William Henry Giles Kingston

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William Henry Giles Kingston
W. H. G. Kingston 1884.jpg
Kingston in an 1884 portrait
Born (1814-02-28)28 February 1814
Westminster, London, England
Died 5 August 1880(1880-08-05) (aged 66)
Willesden, Middlesex (now London), England
Occupation Writer
Nationality English
Period 19th century
Genre Children's literature

William Henry Giles Kingston (28 February 1814 – 5 August 1880), often credited as W. H. G. Kingston, was an English writer of boys' adventure novels.


William Henry Giles Kingston was born in Harley Street, London, on 28 February 1814. He was the eldest son of Lucy Henry Kingston (d.1852) and his wife Frances Sophia Rooke (b.1789), daughter of Sir Giles Rooke, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Kingston's paternal grandfather, John Kingston (1736-1820), was a Member of Parliament who despite having a plantation in Demerara staunchly supported the Abolition of the Slave Trade. His father, Lucy, entered into the wine business in Oporto,[1] and Kingston lived there for many years, making frequent voyages to England and contracting a lifelong affection for the sea.

He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and afterwards entered his father's wine business but soon indulged in his natural bent for writing. His newspaper articles on Portugal were translated into Portuguese, and assisted the conclusion of the commercial treaty with Portugal in 1842, when he received from Donna Maria da Gloria an order of Portuguese knighthood and a pension.

His first book was The Circassian Chief, a story published in 1844, and while still living in Oporto, he wrote The Prime Minister, an historical novel, and Lusitanian Sketches, descriptions of travels in Portugal. Settling in England, he interested himself in the emigration movement, edited in 1844 The Colonist and The Colonial Magazine and East India Review, was honorary secretary of a colonisation society, wrote in 1848 Some Suggestions for a System of General Emigration, lectured on colonisation in 1849, published a manual for colonists, How to Emigrate, in 1850, and visited the western highlands on behalf of the emigration commissioners. He was afterwards a zealous volunteer and worked actively for the improvement of the condition of seamen. But from 1850 his chief occupation was writing books for boys, or editing boys' annuals and weekly periodicals. The Union Jack, a paper for boys, he started only a few months before his death. The best known of his stories, which numbered more than a hundred, are:

Cover of In the Rocky Mountains written by W. H. G. Kingston
  • Peter the Whaler, 1851
  • Blue Jackets, 1854
  • Digby Heathcote, 1860
  • The Cruise of the Frolic, 1860
  • The Fireships, 1862
  • The midshipman Marmaduke Merry, 1863
  • Foxholme Hall, 1867
  • Ben Burton, 1872
  • The Three Midshipmen, 1873
  • The Three Lieutenants, 1876
  • The Three Commanders, 1876
  • The Three Admirals, 1878
  • Kidnapping in the Pacific, 1879
  • Hendriks the Hunter, 1884

He travelled widely on the ordinary routes of travel, and described his experience for the young in:

  • Western Wanderings. Or, a pleasure tour in the Canadas, 1856
  • My Travels in Many Lands, 1862 (France, Italy and Portugal)
  • "In The Eastern Seas", 1871
  • The Western World, 1874
  • A Yacht Voyage round England, 1879

His popular records of adventure and of discovery included:

  • Captain Cook: His Life, Voyages, and Discoveries, 1871
  • Great African Travellers, 1874
  • Popular History of the Navy, 1876
  • Notable Voyages from Columbus to Parry, 1880
  • Adventures in the Far West, 1881
  • Adventures in Africa, 1883
  • Adventures in India, 1884
  • Adventures in Australia, 1885
  • Travels of Dr. Livingstone's Travels, 1886
  • Travels of Mungo Park, Denham and Clapperton, 1886

He published translations of several of Jules Verne's stories from the French (see below on the actual translator), and wrote many historical tales dealing with almost all periods and countries, from Eldol the Druid, 1874, and Jovinian, a tale of Early Papal Rome, 1877, downwards, and undertook some popular historical compilations like Half-Hours with the Kings and Queens of England, 1876.

He rewrote Richard Johnson's 1596 book 'The Seven Champions of Christendom' to bring the language into more contemporary English.

His writings occupy nine pages and a half of the British Museum Catalogue. They were very popular; his tales were quite innocuous, but most of them proved ephemeral. Feeling his health failing, on 2 August 1880 he wrote a farewell letter in touching terms to the boys for whom he had written so much and so long, and died three days later at Stormont Lodge, Willesden, near London.[2][3]

Family life[edit]

On 4 August 1853, Kingston married Agnes Kinloch, daughter of Captain Charles Kinloch of the 52nd Light Infantry who had served in the Peninsular War as aide-de-camp to General Sir John Hope. Their honeymoon was spent in Canada - where Kingston acquired the background for many of his later novels - and they spent their first Christmas at Quebec City with the family of William Collis Meredith, Chief Justice of Quebec. Agnes Kinloch was privately educated, as was the custom of the time, she sang well, was an accomplished musician, studied art and languages in Europe, and spoke both French and German fluently, a skill which was to be of benefit during her husband's later financial troubles. Although she bore her husband eight children, these all died early and this branch of the family is now extinct.[4]

Kingston's brother, George Kingston (1816–1886), was a Canadian professor, meteorologist, author, and public servant. For successfully promoting and organising one of Canada's first national scientific services, George Kingston has been called the father of Canadian Meteorology.

Financial troubles and translations of Jules Verne[edit]

Beginning in 1860 Kingston suffered a number of financial reverses resulting from his publishing activities, and by 1868 was very nearly bankrupt. In fact he was forced to accept a grant of £50 from the Royal Literary Fund and a few months later £100 from the Queen's Civil List. The financial troubles continued and resulted in Kingston living as a recluse during the last ten years of his life.

Beginning in the 1870s Kingston entered into a contract with the publishers Sampson Low and Marston to translate some works of the French author Jules Verne. These are the works for which Kingston is most remembered today, but although they were all published under his name, the translations were actually done by his wife, Agnes Kinloch Kingston.[5] Although this fact was generally known in literary circles, and actually mentioned in Mrs. Kingston's obituary in 1913, it was apparently forgotten until it was revived in the 20th Century edition of the Dictionary of National Biography in 2004.[1] The Verne books which Mrs. Kingston translated are:

Kingston died at his family home, 3 Brondesbury Villas, Willesden, Middlesex, on 5 August 1880 and his death was registered four days later by H. C. Kingston, "present at the death". The cause of death was cited, on his death certificate, as "Cancer of Kidney, Time not known, Certified by J. F. Anderson MD."


His first book, The Circassian Chief, appeared in 1844. His first book for boys, Peter the Whaler, was published in 1851, and had such success that he retired from business and devoted himself entirely to the production of this kind of literature, and during 30 years he wrote upwards of 130 tales, including:

He also wrote a tale about the notorious outlaw Ninco Nanco called Ninco Nanco, The Neapolitan Brigand, from Foxholme Hall.

He also conducted various papers, including The Colonist, and Colonial Magazine and East India Review. He was also interested in emigration, volunteering, and various philanthropic schemes. For services in negotiating a commercial treaty with Portugal he received a Portuguese knighthood, and for his literary labours a Government pension.

He is mentioned by Robert Louis Stevenson in the poem prefacing Treasure Island:[6]

If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave ...


  1. ^ a b Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, London: 2004–2007
  2. ^ Boy's Own Paper, 11 September 1880, which contains his portrait; preface to his novel James Braithwaite, 1882; Athenaeum, 14 August 1880; Times, 10 August 1880.
  3. ^ Dictionary of National Biography, Vol 22 (Supplement), Oxford University Press, London: 1922
  4. ^ The Life, Work, and Influence of W. H. G. Kingston, M. R. Kingsford, Ryerson Press, Toronto: 1947.
  5. ^ In 1943 M. R. Kingsford inherited the diaries of Kingston and his wife Agnes from the last living family descendant, material which he used for his B.Litt thesis at Oxford and which was later published in this biography. The diaries of Mrs. Kingston provided conclusive proof that she was the translator of the Verne works, the Swiss Family Robinson, and in fact of all the other translations attributed to W. H. G. Kingston. The Life, Work, and Influence of W. H. G. Kingston, M. R. Kingsford, Ryerson Press, Toronto: 1947.
  6. ^ Treasure Island

External links[edit]