A famous beauty of 19th century Hawai‘i, Eleanor Kaikilani Coney (1867-1943) was born at Nawiliwili, one of six children of High Chiefess Laura Amoy Kekuakapuokekuaokalani Ena Coney (1843-1929) of Hawai‘i Island and American John Harvey Coney (1820-80).
Eleanor’s father, John Harvey Coney, was from New York, settled in Hawai‘i following his military service in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, and married her ali‘i mother in 1860.
Soon after their marriage, and likely through his wife’s personal connections with King Kamehameha IV, Mr. Coney was appointed sheriff of Hilo, the site of his wife’s ancestral lands.
Laura and John Coney moved to Honolulu about 1878, where their home, “Halelelea,” near ‘Iolani Palace, was the setting for brilliant parties and social gatherings during the reign of King David Kalakaua.
Their daughter, Eleanor, was educated privately and, as a fashionable, refined young lady of Honolulu, she filled her days with picnics, teas, and small, informal musical gatherings, attended balls at ‘Iolani Palace wearing gowns made in Paris — and accompanied by a chaperon — she enjoyed afternoon tea dances with naval officers aboard visiting warships.
She conversed with wit, sang Hawaiian songs composed by members of the royal family or bandmaster Henry Berger, performed in pageants and plays, played tennis, and attended horse races and polo matches in Kapi‘olani Park.
In 1885, she married John Graham of San Francisco, and they made their home there and had two children, Harvey and Ann.
They divorced, and in 1897, Eleanor married Dutch artist Hubert Vos (1855-1935), after which the newlyweds embarked upon a world tour.
Hubert and Eleanor Vos had a daughter, Marguerite, and several of Vos’ Hawaiian paintings are held by the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Eleanor returned to Kaua‘i in 1939, made her home in Nawiliwili, and resided there until her death in 1943.
Her brother was Kaua‘i Territorial legislator John Ha‘alelea Coney (1864-1944), whose Niumalu home was renowned as a delightful gathering place, and her niece was Clarissa Pi‘ilani Gerdes (1908-69), was principal of Lihu‘e School and Elsie H. Wilcox Elementary School.
Source: The Garden Island