Wisbech & Fenland Museum



The original manuscript of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations was bequeathed to Wisbech and Fenland Museum by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend in 1868. Born in Godalming in 1798, Townshend came from a family with estates near to Wisbech.


Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (17981868).
A portrait in oils by J Williamson after J Boaden


During the 1830s Townshend suffered a bout of illness which led him to develop an interest in Mesmerism. Among those who also had faith in the practice was Charles Dickens, who had been introduced to it by Dr John Elliotson, who was a leading practitioner of the art. Dr Elliotson introduced Dickens and Townshend in 1840 and a lifelong friendship ensued.



Dr John Elliotson (17911868)

Townshend painted, wrote poetry and had a keen interest in natural history and geology. As an avid collector of the decorative arts each of his houses had ‘the interest of an art museum’. It had been suggested that Dickens’s affection for his friend and his maladies were charactized in the portraits of Cousin Felix in Dombey and Son and Mr Twemlow in Our Mutual Friend. Townshend published verse and in 1859 dedicated the Three Gates to Dickens. In return Dickens inscribed the bound copy of the manuscript of Great Expectations and gave it to Townshend in July 1861.

The first page of the original manuscript of Great Expectations