Augustus Dickens was the son of John Dickens, a clerk in the Navy Pay Office at Portsmouth, and his wife, Elizabeth (née Barrow). Charles Dickens's pen name, 'Boz', was actually taken from his youngest brother's family nickname 'Moses', given to him in honour of one of the brothers in The Vicar of Wakefield (one of the most widely read novels in the early 19th century), which when playfully pronounced through the nose became corrupted as 'Boses', and later shortened to 'Boz' – pronounced with a long vowel 'o' through the nose.
In 1844, Charles Dickens wrote to Chapman & Co., a shipping merchant, trying to obtain a position for Augustus, saying "I have a young brother recently come up from a good school at Exeter, and now living, with his father, at Greenwich...He is quick and clever: has never given trouble to anybody: and has been well brought up."
In 1845 and 1847, Augustus performed in Charles Dickens's amateur theatricals while continuing to work for Chapman & Co. In 1848, Charles Dickens invited Thomas Chapman, his brother's employer, to Augustus's wedding and "to breakfast with us on the day of Augustus' marriage to Harriett Lovell at Trinity Church, Marylebone, on 5 December 1848.
Later, when his wife became blind Augustus callously left her, moving to Chicago in the United States with Bertha Phillips (1827–1868), the daughter of James Phillips, an English solicitor. They lived together as man and wife. Moving to Amboy, Illinois, in February 1855 he became the editor of the 'Lee County Times', a position he only held until 1 August of that year, when it passed into the hands of H. B. Judkins. Augustus Dickens placed an advert in the Amboy Times of 4 June 1857 announcing the opening of his "People's Cheap Store." He later sold the store and bought a small farm in the same area.
In June 1860 Dickens moved back to Chicago where he obtained a job with the Illinois Central Land Department. Once settled he sent for Bertha and his three children, Bertram, Adrian and Amy Bertha Dickens. Frederick Barnard, a neighbour of Augustus Dickens at this time later wrote:
"I remember Augustus Dickens well," he said. "A more genial and whole-souled man never lived. His face bore a remarkable resemblance to portraits of his brother that I have seen. Augustus was small and spare and not at all striking in appearance. But his ready humor, his brilliant conversation, made him the life of whatever company he happened to be in, and he was probably the most popular man in the land office. His manners were most polished and he gave the impression of having had a splendid education... their house was the frequent gathering place of a coterie of people of refinement and culture and of musicians...of great ability. Mrs. Dickens' playing of classical music on the piano was grand...She was familiar with the music of all the great composers, and to hear her play at evening receptions and parties at her home was a great treat for her guests. She would often sing as she played, and I can remember clearly the rich, mellow sweetness of her voice. Mrs. Dickens was an exemplary wife, a woman of gentle breeding and fine education."
An article in The Chicago Herald in 1895 described Augustus as "...inert, indifferent and thriftless. He was competent enough, but he was addicted to intemperance to a degree that practically blighted his usefulness. What he might have become, if of correct habits, no one dared to predict. As it was, he wasted his slender income on liquor..." The paper claimed that several letters were written begging Dickens to come to Chicago to see his brother's plight, but that, to avoid having to meet his brother and his family, Charles Dickens avoided Chicago when he visited the United States on his reading tours. In reality, though, Augustus was already dead by the time Dickens' American tour was even announced.
Augustus Dickens died from tuberculosis in America aged 39 and was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. His older brother Charles Dickens supported both of Augustus's wives financially.
His mistress, Bertha Phillips, was said to have committed suicide on 24 December 1868 by taking an overdose of morphine, although she was taking morphine for a medical condition and probably took an overdose by mistake.Frances (Fanny) Elizabeth Dickens, 1810 – 1848
Charles John Huffam Dickens
Letitia Dickens, 1816 – 1893
Harriet Dickens 1819 – 1824
Alfred Lamert Dickens