Reprint: Henry Kingsley: Novelist's Australian Years: Appeal for a Monument

Is Henry Kingsley read now? Not much, perhaps; yet there are many middle aged readers who recall his books with pleasure, and for all Australians he should have particular interest as a resident in the pioneer days and as the writer of two good novels treating of that period. These are "Recollections of "Geoffrey Hamlyn" and "The Hillyars and the Burtons."

"I took your advice and reread 'Geoffrey Hamlyn,'" says a letter received from England recently by Mr. Tom Roberts. "I originally read it when I was 15 years old, and I still had a recollection of some passages in it. Were you aware when you advised me to read this book of Henry Kingsley's that this author (who did so much for Australia) lived for over 12 years and died and was buried in this little old village of Cuckfield? I sought out his grave in the parish churchyard. A small wooden cross of oak, with his name hardly discernible, marks his last resting-place, and in a very short time this will have mouldered away, unless replaced by a more permanent monument. What an opportunity for Melburnians to do something in the way of homage to the memory of the first writer of fiction weaving a spell of romance around early Australian days.

"His former residence is much the same as when he lived in it, and is, curiously, next to the village library, built of recent years. The present residents allowed me to look over it, and there are a number of small panels around the sitting-room fireplace which he painted. They are well preserved."


The Kingsleys were a remarkable family. Henry was the youngest of three sons of the Rev. Charles Kingsley. The eldest, Charles, a clergyman, was the author of 'Westward' Ho," "Alton Locke," "Hereward the Wake," and other favourite novels and miscellaneous writings. The second, George Henry, a doctor of medicine, was joint author with the Earl of Pembroke of "South Sea Bubbles," an early book on Pacific Island voyaging. The daughter of Charles is "Lucas Malet," a leading novelist, and the daughter of George was Mary Kingsley, who wrote on her travels in West Africa. Henry Kingsley was born at Barnack, Northamptonshire, on January 2, 1830. He was educated at King's College, London, and at Worcester College, Oxford. Much was being heard in England at that time of the wonders of the goldfields, and with some fellow students Kingsley sailed for Australia in 1853. Though he was in this country for five years, he was one of the visitors who did not make a fortune, whether from gold-seeking or from other activities; yet experience is always artistic gain to the born novelist, and this was shown in Kingsley's case after he had returned to England.

"Desultory and unromantic employment" is one description of the way in which his Australian years passed. For a time he was in the mounted police, and there is a story that his term was brought to an end by his refusing to attend an execution. But Kingsley did not care to talk about that period. One of the scenes in "Geoffrey Hamlyn" is a description of visit to a condemned cell by one who had been a friend of the fated bushranger in their youth in England. Tragedy and comedy, quiet humour, and quiet pathos, all have place in Henry Kingsley's books.


"Geoffrey Hamlyn," published on his return to England, was his first book, and it rapidly made its mark both there and in Australia. His masterpiece, the powerful ''Ravenshoe," followed; then "Austin Elliott"; and the fourth book was another Australian novel, '"The Hillyars and the Burtons," an account of the experiences of two English families in the new land. They are fresh, vivid, attractive books, those Australian volumes of Kingsley's, and they give good pictures of the life of the early settlers, so different from that of the age of motor-cars, of closer settlement, and of other modern changes. Such books have historic value in addition to their value as entertainment. Most of Henry Kingsley's writing has an effect as of pleasant easy talk with a friend. It is very "human." Precise critics may say that often his English is not "correct" but he is one of the authors who have qualities beyond mere correctness. "His best novels," says-Francis Hindes Groome, "are manly, pathetic, strong; yet even the best are full of most obvious faults - elementary solecisms, bad Irish and worse Scotch dialect, frequent improbabilities and occasional impossibilities. Besides, as the critics have told us, they all 'lack distinction of style.' Yet how noble (he loved that epithet) they often are! That a story should move one to tears or laughter, better still to both, is a true test of excellence; Henry Kingsley's stories are hard to read aloud for wanting to laugh, or else wanting not to cry."


Kingsley wrote 19 books - novels, stories, or sketches - and edited or compiled others. In 1864 he married his second cousin, Sarah Maria Kingsley, and they settled at Wargrave, near Henley-on-Thames. A few years afterwards he was in Scotland as editor of the "Edinburgh Daily Review." With the coming of the Franco-German War, Kingsley went as correspondent for his paper. He was present at the Battle of Sedan, and was the first Englishman to enter the town afterwards. "Valentin" is a story of Sedan. His later works were written in London, and then at "The Attrees," Cuckfield, Sussex, where he died after some months' illness on May 24, 1870. There are Australian references in his fantastic story for children "The Boy in Grey," and in other writings. Two of his essays are keenly appreciative of the work of the explorers Sturt and Eyre.

Henry Kingsley is a healthy, manly writer; one whom it is refreshing to know. There are many, no doubt, who would be glad to mark their appreciation of his work and personality, and of his association with Australia, by subscribing to a fund for the erection of a memorial on his grave. Mr. Tom Roberts's correspondent is another Australian artist, Mr. H. Walter Barnett, now resident in Italy. He suggests that the monument should not be costly or elaborate, but something simple and significant, formed perhaps of Australian granite. The Vicar of Cuckfield, Canon Wilson, is interested in the writings of Henry Kingsley, and is in sympathy with Mr. Barnett's proposal.

First published in The Argus, 10 April 1826

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 13, 2009 8:28 AM.

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