Mary Kingsley was an English writer and explorer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and African people.
Kingsley was born in Islington, London on 14 October 1862. She was the daughter and oldest child of traveller and writer George Kingsley and Mary Bailey, and was the niece of novelists Charles Kingsley and Henry Kingsley. The family moved to Highgate less than a year after her birth, the same home where her brother Charley was born in 1866. Her father was a doctor and worked for George Herbert, 13th Earl of Pembroke and other aristocrats, often away from home on his excursions. During these voyages he was able to collect information for his studies. Dr. Kingsley and Lord Dunraven ventured to North America between 1870 and 1875 and was offered the opportunity to join American General Custer and his men into Native American lands. Later reports describing the massacre of Custer's party left the Kingsley family terrified, but they were relieved to discover later that bad weather had kept Dr. Kingsley from joining the Custer party. It is likely that her father's views on the injustices faced by the Native Americans helped shape Mary's later opinions on British imperialism in West Africa.
Mary was neither baptised nor brought up as a Christian . She had little formal schooling other than German lessons at a young age, but she did have access to her father's large library and loved to hear her father's stories of foreign countries. She did not enjoy novels that were deemed more appropriate for young ladies of the time, such as those by Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte but preferred books on the sciences and memoirs of explorers. Charley, however, was sent to school and entered Christ's College in 1886 with the intent to become a lawyer, allowing Mary the chance to make several academic connections and a few friends.
In her later years, Mary's mother became ill and Mary was expected to care for her well-being. Mary was unable to leave her mother's side for more than a few hours and therefore had limited travel opportunities. Her father also became bedridden with rheumatic fever after an excursion. Dr. Kingsley died in February 1892 and Mrs. Kingsley followed a few months later in April of the same year. Freed from her family responsibilities and with an inheritance of £8,600 to be split evenly with her brother, Mary was now able to travel as she dreamed. 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.