Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900) was an English writer and explorer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and African people. Kingsley was born in Islington. She was the daughter of George Kingsley (himself a travel writer) and Mary Bailey, and the niece of Charles Kingsley. Her father was a doctor and worked for George Herbert, 13th Earl of Pembroke. Her mother was an invalid and Mary was expected to stay at home and look after her. Mary had little formal schooling but she did have access to her father's large library and loved to hear her father's stories of foreign countries. Her father died in February 1878. Her mother also died just five weeks later. Freed from her family responsibilities, and with an income of £500 a year, Mary was now able to travel. Mary decided to visit Africa to collect the material she would need to finish off a book that her father had started on the culture of the people of Africa.
Travels in West Africaby Mary H. Kingsley
Until 1893, Mary Kingsley led a secluded life in Victorian England. But at age 30, defying every convention of womanhood of the time, she left England for West Africa to collect botanical specimens for a book left unfinished by her father at his death. Traveling through western and equatorial Africa and becoming the first European to enter some parts of Gabon,
Until 1893, Mary Kingsley led a secluded life in Victorian England. But at age 30, defying every convention of womanhood of the time, she left England for West Africa to collect botanical specimens for a book left unfinished by her father at his death. Traveling through western and equatorial Africa and becoming the first European to enter some parts of Gabon, Kingsley's storyas an explorer and as a womanwould become an enduring tale of adventure, ranking 18th on Adventure magazine's list of the top 100 adventure books.
Originally published in 1895, and never out of print, Travels in West Africa is Kingsley's account of her dauntless travels, unaccompanied but for African guides, into Africa's most dangerous jungles, where the tribes were reputed to be ferocious and cannibalistic. Along the way, she fought off crocodiles with a paddle, hit a leopard over the head with a pot, fell into an animal trap lined with sharpened sticks, and waded through swamps in chin-deep water. Despite her travails, Kingsley succeeded remarkably in this unknown place, establishing warm relationships with the natives and collecting more than 400 samples of plants and insects, some of which are now extinct.
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Life's early difficulties often lay the groundwork for later genius. Mary Kingsley was kept in almost complete isolation from Victorian society by her family, and, as a young woman, single-handedly managed the physical upkeep of her family's house. Her education was primarily from her absent adventurer-gentleman father's eclectic library, and all this produced a clear-thinking, capable adventurer in her own right. Written in a highly entertaining style, VERY similar to Mark Twain's, with NO pomposity and a clear respect for the indigenous West African (in present-day Nigeria, Gabon and Sierra Leone) people she met on her travels - this is a landmark book for anyone who enjoys autobiographies, humor, history and adventure. NOT TO BE MISSED!
Mary Kingsley has so far been an unrecognized genius - raised within the confines of a Victorian home, she set out after her parents' death to fill the African philosophy void that existed among her adventurer-doctor father's works. "But Africa was kind to me and interested me and didn't want to kill me just yet" - self-educated Mary Kingsley developed her own writer's voice with much the same descriptive wry observations as Mark Twain. She returned to England with a new perspective on re-vamping Colonial government of British Africa and gave lectures, as well as advised and mentored many in the Free Congo movement. This book features epiphanies of insight and top-notch humor on almost every page. Just. Brilliant.