C. Howard introduces Mary Kingsley: the devoted daughter amd energetic middle-class housekeeper who had become a distinguished explorer by the age of thirty-five. More than any other publicist of the 1890’s, she helped to make Englishmen aware of their responsibilities on the African continent.
Mary Kingsley is one of the most singular figures amid the rich galaxy of distinguished Victorian women. From the age of fifteen until she was thirty she acted as companion and housekeeper to her delicate mother, living the narrow circumscribed life of an unmarried daughter. Yet by the time she was thirty-five she was a famous explorer, and an authority on West African problems whose trenchant and fearless criticism was heard with respect by ministers of the Crown. By thirty-eight she was dead of enteric fever, caught in South Africa while nursing Boer prisoners of war. Few women have done so much in so short a time.
Mary Kingsley was bom on October 13th, 1862, at Islington of a middle-class family of moderate distinction—her uncle was Charles Kingsley, the novelist. Her father, George, his younger brother, had qualified as a doctor of medicine at Edinburgh, but he soon abandoned all intention of settling down to a general practice. The desire to see strange lands, and to live a life of adventure, was too strong. As a young man he had shouldered a rucksack and left his father’s rectory at Chelsea for solitary walking tours in Germany and Austria. When his medical studies were concluded, he eagerly accepted posts as attendant physician to a series of noblemen who passed their time in travel or in big game hunting, sailing amid the islands of the Pacific with the Earl of Pembroke and hunting on the Great Plains with the Earl of Dunedin.