Children: what the Dickens to do with them?

MODERN parents who despair of still-dependent adult children should spare a thought for Charles Dickens, worried about his offspring growing up in poverty after his own childhood had been so, well, Dickensian.

The great novelist sent two of his 10 children to Australia to make their fortunes, and was still sending large cheques to the colonies to keep them going shortly before he died in 1870.

One of these cheques, for £100 and made out to his sons Alfred and Edward, is now on display in the National Library's Treasures Gallery, as a symbol of the writer's significant links to Australia. Alfred, who had always been a financial drain on his father, migrated in 1865, while Edward, or ''Plorn'', the youngest and Dickens's favourite, followed in 1869. The cheque, worth about $13,000 in today's money, is on display with a letter written in 1870 by Dickens to Alfred, expressing his worries that Plorn wasn't finding his feet.

Dickens died 19 days later, so the sons would have learnt of their father's death before receiving the letter.

The director of exhibitions, Nat Williams, said the story of the cheque - one of many such financial missives but one that was, mysteriously, never cashed - was tinged with pathos because of the continuing strain Dickens's children had placed on him.

''Dickens felt that his children took a lot of husbanding and a lot of pushing and directing because they weren't naturally directed, with the exception of Henry who was an older son who did quite well. All the others dwindled a bit on the vine,'' he said.

''As much as Dickens didn't want them to fall into the trap of being the spoilt children of a wealthy, eminent father, how do you not if you've got money?

''If you added up all the money that he sent to Plorn and to Alfred … today it would be tens and tens of thousands of dollars. I guess he had the money … but he had that sadness. Were they ever going to amount to anything? He despaired about them.''

The story Children: what the Dickens to do with them? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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