Kingsley, Mary Henrietta (DNB01)
KINGSLEY, MARY HENRIETTA (1862–1900), traveller and writer, born in Islington on 13 Oct. 1862, was the only daughter and eldest child of Dr. George Henry Kingsley [q. v.] by his wife, Mary Bailey. Charles Kingsley [q. v.] and Henry Kingsley [q. v.] were her father's brothers, Her parents removed to Highgate in 1863, soon after her birth, and there she passed her first sixteen years. She had a somewhat irregular home-training, among books, quiet domestic duties, the care of numerous pet animals and a rambling garden, duties and interests which stayed by her through life. She was not sent to school or college, but read omnivorously, and in truth had a world of her own amid the old books of travel, natural history, or alchemy,works on science, country sport, and literature, which she found on her father's shelves. The family led a retired life, and Mary grew up a shy, rather silent girl, disliking social gatherings but eagerly benefiting by intercourse with a sympathetic friend or a scientific neighbour. Her father was an enthusiastic traveller with keen scientific interests. These his daughter fully shared. She was fond of natural history, especially of her father's favourite study of fishes and their ways. She learned German, but not French, which later she regretted.
In 1879 the household removed to Bexley in Kent; here she experimented in mechanics, studied chemistry, and, through friendship with Cromwell Fleetwood Varley [q. v.], dived into electricity. With an increasing zest for scientific studies she took up ethnography and anthropology. In the spring of 1886 another move was made to Cambridge, where her brother was just entered at Christ's College. This change had a great effect upon her, besides improving her health, which had been somewhat delicate. In the society of cultivated men and women, congenial to her father and herself, she gained confidence in her own powers, winning friends and appreciation for her own sake. About the spring of 1888 a friend took her to Paris for a week — her first taste of foreign travel. During the four years that followed she devoted herself with tender capability to nursing her mother, who had been attacked by serious illness, and during the latter part of the period she also had the care of her father, who had returned home broken in health after rheumatic fever. Dr. Kingsley died in February 1892, and his wife in April. The heavy sense of responsibility which had naturaly weighed upon Mary Kingsley was lightened, and after a trip to the Canaries in the late spring she came back restored in health and tone, with a mind full of new possibilities awakened by the incidents of her voyage. Removing with her brother to Addison Road, London, filled by the hereditary passion for travel, she renounced an intention of studying medicine in order to pursue the study, which she had already begun with her father, of early religion and law. She was resolved personally to investigate the subject in uncivilised countries; she had formerly thought of going to India for the purpose, but instead she now prepared for a voyage to tropical West Africa. Her friends, Dr. Guillemard of Cambridge and Dr. Giinther of the British Museum, encouraged her to collect beetles and freshwater fishes; she read Monteiro and other books on the West Coast; and, with a few introductions to Portuguese colonists and others, she, happy in the sense of freedom, started alone in August 1893. She sailed down the coast to St. Paul de Loanda, made her way thence by land to Ambriz, across many parts hitherto untravelled by Europeans, through great difficulties of swamp, bush, and river while gathering her collections. She also visited duringthis journey Kabinda and Matadi on the Congo river; and, returning by way of Old Calabar, reached England in January 1894. On this first journey she gained some acquaintance with the customs and fetish (i.e. religion) of the Fjort tribes in the old kingdom of Congo, which she afterwards utilised in an introduction to Mr. R. Dennet's Folk Lore of the Fjoṙt' (1898).
The collections which she brought home were of value to naturalists; and the voyage had been a foretaste of what she might do with more definite aims and a better knowledge of how to attain them. During 1894 she made good use of her opportunities among her old friends and new, in preparing to start afresh. Having received a collector's equipment from the British Museum, she sailed from Liverpool on 23 Dec. 1894 for Old Calabar, touching on the way thither at Sierra Leone, Cape Coast Castle, and Accra. Mary Kingsley stayed nearly two months at Old Calabar, where she was most hospitably entertained by Sir Claude and Lady Macdonald, and made many excursions in the neighbourhood. She then went south to Congo Français and ascended the Ogowé river, passing, at the risk of her life, through the dangerous rapids above N'Ojele ; and subsequently made a very adventurous and dangerous journey through a part of the Fan country which had never been explored before, from Lambarene on the Ogowé river to Agonjo on the upper waters of the Rembwe river, passing on her way the beautiful and almost unknown Lake Ncovi. Afterwards she visited the island of Corisco, where she obtained some valuable zoological specimens ; and the last, but not the least, feat of this memorable journey was the ascent of Mungo Mah Lobeh, the great Cameroon, a mountain 13,760 feet high. During this expedition she won the affection and respect of natives all down the coast by the interest she took in their welfare and their affairs ; and German and French officials, and missionaries, traders, and sea-captains everywhere became her friends and admiring helpers. In order to pay her way (for which her slender resources did not suffice) she had learnt to trade with rubber and oil, and the knowledge thus acquired became of great importance to the West African merchants in this country. She brought home a collection, reported on by Dr. Günther, consisting of insects, shells, and plants, eighteen species of reptiles, and sixty-five species of fishes, of which three were entirely new and were named after her. Careful notes and observations made on the spot were afterwards used as the foundation of her writings and lectures.
She landed again in England on 30 Nov. 1895, and work soon began to pour in upon her. She set herself resolutely to acquire a power of exposition, both as a writer and speaker, and in this endeavour met with great success. Duringl896 she was writing 'Travels in West Africa' (1897), which combined a narrative of both her journeys. Her fresh style bubbled over with humour. In February and March she read papers before the Scottish and Liverpool Geographical Societies, magazine articles followed, and on 19 Nov she gave her first lecture at the London School of Medicine for Women on 'African Therapeutics from a Witch Doctor's point of view.' During the next two years she lectured on West Africa all over the country, speaking to various audiences, associations of nurses, pupil-teachers, and working men, as well as to scientific societies, academic gatherings, and to both the Liverpool and the Manchester chambers of commerce. She freely gave her services for charitable purposes. Her great desire was that Englishmen should know the conditions of life and government in their West African colonies, insisting that justice should be done to native and white man alike. One of her last public utterances was at the Imperial Institute on 12 Feb. 1900. Meanwhile she was still writing assiduously ; in February 1899 appeared 'West African Studies,' containing some matter already published and essays showing her matured views on several important subjects. A second edition of this book appeared in 1901, with an introduction by Mr. George Macmillan. A small volume, 'The Story of West Africa' (H. Marshall's Empire Series), begun in 1897, came out in 1899 ; and her last book was a sympathetic memoir of her father prefixed to his 'Notes on Sport and Travel' (January 1900).
Her health suffered under the strain of work and London life, and she longed to get away. The war of 1899 with the Boer republics turned her thoughts to South Africa, whence she hoped she might return to her own west coast. She sailed on 11 March 1900, reaching Cape Town on the 28th. Offering her services to the authorities, she was sent to the Simon's Town Palace Hospital to nurse sick Boer prisoners ; but overwork, heroically and ably performed, brought on enteric fever, from which she died on 3 June 1900. By her long-cherished desire she was buried at sea. The coffin was conveyed from Simon's Town harbour on a torpedo boat ; the honours of a combined naval and military funeral were accorded her. The feeling expressed at this sudden, and as it appeared to many unnecessary, loss of a valuable life was universal wherever she had been known, at Cape Town, on the West Coast, and in England. Memorials to her memory were immediately set on foot at Cape Town, at Liverpool, where a hospital bearing her name is to be erected; while other friends in England and West Africa hope to carry on her work, which has had an important influence for good on West African affairs, by the establishment of a Mary Kingsley West Africa Society, for inquiry into native custom and law, and for the mutual enlightenment of the black and white man.
Although of daring and masculine courage, loving the sea and outdoor life, Miss Kingsley was full of womanly tenderness, sympathy, and modesty, entirely without false shame. Her genius was able, wise, and intellectually far-seeing; and, though sometimes wrong, she dealt with great issues from the insight of a sincere and generous mind. Her tine square brow was her chief beauty, and she exercised remarkable personal attraction, heightened by her brilliant conversation and her keen sense of (ever kindly) humour. Portraits exist of her in photograph only; one, a profile, taken at Cambridge in 1893, the other, nearly full face, taken in London about the middle of 1896.
Mary Kingsley was elected a member of the Anthropological Society in June 1898. Among her principal lectures and writings besides those named above are 'The Fetish View of the Human Soul,' 'Folk Lore,' vol. viii. June 1897; 'African Religion and Law' (Hibbert lecture at Oxford), 'National Review,' September 1897; 'The Law and Nature of Property among the Peoples of the true Negro Stock,' delivered at the British Association (Bristol), September 1898; 'The Forms of Apparitions in West Africa,' 'Journal of the Psychical Research Society,' July 1899 (vol. xiv.); 'Administration of our West African Colonies,' an important address to the Manchester chamber of commerce, printed in their 'Monthly Record,' 30 March 1899; 'West Africa from an Ethnological Point of View,' 'Imperial Institute Journal,' April 1900. 'The Development of Dodos,' 'National Review,' March 1896, and 'Liquor Traffic with West Africa,'; 'Fortnightly,' April 1898, dealt with a controversy on liquor and missionaries. Four articles on 'West African Property' appeared in the ' Morning Post' in July 1898, and three or four letters were published in the 'Spectator' in 1897, 1898, and 1900. 'Gardening' and 'Nursing' in West Africa are articles in 'Climate,' April, and 'Chambers's Journal,' June 1900.
[Personal knowledge and private letters; Memoir of Dr. Geo. Kingsley by his daughter, 1900; chapter of autobiography by Mary H. Kingsley in T. P. O'Connors M.A.P., 20 May 1899.]