Charles Kingsley

The Kingsleys are a Cheshire family. The Rev. Charles Kingsley the elder came from a long line of clergymen and soldiers and married Mary Lucas. In addition to the two well-known novelists, their family included Dr George Kingsley the traveller and writer, and a daughter who also wrote fiction.


Charles Kingsley junior was born at Holne on Dartmoor in 1819. He spent his childhood in Clovelly, Devon, where his father was rector from 1830-6. He was for a while a pupil of the Rev. Derwent Coleridge, son of the poet. He then went to King's College, London, where he met Frances ‘Fanny’ Grenfell, with whom he fell almost immediately in love and married in 1844. In 1842, Charles left for Cambridge to read for Holy Orders at Magdalene College. He was originally intended for the legal profession, but changed his mind and went into the church. He was first curate and, from 1844, rector of the Hampshire parish of Eversley, a position that he kept for most of his life.

As a young man, Charles was influenced by The Kingdom of Christ (1838) by Frederick Denison Maurice. In the book Maurice argued that politics and religion are inseparable and that the church should be involved in addressing social questions. Kingsley became a supporter of Chartism and joined with Frederick Denison Maurice and Thomas Hughes to form the Christian Socialist movement. The men discussed how the Church could help to prevent revolution by tackling what they considered were the reasonable grievances of the working class. Charles contributed several articles to their journals under the pseudonym of ‘Parson Lot’. In 1850 his novel Alton Locke was published. The book attempted to expose the social injustice suffered by agricultural labourers and workers in the clothing trade.

In 1860, Charles was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. His interest in history spilled over into his writings, which included The Heroes (1856), a children's book about Greek mythology, and several historical novels, of which the best known are Hypatia (1853), Hereward the Wake(1865), and Westward Ho! (1855). Westward Ho! was about the clash between Protestant England and Catholic Spain and in it Charles expressed his anti-Catholic tendencies. The novel led to the founding of a town by the same name and even inspired the construction of a railway, the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway. Few authors can have had such a significant effect upon the area about which they eulogised. A hotel in Westward Ho! was named for him and it was also opened by him. He often returned to Clovelly, staying at what is now known as ‘Kingsley Cottage’, and the village and Cary family figured much in Westward Ho! Until this work Clovelly remained quite unknown to the outside world. Then Dickens wrote of it in A Message from the Sea (1860), and it became even better known. Soon there were "artists and dustbins in every corner.” Fanny had a villa at Ilfracombe and she and Charles made frequent excursions to Exmoor from there. He would walk over the moors with his brother, Henry, averaging about twenty miles a day. Charles published an essay on Exmoor. In it he described the climate of Exmoor as a blend of "the soft warmth of South Devon with the bracing freshness of the Welsh mountains." They often passed through Combe Martin, which was very run down at the time and was described by Charles as the ‘mile long man-stye,’ echoing Southey’s earlier description of Watchet. He was very concerned about the poverty in the area, particularly amongst agricultural labourers, although at the same time he liked to keep his distance from it. The problems of poverty, disease and poor sanitary conditions that he found there were expressed in his novel Two Years Ago.

In 1863 Charles published his most famous book, The Water Babies, written at Clovelly. The book, written for his youngest son, tells the story of a young chimney-sweep, who runs away from his brutal employer. In his flight he falls into a river and is transformed into a water baby. Thereafter, in the river and in the seas, he meets all sorts of creatures and learns a series of moral lessons. Charles also wrote poetry and political articles, as well as several volumes of sermons. As a novelist his chief power lay in his descriptive faculties. He revelled in descriptions of the scenery of North Devon, as exemplified inTwo Years Ago. His sympathy with children taught him how to secure their interests. His version of the old Greek stories entitled The Heroes, and Water-babies and Madam How and Lady Why, in which he deals with popular natural history, take high rank among books for children.

Charles died in 1875 after an exhausting tour of the United States and was buried in St Mary's churchyard in Eversley. One of his daughters, Mary St Leger Kingsley (Mrs Harrison), became well known as a novelist under the pseudonym of "Lucas Malet." His life story was written by his widow in 1877, entitled Charles Kingsley, his Letters and Memories of his Life, and presents a touching picture of her husband.


Henry Kingsley was the youngest brother of Charles. He was born at Barnack Rectory, Northamptonshire in1830, not far from the home of poet John Clare. Henry’s boyhood was spent at Clovelly and Chelsea. He was educated at King's College, London and Worcester College, Oxford, which he left without graduating. He was a spendthrift and was constantly in debt. An opportune legacy from a relation enabled him to leave Oxford free of debt and emigrate to Australia.

In Australia he became involved in gold-digging, and later joined the mounted police. For some time he had little or no money and carried his swag from station to station. At Langa-Willi station he wrote the novel Geoffrey Hamlyn, which was set in Colebrooke, Devon and Australia. On his return to the UK in 1858 he devoted himself to literature, and wrote several well-regarded novels, includingThe Hillyars and the Burtons (1865), Ravenshoe (1861), and Austin Elliot (1863). Henry was fond of mixing in literary circles, with authors such as Aldous Huxley, Matthew Arnold, George Meredith and Lewis Carroll. Ravenshoe, generally considered his best novel, ran as a serial in Macmillan's Magazine and was then published as a book. The novel is partly set on Exmoor and is thought to have been inspired by Trentishoe. The complex plot of the novel revolves around the life of Charles Ravenshoe. In line to inherit the family estate, Charles meets many obstacles that force him from boyhood into manhood. The plot is set in motion when Densil Ravenshoe agrees to allow his wife to raise George in the Protestant faith. In turn, the Roman Catholic family priest, fearing a loss of influence and position, attempts to disavow George's claim as rightful heir. In line with the novels of his brother Charles, Henry’s villains were often Catholics.

After his father died in 1860, Henry lived with his mother at Eversley. In 1862 he was admitted as a student to the Inner Temple, but he soon abandoned study. Two years later he married Sarah Maria Haselwood. They settled at Wargrave on the Thames but Sarah's health and their debts soon brought anxieties. Despite increasing difficulties, Henry managed to produce another sixteen novels, most of them mediocre and written under stress. In 1869, he went to Edinburgh to edit theDaily Review, but he soon gave this up, and in 1870 became war correspondent for the paper during the Franco-German War. Henry also published Leighton Court (1866), Mademoiselle Mathilde (1868), Tales of Old Travel re-narrated (1869), Stretton (1869), The Boy in Grey (1871), Hetty and other Stories (1871), Old Margaret (1871), Hornby Mills and other Stories (1872), Valentine (1872), The Harveys (1872), Oakshott Castle (1873), Reginald Hetherege (1874), Number Seventeen (1875), The Grange Garden (1876), Fireside Studies (Essays) (1876),The Mystery of the Island (1877).

In 1873 he moved to a semi-rural dwelling in Kentish Town, but personal misfortune followed him. His mother and his brother Charles died in quick succession. This was followed by the news that Henry, himself, had throat cancer. He made a final move to a cottage in Cuckfield, Sussex before his death in 1876.