This wonderful lady has recently passed away.
I was about to write about her when I saw Pam McFaddens eulogy. Far better than I could ever do.
I have known Sheila Henderson my whole life. She and my mother were in the same nursing home in Ladysmith having babies in December 1956.
Sheila was born in 1922 in England and grew up in Manchester. She was studying in France at the outbreak of the Second World War and escaped back to England on a fishing boat via Brittany and the Channel Islands.
She attended Oxford University and in 1944 was awarded her MA degree in French language and literature. She drove an ambulance through London during the war.
I always remember her telling me that things were so bad in Britain after the war that she took out a map of the world, closed her eyes and stuck a pin in the map and that was how she ended up in South Africa.
In 1946 she arrived to teach history and French at St Andrew’s School in Bedfordview.
In 1947 she met Charles Henderson and married him the following year. She was a devoted mother to six children, a dedicated wife and daughter-in-law.
In the early years she helped in the farming, became involved in the local communities and built up a beautiful home and garden.
Henderson’s Hotel was an open home to many family and friends, to politicians, historians, school and university groups from all over SA and from abroad.
Nothing was ever too much trouble for Sheila and she was always enthusiastically willing to share her wide knowledge of the local area with all who asked. I spent many days following her over the countryside, up and down hills absorbing local history.
Sheila taught French at Dundee Convent and later taught at Elandslaagte Primary School. She was an active member of the Elandslaagte Farmers Association, Womens’ Section. She was a member of the Committee for the building of St Margaret’s Church, Elandslaagte. She was a formidable political campaigner. She ran political campaigns for Charles in Dundee, Ladysmith and Newcastle. She was a founding member of Juana Maria Old Age Home of which she has been a lifelong supporter.
In 1975 Sheila was appointed to the Natal Provincial Museum Services Advisory Board. She served as vice and chairperson over the years. In 1979 she was instrumental in founding the Dundee museum to coincide with the anniversary of the Anglo Zulu war. She formed a steering committee and pledged to raise the initial funds for the creation of what became the Talana Museum.
The Talana Museum moved on to the current site in March 1983 and the main building, Henderson Hall, is named in her honour.
She has always been extremely interested in history and particularly local history and undertook copious research into this area and spoke to many old people to collect and record their memories. She was responsible for encouraging the Ladysmith WI to produce the Klip River Annals, a tremendous research project on the Klip River area. This saved considerable information and photographs of the area.
She contributed to a large number of articles for publications on widely different topics in a variety of publications ranging from history, geneaology, archives, Rorkes Drift, archaeology and much more.
She served as an honorary curator for the National Monuments Council for many years. She was awarded a number of awards for her work in research in local history, conservation of historical heritage and environment eg Simon van der Stel Award and the Paul Harris fellow award from Dundee Rotary.
She served as Chairperson of the Dundee Museum committee and the subsequent Board of Trustees from 1977 – 1992.
She planned and curated the 1977 Heritage exhibition held in the Moth Hall in Dundee which was the beginning of getting the local community involved and interested in their history and protecting and preserving it. This led to the beginnings of the current collections of the Talana Museum.
She was responsible for raising nearly R250 000 for the development of schooling and infrastructure at Rorkes Drift.
A prodigious researcher, reader and writer, she retained a passionate love for classical music and was an avid reader her entire life and her passion for history was a dominant aspect of her life.
She addressed many tour and other groups over many years and left a lasting impression on everyone who had any dealing with her or heard her talk. She inspired a whole generation of historians. So many of us will miss her deep and widespread knowledge, her wise counsel and her wicked sense of humour.
It is so true that with the passing of a person an entire library is lost. I will always feel the loss of her incredible depth of knowledge and the foundations that she laid for the development of Talana Museum.