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Many families in South Africa have long and proud histories. Find them here!

The Billing/ Hennessy family 

Compiled from notes by Desmond Billing and Merryl Howell 

Matilda Mary Hennessy (nicknamed Tilly) was the eldest daughter of Mrs. Mary Hennessy (born winter of Hamburg, Germany ) and John Dennis Hennessy (born 29th August 1873) in Mile road, London.   

Tilly had an amazing flare for music and at the age of 16 was appointed organist of the Brompton Oratory London.  She had 4 sisters and 2 bothers. 

In 1891, at the age of 18 years, Tilly and her sister Nellie (16 years) migrated from London to Kimberley to stay with an aunt (Mrs. Hoggenheimer) who kept a pub in De Beers suburb.  In Kimberley in those days ( the first diamond was found in 1870) there was, a pub on every corner. On discovering that they were expected to work in the pub, as bar-maids, the two girls ran away and found refuge at the Dominican convent.  Tilly taught music and Nellie taught dancing.  They put on many concerts and operettas to raise money for the Catholic cathedral building fund. The cathedral they helped to build has since burnt down and was replaced by the present cathedral.

 The Kimberley Club adjoined the convent and the two sisters, Tilly and Nellie, were often invited to give special performances of their concerts and operettas for the benefit of the members of the club. Such famous people attended as Cecil John Rhodes, Barney Barnato, Alfred Beit, Rudd and Robinson to name just a few.

 In1896 their mother and the rest of the family migrated from England and joined them in Kimberley. It was always intended that Tilly and Nellie would be the “trail blazers”and the family would re-unite.

Their cousin, Alfred Hennessy, who was later knighted for his services as founder of the Royal Automobile Club, accompanied the family but remained in Cape Town for health reasons (his doctor gave him only six months to live). By this time he had recovered his health, and took out the first driving licence in Cape Town and his car carried the number plate, CA 1. He drove his CA 1 car until a few days before his death, in November, 1963, at the age of 88. The CA 1 number plate was then handed over by his family for the use of the mayors of Cape Town. As founder of the Royal Automobile Club he saw South Africa’s cars grow from one to over one million ( from- “I heard the old men say” by Lawrence G Green)

****NB.  Robert Symons is also mentioned in the same book.

The Hennessy family were all in Kimberley when the Boer War broke out (1899-1902) and were confined within its perimeters during “the siege of Kimberley” which commenced on the 10th October1899 until the relief column broke through the lines on February 10th 1900.   They were subject to all privations of water rationing and then reduced to eating horse and donkey meat. The ration was 4 ozs. per adult and 2 ozs for a child. Every three days adults received a vegetable ration comprising 5 carrots, 4 small parsnips and 9 beetroot.  Eggs fetched 1 pound per dozen on the black market.

 The Boers shelled the town at arranged times and the majority of the population descended down the mines for safety. The shelling at the start of the siege was rather ineffectual and at one stage from a count of 700 shells that fell on the town only one casualty resulted. When the Boers introduced their special cannon, “Long Tom,” and started to fire indiscriminately, it was a different story and the inhabitants built their own bomb shelters as the protection offered by going underground in the mines took from 5 p.m. to after midnight to accommodate the crowds and the ventilation was chronic. At the time of the siege the white population numbered 25,000.

George Ernest Billing.

 He was the son of William Taylor Billing and Hannah Jane Billing (nee Bone) and was born on the 4th March 1871 at 13 Woodchester Street, Paddington, District Kensington in the county of Middlesex.  His eldest brother was Alfred and he had 4 sisters, Emily, Gertrude, Ethel and May.

 Not a lot is known about George’s subsequent movements but it is thought that he and his elder brother, Alfred, migrated from England in about 1886 and that George, then aged 15, left the ship at Cape Town.

 George proceeded to Kimberley but eventually he thought he would seek his fortune in Johannesburg where the gold rush, that gave birth to the town in 1885, was at its height.  He traveled to Johannesburg on one of the first ox-wagon trains (might have been made by Robert Symons???) that rolled between Kimberley and the goldfields.  What with makeshift tracks that doubled as roads and various cattle diseases, the journey of about 450 miles took almost three months to complete.

 From photographs of George, taken by Duffus brothers of Johannesburg, which depict a well-to-do young man  in his early twenties, taken possibly on his 21st birthday(i.e. 1892) one must assume that he stayed a few years on the reef.

It is known that at the outbreak of the Boer War, and with it “the siege of Kimberley,” George was very active in the defence of Kimberley and was serving full time in the militia in the rank of sergeant.    Part of his military duties would have been the escorting of the citizens of Kimberley, during the Boer shelling, each morning. 

 He could well have met the Hennessy family in the course of his duties. He was wounded in his right leg in a major skirmish with the Boers at Carter’s Ridge and as Tilly Hennessy’s volunteer concert troupe frequently entertained the militia, and in particular the sick and those convalescing, it is likely that their romance started in that area.

 George Ernest Billing and Matilda Mary Hennessy were married in the Catholic Cathedral , Kimberley – the cathedral that she helped to build - in 1901.  They lived all their married life, which lasted for twenty happy years, at 65 Central Road, Beaconsfield.  They had four children.  Vera (11th October 1903) and three sons. Trevor ( 5th February 1906) Eric (3rd June 1906) and Desmond (13th March 1911). 

George was employed by De Beers Diamond Mining Co. Ltd at Wesselton mine and he soon became a staff member in the capacity of head timberman, in which post he was responsible for the timbering and supervision of the two 1000 foot mine shafts and the tunneling on the various levels.

 Matilda Billing (our grandmother) was the organist and choir mistress at St Augustine’s Church, Beaconsfield, a continuation of the work she started at Bromptom Oratory, London at the age of 16 years. She also taught music. Theory and practical and entered her pupils for the Trinity College  examinations from England ( the examiners traveled out to South Africa) from first steps right up to licentiate (L.T.C.L.) Each year her pupils gained good results.

 George Billing was a keen all round sportsman. At rugby he coached school and junior teams and also first league teas. He himself played rugby in the forward position and represented Griquas in provincial tournaments right up to the age of 40 years. 

In swimming he was proud to boast nearly every child living in Beaconsfield between the years 1900-1925 had been taught to swim by him. He also trained the water polo teams and was an official of the Griqualand West Swimming Association and acted as time-keeper at most galas. He was not only a qualified coach in athletics but he also participated in the annual veteran’s race at the Griqualand West athletics championships and won the coveted first prize consecutively for four years. The veteran competitor had to be over the age of 45 years and was given one yard start for each year over 45.

He was a keen coach at cricket and laid emphasis on the need for of care of all equipment from bats to matting and nets.

He was an active official of the Griqualand West Turf Club in the capacity of honorary time-keeper.

Matilda Mary Billing died of a heart attack on the 22nd August 1926, one week short of her 52nd birthday, while George Ernest Billing died from an attack of pleurisy on the 12th April, 1929 at the age of 58. 

The Billing/Hennessy connection

 John Dennis Hennessy Born 29 Aug 1873 Married Mary ------ of Hamburg, Germany. They had seven children. 

  1. Matilda Mary Hennessy married George Billing in 1901 they had 4  children:  .
    1. Veronica Gwendoline Billing (Vera), (our mother) married Victor Edward Symons (born 25th August 1905 – died 11th May 1953). They married 24th September 1934. Our mother went to Springfield convent in Cape Town and said how conscious she was of saving money. For example, putting the cakes in her bag after taking mum out to tea, or Mum’s brothers collecting the coal on the railway line etc. They had two children

                                                               i.      Kenneth Andrew born 27th January 1937

                                                             ii.      and Merryl Janet born 5th February 1943

    1. Trevor Patrick Billing- born 5th February 1908 died 4th July, 1972.  Married Mary Brophy –born 1st May 1913- married 1st December 1934- Two children

                                                               i.      Roger George born 7th January 1936 died 24th May 198o  -- married Lilith Emslie born 1st April 1936 Roger and Lilith divorced (before he died). They had two children 

1.       Alison Emslie born 19th April 1963  and

2.       Ian Trevor born 9th July 1965

                                                             ii.      A daughter Denise who never married. She was a nurse and lived in Cape Town


    1. Eric Joseph Billing  --- born 3rd June 1908 –died 4th July 1982 married Thelma Wiehann born 3rd March  1919  died 21st January 1980.  Married 1939

                                                               i.      1 daughter Jennifer born 27th Feb. 1942 married Michael Christie  1 son Ian born 9th Jan 19652nd married Walter Valkhoff  in 1980.  Walter had 2 daughters and a son from previous marriage.

                                                             ii.      Eric and Thelma had 2 sons they lived in Joburg. Terence born 27th Feb. 1946 lives in Joburg  and Peter born 14th Nov 1950. He married Aileen and have a son called Aidan Ross born January 1981. Lived in Cape Town

    1. and Dennis Desmond Billing born 13th March 1911 Grace Married Eveline Tyzack in St Edwards Catholic church in Que Que on 5th August 1939. They had 4 children.

                                                               i.      Margaret Mary married Roland Wright and in 2009, still lives in Harare.  Divorced 1970     2 daughters

1.       Deborah Ann. born 7th Sept 1964 married and  lives in New Zealand with 3 children. 

2.       Sharon Gail born 5th June 1966. Married and lives in England - had 1 daughter.

                                                             ii.      David Anthony born 31st October 1941, Died 14th Feb 1976 (shot by Zimbabwe terrorists during the war which ended 1980)  married Alexandra Munro had 2 sons.  Ronald  born 28th Sept 1967  and Gordon born 29th March 1970  divorced 5th Dec 1974 .  Alexandra has since died (2009)

                                                            iii.      Kevin John -born 16 March 1949 married Margaret Cooper ( since deceased) 3 sons

1.       Nathan Andrew born 20th June 1977.

2.       Adrian Neil born 20th February 1979. 

3.       James Phillip born 19th Sept 1981.  Lives in Kenya.

                                                            iv.      Michael born 8th Sept 1952 .  Lives in America I think in San Francisco. Married then divorced no children.

  1. Nellie Hennessy married Melville Mackenzie. There were 4 children
    1. Hope,
    2. Douglas,
    3. Gertrude (Gerry) and
    4. Donald ( Jock).


  1. Walter Hennessy married Aggie……….. 4 Children
    1. Biddy,
    2. Rory (son Sir Alfred Hennessy*)
    3. Allanan and
    4. Eileen
  2. Maggie married Harry Goddard. Children Nellie, Norman, Victor and Cyril
  3. Bernard Hennessy a bachelor died in his 20’s
  4. Annie married Victor Dodd. Children and
    1. Douglas and
    2. Marjorie
  5. Kathleen (Katie) married Albert Heslop.  He was a dentist and wealthy. Lived on an estate in upper Claremont (Cape Town) called Middleberg, which became a nursing home. They also had a holiday home at St James. Their daughter -Yvonne (our mother’s god-daughter) married Sir Michael Gull. When we were living in Cape Town in the 70’s Yvonne died from cancer.  I once was introduced to the second Lady Gull at a fund raiser and sent our regards to Sir Michael.  I know of one daughter called Cathy. Not sure about other children.


  Symons Brown Families

Later I received via my wife, a document prepared by her cousin Merryl Howell (nee Symons) who had studied the Symons/Brown families who go back to the 1820 settlers. More data was obtained from a 1977 document produced by, we think, Percy Symons, youngest son of Robert Symons.

And again, thank you to those contributing daily to our Genealogy website.

Mike Anderson - Webmaster

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