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, in which his popularity was deservedly great; and during 30 years he wrote upwards of 130 tales, including
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.
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:
He travelled widely on the ordinary routes of travel, and described his experience for the young in
His popular records of adventure and of discovery included :
He translated several of Jules Verne's stories from the French, (but 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.
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 Aug. 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.
On August 4th, 1853, Kingston married Agnes Kinloch, daughter of Captain Charles Kinloch who had served in the Peninsular War. The honeymoon was spent in Canada, where Kingston acquired the background for many of his later novels. 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.
Kingston's brother, George Kingston (1816-1886), was a Canadian professor, meteorologist, author, and public servant. For successfully promoting and organizing one of Canada's first national scientific services, George Kingston has been called the father of Canadian Meteorology.
Financial Troubles; the Translations of Jules Verne
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 1870's 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. 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. The Verne books which Mrs. Kingston translated are: