remained intact and he was able to climb back in to rescue the latest instalment of Our Mutual Friend, before energetically tending to the injured and dying. Tellingly the presence of Ellen Ternan was kept strictly secret - as one of his recent biographers notes, ‘Even with Nelly injured Dickens put his determination to protect his reputation before his wish to look after her.’ 1.


Tomalin, Claire. Charles Dickens: A Life. London: Viking, 2011


  1. Tomalin, Claire. Charles Dickens: A Life. London: Viking, 2011, 333.