05/05/2018 - 00:00

Esther Henry was born on St. Helena to a descendant of freed slaves, Samuel Henry and his wife Sarah. In 1890 Esther and her partner William George “Bill” Eaton ran the Chimes Tavern and Hotel to the east of what became the town of Benoni in 1907 (main image via Gary O'Bryan). The Chimes Hotel was a rambunctious place, where miners would sometimes enter the bar without bothering to get off their horses.

After the Anglo-Boer war William Eaton sold the Chimes hotel and turned his interests to speculation in mining shares and to sporting interests. He held shares in the Eastern Districts Sporting Club, the Benoni Club and the Rand Sporting Club, and was associated with the horse racing course near Dunswart station. Later Bill Eaton also set up a greyhound race track in Boksburg, on the site that became the Greyhound drive-in cinema in the 1950’s.

Esther and Bill fostered several children, including Edith Lowe, who was abandoned by her mother at an early age. “Mother” Eaton was a well-known sight in Benoni; Esther used to drive through town with her foster children in a big black carriage. The Eatons made sure that their foster children got the best education possible, but Esther was unwelcome in some parts of Benoni because of her dusky hue.

After Bill Eaton died in 1939, Esther inherited most of his property. Esther purchased a double grave for Bill at Benoni cemetery. Shortly after her partner’s death, Esther was shocked to find that she could not take transfer of the two big houses that Bill had left her, because property in Benoni could only belong to people who were “white”. The house in Sunnyside avenue where Bill had died had to be sold on auction, while the second house “The Firs” in Main Road had to be transferred to Esther’s adopted daughter Edith (Lippiatt) Lowe, who was now married. 

More indignity was heaped on Esther when she died – her adopted daughter Edith was barred from burying Esther next to her partner, but instead had to inter Esther in a pauper’s grave in Boksburg.

Esther was deeply religious and left bequests to St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral on St. Helena, to St. Dunstan’s in Benoni, and to the Benoni Spiritualist Church.

On Saturday 5th May a ceremony will be held at Benoni (Rynsoord) cemetery to unveil a plaque in memory of this forgotten Rand pioneer.

Historian David Thomas will talk about how he traced Esther’s family on St. Helena. Dr. Thomas is the co-author of “Benoni – Son of My Sorrow” (1968 – Benoni Town Council) and is author of “The Men who would not march – The surrender of Concordia, Namaqualand, 4 April 1902” (2011 - Print Matters Heritage).

The Very Reverend the Dean of St. Dunstan’s Anglican Cathedral in Benoni, Simon Aiken, will then lead a prayer for Mother Esther (Eaton) Henry.

Time: 14H30 for 15H00, Saturday 5th May 2018.

Venue: Benoni (Rynsoord) Cemetery, Main Reef Road (R29), Benoni.

Enquiries: Glynis Cox Millett-Clay, tel. 011-849-7356; email glynis@kwikmark.co.za

After the ceremony it will be possible to either see the graves of other East Rand pioneers, or attendees could raise a glass to Esther and her partner Bill at the nearby Chimes Hotel.

Compiled by Peter Wood - apexdog25@gmail.com

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Mon, 04/23/2018 - 17:04

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