Last reviewed: June 2018
January 2, 1830
Barnack, Northamptonshire, England
May 24, 1876
Cuckfield, Sussex, England
Henry Kingsley, born at Barnack, Northamptonshire, England, on January 2, 1830, was the son of an Anglican clergyman and a younger brother of Charles Kingsley, the well-known Victorian novelist. Henry Kingsley, never as successful as his older brother during his lifetime, is today given higher rank by many English critics. After some time at the King’s College School in London, Henry Kingsley went to Oxford University in 1850, to stay for three years. As a student at Oxford he was neither successful nor very conscientious, preferring to spend his time in social and athletic pursuits. He not only wasted his three academic years at the university but also ran himself seriously into debt. A timely inheritance paid off his indebtedness, and in 1853 he migrated to Australia to seek his fortune in the Australian goldfields. Unsuccessful in his search for gold, he worked at all kinds of minor jobs to make a living. While in Australia, he began to write his first novel, The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn. Henry Kingsley.
Kingsley returned to England in 1858, and his novel about the Australian goldfields appeared the following year. Following its success, Kingsley, then living with his parents, began to contribute to various periodicals and wrote a second successful novel, Ravenshoe. His second work would eventually be his best-remembered book.
In 1864, Kingsley married Sarah Maria Kingsley Haselwood, a cousin, and they settled in a cottage at Wargrave, in Berkshire. Among Kingsley’s friends by that time were such notables as Matthew Arnold, George Meredith, and Algernon Charles Swinburne. The author’s income was insufficient to take care of his hospitality and the costs of his wife’s illnesses, and his later novels failed to meet with public approval as expressed in sales. Financial pressure finally caused him to become editor of the Edinburgh Daily Review in 1869. He was unsuited for newspaper editorship, however, and in 1870, when the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War provided an excuse, he seized it to go to the Continent as a war correspondent. He returned to England in the following year, left the newspaper shortly afterward, and resumed, in London, the writing of fiction. A fantasy, The Boy in Grey, and two novels, Old Margaret and Hetty, all published in 1871, proved failures upon publication. At her husband’s insistence, Kingsley’s wife sought financial aid from Charles, her husband’s brother. Assistance was forthcoming at first, but continued requests were more than Charles Kingsley was able or willing to meet.
Henry Kingsley wrote and published several other novels, but none was particularly successful with critics or the reading public. Kingsley himself considered Oakshott Castle his best book. The Kingsley fortunes continued downward, although a small inheritance in 1873 kept him and his wife from outright poverty. Shortly after his brother’s death in 1875, Henry Kingsley was found to have cancer of the throat and mouth. He resolved to leave London to spend his last months in the English countryside. He took a cottage in Cuckfield, in Sussex, where he died a few months later, on May 24, 1876.