Francis Jeffrey Dickens, the son of Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth Dickens, was born on 15th January, 1844. At the time he had three brothers and sisters, Charles (6th January, 1837), Mamie (6th March, 1838) and Kate (29th October, 1839).
It would seem that his father did not spend much time with his son as when he was eight-years-old, he wrote to William Henry Wills: "I find, to my great vexation and distress, this morning, that they have kept from me that Frank... stammers so horribly as to be quite an afflicted object."
In 1853 Frank was sent with his brother, Alfred , to a boarding school for English boys in Boulogne, run by two English clergymen, one of whom had been a teacher at Eton College. They were later joined by a third brother, Henry . He later reported: "It was confined to English boys who were sent there, presumably, with a view to their becoming proficient in the French language. I was very young then, and although two of my brothers were at the school, I felt rather sad and forlorn. I cannot say I look back on my days there with any degree of pleasure. I did not quite like dining off tin plates, nor was the food altogether appetizing. Very pale veal with very, very watery gravy and the usual stick-jaw pudding were most often the delicacies put before us." The boys were given two months vacation in summer, and none at Christmas unless the parents wished to see them then. It meant that they could be away from home for nearly ten months of the year.
In May 1858, Catherine Dickens accidentally received a bracelet meant for Ellen Ternan. Her daughter, Kate Dickens, says her mother was distraught by the incident. Charles Dickens responded by a meeting with his solicitors. By the end of the month he negotiated a settlement where Catherine should have £400 a year and a carriage and the children would live with Dickens. Later, the children insisted they had been forced to live with their father.
On the signing of the settlement, Catherine found temporary accommodation in Brighton, with her son. Later that year she moved to a house in Gloucester Crescent near Regent's Park. Dickens automatically got the right to take away 8 out of the 9 children from his wife (the eldest son who was over 21 was free to stay with his mother). Under the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, Catherine Dickens could only keep the children she had to charge him with adultery as well as bigamy, incest, sodomy or cruelty.
Charles Dickens now moved back to Tavistock House with Georgina Hogarth and Frank, along with his siblings, Mamie, Walter, Henry, Alfred, Sydney and Edward. Mamie and Georgina were put in command of the servants and household management.
According to Henry Fielding Dickens : "Frank, whom I always considered the cleverest and best read of all of us, in spite of a very quick temper and strange oddities of manner." Arthur A. Adrian has argued: "Interested in becoming a doctor, he had been sent to Hamburg to learn German. But discouraged by his stammer, he had soon abandoned all ambitions for a professional career and aspired instead to be a gentleman farmer in Africa, Canada, or Australia." His father rejected this proposal and insisted he joined the Foreign Office. However, he failed the examination. Dickens found his failure "unaccountable" and applied to Henry Brougham to get him into a place in the Registrar's Office in London. When this was unsuccessful, Dickens arranged for him to join the Bengal Mounted Police in India. He left the country in December 1863.
Charles Dickens died on 8th June, 1870. Frank resigned from the Bengal Mounted Police and returned to England in March 1871. Georgina Hogarth commented to Annie Fields that he was "affectionate and pleased to see us... but I don't think he cares much about anyone." Arthur A. Adrian has commented that "a disastrous speculation in indigo lost him a large part of his patrimony; the rest he squandered". His aunt tried to find him work. She wrote to her solicitor: "I know very little of Frank - and all that I know is most sad and hopeless.... What he intends to do, I have not the faintest idea. It seems of no use making any effort to help him. Both his sisters have tried and so have I to put him in the way of getting employment - but it is in vain. He has appointments made for him with men who seem likely and willing to be of use to him - and he does not keep them. So it all ends in his giving offence - and bringing discredit on those who endeavour to do him good. I think he is mad - I really do."
In 1874 with the help of his brother, Henry Fielding Dickens , he managed to find him a job with the North West Mounted Police in Canada. He remained in the force 12 years, serving at Fort Walsh, Fort Macleod and Fort Pitt, getting promoted to Inspector in 1880.
Frank, whom I always considered the cleverest and best read of all of us, in spite of a very quick temper and strange oddities of manner, joined the Indian Mounted Police, a very popular force at that time, and he remained in it for some years. After my father's death he was foolish enough, in an unhappy moment, to resign his position in that body, and it was only with some difficulty and with the help of Lord Dufferin that he succeeded in obtaining a commission in the North-West Mounted Police in Canada, which entailed a life of considerable hardship. He greatly distinguished himself in the great Riel rebellion in Canada and, as a result of the hardships which he had then to undergo, he died in America in June, 1886.
Dickens could only hope that Frank, his next son, would fare better in India. In the past, though, the boy's record had not been heartening. Interested in becoming a doctor, he had been sent to Hamburg to learn German. But discouraged by his stammer, he had soon abandoned all ambitions for a professional career and aspired instead to be a gentleman farmer in Africa, Canada, or Australia. Brushing this notion aside, Dickens, with some faint hope of getting his son into the Foreign Office, set him to studying Italian and reviewing German. But convinced before long that Frank showed little promise for this calling, he next considered preparing him for a business partnership with Charley. When that plan failed to materialize, Frank was taken into the office of All the Year Round, being thought to have a "natural literary taste and capacity". Finally, this last experiment proving unsatisfactory, his father got him an appointment to the Bengal Mounted Police and sent him to India in the month after Walter's death, but before the news of it had reached England. Just before he embarked Frank celebrated his twentieth birthday.