1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kingsley, Mary Henrietta

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KINGSLEY, MARY HENRIETTA (1862–1900), English traveller, ethnologist and author, daughter of George Henry Kingsley (1827–1892), was born in Islington, London, on the 13th of October 1862. Her father, though less widely known than his brothers, Charles and Henry (see above), was a man of versatile abilities, with a passion for travelling which he managed to indulge in combination with his practice as a doctor. He wrote one popular book of travel, South Sea Bubbles, by the Earl and the Doctor (1872), in collaboration with the 13th earl of Pembroke. Mary Kingsley’s reading in history, poetry and philosophy was wide if desultory, but she was most attracted to natural history. Her family moved to Cambridge in 1886, where she studied the science of sociology. The loss of both parents in 1892 left her free to pursue her own course, and she resolved to study native religion and law in West Africa with a view to completing a book which her father had left unfinished. With her study of “raw fetish” she combined that of a scientific collector of fresh-water fishes. She started for the West Coast in August 1893; and at Kabinda, at Old Calabar, Fernando Po and on the Lower Congo she pursued her investigations, returning to England in June 1894. She gained sufficient knowledge of the native customs to contribute an introduction to Mr R. E. Dennett’s Notes on the Folk Lore of the Fjort (1898). Miss Kingsley made careful preparations for a second visit to the same coast; and in December 1894, provided by the British Museum authorities with a collector’s equipment, she proceeded via Old Calabar to French Congo, and ascended the Ogowé River. From this point her journey, in part across country hitherto untrodden by Europeans, was a long series of adventures and hairbreadth escapes, at one time from the dangers of land and water, at another from the cannibal Fang. Returning to the coast Miss Kingsley went to Corisco and to the German colony of Cameroon, where she made the ascent of the Great Cameroon (13,760 ft.) from a direction until then unattempted. She returned to England in October 1895. The story of her adventures and her investigations in fetish is vividly told in her Travels in West Africa (1897). The book aroused wide interest, and she lectured to scientific gatherings on the fauna, flora and folk-lore of West Africa, and to commercial audiences on the trade of that region and its possible developments, always with a protest against the lack of detailed knowledge characteristic of modern dealings with new fields of trade. In both cases she spoke with authority, for she had brought back a considerable number of new specimens of fishes and plants, and had herself traded in rubber and oil in the districts through which she passed. But her chief concern was for the development of the negro on African, not European, lines and for the government of the British possessions on the West Coast by methods which left the native “a free unsmashed man—not a whitewashed slave or an enemy.” With undaunted energy Miss Kingsley made preparations for a third journey to the West Coast, but the Anglo-Boer War changed her plans, and she decided to go first to South Africa to nurse fever cases. She died of enteric fever at Simon’s Town, where she was engaged in tending Boer prisoners, on the 3rd of June 1900. Miss Kingsley’s works, besides her Travels, include West African Studies, The Story of West Africa, a memoir of her father prefixed to his Notes on Sport and Travel (1899), and many contributions to the study of West African law and folk-lore. To continue the investigation of the subjects Miss Kingsley had made her own “The African Society” was founded in 1901.

Valuable biographical information from the pen of Mr George A. Macmillan is prefixed to a second edition (1901) of the Studies.