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Sunday, 9 October 2016

Sir Hormusjee Mody: His Family and Their Legacies

“Let your light so shine before men
That they may see your good works.”

 *NOTE: The hyperlinks in square brackets [ ] do not work in this blog, please scroll to the bottom to read the links.

The quiet Parsee philanthropist. Business partner with the most successful Armenian Hong Kong and South East Asia has ever seen. Sir Hormusjee Mody, measured, yet thoughtful but equally as dynamic and forward thinking as Sir Paul Chater. Together, as Chater & Mody, share brokers and property developers they were a formidable team, they visualised when all around couldn’t. But what do you know of Mody and his family? My latest blog brings new elements to light about the personal side of him and his children that has lain dormant until now, and briefly touches on the unique partnership he had with Sir Paul Chater.

Sir Hormusjee Nowrji Mody – quiet and some would say under-rated. The older member of one of Hong Kong’s most formidable partnerships in the 20th century, Chater & Mody. Together their rock solid partnership was nothing short of inspiring. Never a crossed word, mentally in unison. Had they been musicians it would have surely been a case of

“you hum it, I’ll play it……”

they were so attuned to each other.

The business partnership between Catchick Paul Chater, Armenian by birth but British by nationality and Hormusjee Mody a Parsee from Bombay began in 1881. Their association with each other stretched back to around 1865 when Chater was relatively new to Hong Kong, Mody had already been in the colony a number of years. In 1906 after a working partnership in excess 25 years without any kind of cross word or disagreement between them, they decided that perhaps there ought to be a legal partnership agreement drawn up.
Snapshot of the partnership agreement between
Sir Paul Chater and Sir Hormusjee Mody

The official formalities needed to be addressed. Already in a good working relationship, each with an implicit trust of the other, unofficially they didn’t need a piece of paper, but they both realised that they weren’t getting any younger. Essentially, it was needed to ensure the smooth running of the business should anything happen to either one of them.  This was also reflected in the Power of Attorney Sir Paul Chater undertook in April 1911 shortly before Sir Hormusjee Mody passed away. Their synergy was solid, but it needed to be cast-iron. Their legal friends urged them to officially clarify their partnership, not just for the sake of each other but also the business mainframe they had created, the people who had invested with them, those who relied upon them - they all required stability. Chater & Mody undertook the agreement for the sake of good order and housekeeping.

One can get an idea of their diversity of trading from the bank accounts that were integral to that partnership.

The bankers of the partnership were:

The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation
The Chartered Bank of India Australia and China
Deutsche Asiatische Bank
International Banking Corporation
Russo-Chinese Bank
Yokohama Specie Bank Limited
Bank of Taiwan Limited
Nederlands Trading Society

When cheques were drawn Paul Chater simply signed them “Chater & Mody” whereas his partner signed them “Chater & Mody. H.N. Mody”

In addition, Sir Paul Chater held personal bank accounts in London, New York, San Francisco, Paris, and Genoa.


Hormusjee Mody and his wife Maneckbai had five children, 4 boys and a girl.

  1. Sirinbai Mody (dates unknown). Married Nusseranji Dady, they had a son Hormusjee.
  2. Merwanjee Mody 1858-1910
  3. Naoroz Hormusjee Naoroji Mody 1875-1944
  4. Jehangirjee Hormusjee Mody 1876-1949
  5. Dinshawjee Hormusjee Mody 1882-1920

Unlike their father, at least two of Mody’s sons, Naoroz aka Nowrojee and Jehangirjee were able to benefit from a university education.

Naoroz Nowrojee Hormusjee Mody

From the “Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical list of All Known Students Vol 2” it can been seen that Naoroz (Nowrojee) Hormusji Naoroji Mody and Jehangir Hormusji Naoroji Mody spent their early education in Bombay at the St. Xavier’s College. Naoroz was admitted to Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1895 where he obtained a B.A. 1898 and an M.A. in 1902. Law was his life path and he was called to the Middle Temple Bar in June 1899. 

Sir Hormusjee and Lady Mody’s second son, Nowrojee Hormusjee Mody aka Naoroz Hormusji Naoroji Mody a barrister, died on the 10th February 1944 at Kobe Japan. He was an eccentric and a recluse, whose sole interest in life was to collect Japanese curios and clocks. Authorities in Hong Kong considered him “mentally unbalanced” but he was never certified insane.[1]

He made his will[2] while residing at the Astor House Hotel, Queen’s Road Central, Victoria, Hong Kong on 19th September 1911.
Snapshot of the Will of Naoroz Nowrojee Hormusjee Mody

He made his first codicil on 17th August 1914, the second codicil was made on 20th November 1916, the third codicil on 14th January 1918 and the fourth codicil on the 11th February 1918.

In his meticulously executed Will he appointed executors whom he hoped and expected to fulfil his last wishes. He could not have foreseen that all of the named executors would not be in a position to act. The Administration notes state:  “…………did therein name and appoint Sir Paul Chater, Sir Muncherjee Bhownaghree, Sir P.M. Mehta, Pheroze Cursetji Setna and N.J. Stabb the executors (who are either dead or cannot be traced or have not come forward to prove the said will and 4 codicils)……………”

Therefore Letters of Administration with Will annexed were granted to The Official Administrator of the Courts of Justice, Victoria in the colony of Hong Kong on 5th March 1948, Mody’s address was stated as Buxey Lodge, Conduit Road. He hadn’t lived there since he left Hong Kong in 1919, and by the time he passed away,  the house had been occupied by the invading Japanese. Once the Japanese surrendered in 1945 the government considered Buxey Lodge “abandoned” rather than “enemy property”[3], because there was no family left in the colony. The property came into the care of the Custodian of Property thus enabling the property to enjoy a certain level of security preventing trespass and looting. See footnote 1 and 3.

Administration was granted on 6th October 1952 to Sir William Edward Leonard Shenton.

Jehangir Hormusjee Mody

Jehangir attended Trinity College, Cambridge in 1899 but does not appear to have graduated. By December 1900 he had married Kathleen Jarvis in London and they went on to have two sons, John Henry Mody in 1901 and Felix Hurley Mody in 1903, both were born in London. Jehangir did not follow the same career as his brother, preferring to return to Hong Kong with his young family and carve a career in share brokering, just as his father had done. He was by all accounts successful and acquired substantial wealth. In 1915 and 1916 he can be found on the Hong Kong Jury Lists[4] at 1 Prince’s Building, by 1917 his address was 11 Conduit Road. A few years after his father (Sir HN Mody) passed Jehangir went into business with Sir Paul Chater. Jehangir was regularly listed in the Jury Lists up until 1926 which coincides with the year Sir Paul Chater died. 

What is interesting is that Jehangir did not live in Buxey Lodge during his time in Hong Kong and although is brother Naroz no longer lived in Hong Kong from 1919 it would seem Buxey Lodge was not occupied by any members of the family, save a skeleton staff to keep it running.

In February 1924 Jehangir (as defendant) was involved in a high profile court case in Hong Kong where an action was brought against him by the Bank of East Asia for the recovery of $77,434.86 in connection with a contract with the Banque Industrielle de Chine which he guaranteed.[5] It was a lively and heated case where, at times tempers flared. Chief Justice Sir William Rees Davies gave his judgment on the 11th April[6] that year in which he said “There is in my opinion no defence to the action and there must be judgment for the plaintiff with costs”. Frustrated and enraged by the decision Mody went to appeal. This was heard in February 1925[7] with a locally known and highly experienced lawyer, Mr. Alabaster, robustly defending Mody. The appeal was dismissed “Their Lordships, Sir Skinner Turner, Sir Henry Gollan and Mr. H.H. J. Gompertz, this afternoon gave judgment for the respondents with costs.”

Although he and the family had moved their main home to Torquay in Devon some years previously, after this court case Jehangir left Hong Kong permanently and made a new life on the Devon Riviera. Just like his father, Jehangir was philanthropic. Shunning the limelight, preferring quiet personal donations or in some cases being completely anonymous; locally he was incredibly generous. As a member of the Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht club he provided several prizes and Challenge Cups in the 1930s.

He made a Will in September 1948[8] and when he died in August 1949 in Torquay, Devon he left an estate valued at £189,803[9] the equivalent purchasing power today would be in the region of approximately £5.9 million[10]. His wife Kathleen (after whom their home ‘Kathleen Court’ was named) had made her will in September 1939[11]. She had predeceased her husband in December 1943 at the Trinity Nursing Home, Torquay. Her estate grossed at over £60,000 the equivalent purchasing power today would be just shy of £2.5 million.
Snapshot of the Will of Jehangir Mody

Jehangir’s wife Kathleen owned property in Torquay which was listed in her Will. ‘Miramar’ and ‘Pinecrest’ were freehold houses and she left them and their contents in trust “for my grandson Philip Melrose (the son of my son John Henry Mody). She went on to leave her home ‘Kathleen Court’ along with the contents upon trust for “my grandson Valentine Hugh (the son of my son Felix Hurly Mody). Furthermore she requested that any investments owned by her were to be retained, in particular investments in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Union Insurance Company of Canton and the Asiatic Petroleum Company Limited. Her residue estate was divided, but not equally between her two grandsons Philip and Valentine. In Clause 9 of her Will Kathleen stated “… reason for giving to my grandson Valentine and his issue a larger share than I give to my grandson Philip Melrose and his issue is that my grandson Valentine came into the sole charge and care of me and my husband for many years, in advance of my grandson Philip Melrose………”

Jehangir specifically requested to be buried in the private family vault and rather touchingly he requested that should Lucy (the family’s servant who had been with them since their days in Hong Kong in 1918) die in Great Britain that she too should be buried with the family.  He went on to leave £800 to her “as a mark of my appreciation of her honest and faithful service to my grandson Valentine Hugh Mody and other members of my family over a long period of years….”

Jehangir left legacies to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund for the purposes of scientific research and to the Torbay and South Devon Branch of the National Society for the Prevention of cruelty to Children.

The family legacies consisted of a lifetime bequest to his son John Henry Mody of £360 per annum and to Felix Hurley Mody an annual sum of £182.10s.0d. In addition to Lucy’s legacy of £800 Jehangir gifted her the annual sum during her lifetime of £2800 for her own use provided she was employed as housekeeper at Kathleen Court, out of which she had to provide food for his grandson Valentine “whenever he shall be in residence there”.The said annuity to Lucy to be paid in instalments of forty pounds per week whether she chooses to remain as housekeeper or in any other capacity at Kathleen Court or not it being my desire thus to testify my grateful acknowledgement of her devotion to my grandson Valentine whom she has brought up from his early infancy and who has the deepest affection for her and looks upon her as a mother…..”

Lucy’s legacy made the headlines in the Devon newspapers bringing her unwanted attention for a while by local journalists. After the Will was made public Lucy slipped away from Kathleen Court until the furore had died down.

Jehangir also left Kathleen Court and all contents including motor cars to his grandson Valentine and requested that Lucy be retained as housekeeper to Valentine as long as she shall reside at Kathleen Court.

He went on to request that certain investments held by him, in particular those held in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank, the National Bank of India, the Mercantile Bank of India and the Union Insurance Society of Canton should be retained.

Lucy Mui Kwai: Amah, Servant…..Friend

Lucy made her own Will in October 1952[12] in which she stated her desire to have a Roman Catholic funeral and be buried not in the Mody vault but in an ordinary grave with a simple headstone.
Snapshot of the Will of Lucy Mui Kwai

She further declared a small legacy of “£500 to Val Mody” and she was particularly grateful to “the Devon Constabulary Widow Orphans and Compassionate fund for the kindly way in which the officers of the Torquay Police Division have helped me from time to time.”  The remainder of her estate she bequeathed to the Priest in Charge of The Church of Our Lady of Assumption in Torquay “for the general benefit of and for the advancement of religion at such church.” Lucy passed away on the 2 April 1954 in Torquay.

Marwanjee Hormusjee Mody

Although I have not been able to obtain a Will of Marwanjee Mody, the eldest son of Sir Hormusjee Mody, I have found a delightful write-up in the Bombay newspapers regarding his wedding in February 1895.

From the Times of India: “The marriage of Mr. Merwanjee H. Mody, the son of Mr. Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody, a wealthy merchant of China, upon whom the French Government has recently conferred a high distinctive title, with Miss Nasserwanjee Parukh took place on Saturday evening, 11th February at “Prospect Lodge”, Malabar Hill.  There was a large attendance of well-known Parsee ladies and gentlemen, and there were also present the Consul for Japan and several other Japanese gentlemen who follow mercantile pursuits in the city.  The marriage was solemnized by the Parsee Destoors at about 7pm. And the large assembly then sat to dinner in a marquee erected on a vacant piece of ground by the side of the bungalow.  Two bands enlivened the proceedings of the attendees by playing a selection of music”  The Bombay Gazette of a week later says: “It may not be generally known that the eight day after a Parsee wedding is observed as one of rejoicing and reunion equally with that of the marriage day itself.  Saturday last, 16th February, being such a day after the weeding of Mr. Marwanjee Hormusjee Mody, he gave at his bungalow, “Prospect Lodge” a dinner party, being the best of its kind, to a select number of Parsee, Hindu and Mahomadan gentlemen, being merchants of high standing, trading with China, with whom his father, Mr. H. Mody, of Hongkong, had often come in contact in the course of his extensive dealings in that colony. Though gentlemen of different nationalities sometimes meet together at evening parties, it is seldom that they dine together at one table, partaking of the same description of food cooked by Parsees or Hindus. Such a cosmopolitan gathering deserves to be noticed, as showing the increasing tendency to sociality amongst the different classes of people who reside in Bombay.  The guests having dined together, his Highness Sir Waghjee, K.C.I.E., Thakore Sahab of Morvi, proposed the health of the host in a few appropriate words and wishes the newly married couple every happiness and prosperity in their wedded life, adding that such a union was calculated to enhance the cordiale entente among different sects of the native community.  Mr. M.H. Mody, in responding to the toast thanked His Highness personally and the guests generally, for the kind manner in which the toast in honour of his wedding was expressed and for the honour they had done him in taking the trouble of going to his house for the purpose.  An excellent regimental band was in attendance and played a selection of music during the evening.  The bungalow and its extensive garden grounds were beautifully made up for this occasion.  Amongst those who honoured Mr. Mody with their presence were H.H. the Thakar Saheb of Morvi, with his son the Prince of Morvi, Messrs. Karimbboy Ebrahim, Ahburdbhoy Habibhboy, Nour Mahomed Jajbhoy Pesbhoy, Mobernli Mahamed Chinoy, Baikri-hen W. Kirtier, Shumrus Rele Wasodev Jagannath, Ratanahab Dadabhoy and several others.”

Sadly, he died in February 1910 aged only 52 at the family home “Prospect Lodge”, Bombay.

Dame Maneckbai Mody

The most interesting of all the Mody family Wills is probably that of Lady Mody, widow of Sir HN  Mody.

Lady Mody made her will on the 5th August 1920 in Bombay revoking a previously made Will executed in Hong Kong. She went on to make a codicil to her Will on the 20th of March 1922.
Snapshot of the Will of Dame Maneckbai Mody

She died on 3rd July 1926 at Bombay.

Administration with Will was granted 10th February 1927.

Lady Mody[13] bequeathed to her daughter Sirinbai her properties in Bombay 

“Prospect Lodge”
“Spring Wood” and
“Wadia Lodge”
In addition Sirinbai was bequeathed substantial shares in:

Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation,
Hong Kong Land Reclamation Company Ltd.,
Star Ferry,
Union Insurance,
Tramway Company,
Steam Laundry,
Chinese Engineering and Mining,
China Light and Power,
Shell Transport and Trading,
Hong Kong Iron Mining,
Toerangie (Sumatra) Rubber,
Oriental Consolidated mining,
Societe des Pulpes Benefit,
Societe Francaise des Charbonnage du Tonkin,
United Malaysian Rubber,
Raub Australian Gold Mining.

Mentioning family, Lady Mody gifted legacies to the sister of her late husband, her son Jehangir, the widow of her late brother, the son of her sister as well as legacies to her step brother and sister.

This of course gives new light to the family dynamic. Until now very little was known of Lady Mody’s own family, her step siblings or even that her late husband Sir HN Mody’s own siblings.

Continuing with the bequests of Lady Mody, she left a small legacy to the Alexandra Native Girls English Institution and ten thousand Rupees “for such religious and charitable objects for the benefit of the Parsi community at Hong Kong……”

She gave all her jewellery and ornaments to her son Naoroji H Mody and a diamond bracelet to her grandson.

Lady Mody went on “I have on the twenty third of July one thousand nine hundred and nineteen given the sum of Rupees fifty two thousand to the Zoroastrian Building Society Limited of Bombay through my then solicitors Messrs Payne and Company with whom such sum is now lying for constructing buildings for the residence of poor Parsis and I direct my trustees to see that the said sum with the accumulated interest thereon is handed over to the said Society for the construction of buildings for the residence of poor Parsis”  She further said “I have on the oothamna day of my late son Dinshaji Hormusji Mody promised to pay in his memory the sum of Rupees thirty two thousand to the Zoroastrian Building Society Limited for the construction of buildings for poor Parsis and if I have not paid the said sum to the said Society before my death I direct my trustees to pay the same in memory of my said deceased son”

The residue of her estate was left to her daughter Sirinbai.

A Legacy revoked: “Incapable of Performance”

However, in a Codicil to the Will Lady Mody revoked the legacies she gave to her step siblings, but more importantly she vented her frustration with the Zoroastrian Society and revoked the legacy of Rupees 52,000 she had previously bequeathed to them.  She said: “…And in as much as the before mentioned sum of Rupees fifty two thousand with the accumulated interest thereon has been withdrawn by me from Messrs Payne and Company in consequence of the object for which the said moneys were deposited with them namely the construction by the Zoroastrian Building Society Limited of buildings for the residence of poor Parsis having proved incapable of performance I also revoke the direction to my trustees to see that sum of money handed over the said Society…”

If the Zoroastrian Building Society knew of her original intentions, it must have come as a bitter blow to have the legacy revoked.

Lady Mody had left Hong Kong a short time after the death of her husband, returning to Bombay and setting up her permanent residence there. After the death of her son Dinshaw Mody in May 1920 Lady Mody rented out the Top Floor of her main residence “Prospect Lodge” in Bombay. (See TOI 11 Jan 1924).

Sir Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody

Sir Hormusjee Mody’s life and legacies are well documented and it isn’t my intention to make this blog a full biography but rather a snapshot of the family and important events.

In his Will, dated 24th September 1885 he bequeathed generous gifts to his wife’s family:
Snapshot of the Will of Sir Hormusjee Mody

Five thousand Rupees each to his wife’s two sisters and two thousand Rupees to her half sister. Five hundred Rupees each went to four cousins of his wife and three thousand Rupees to his wife’s brother.

His own brother received ten thousand Rupees, his sister seven thousand. Three thousand Rupees went to a sister-in-law and three thousand to a niece.  Six of his own cousins received one thousand Rupees each and there were bequests to some close friends as well as past and present servants.

He appointed Thomas Jackson (a banker), Catchick Paul Chater (his business partner) and Hormusjee Cooverjee Setna and Dinshaw Nowrojee merchants, all of Hong Kong as executors. Mody instructed that his estate be split into 5 parts or shares, 1 part going to his wife the remaining 4 parts to be split between his 4 sons (having already made very ample provision for his daughter). He also stipulated that the share of his eldest son, Merwanjee Mody should not be paid until five years after his (Sir HN Mody) death. This of course never happened because Merwanjee died in 1910, a year before Sir HN Mody.

Mody made a very particular stipulation: “……and also in all matters relating to the carrying out of the trusts of this my will the said Thomas Jackson, Hormusjee Cooverjee Setna, and Dinshaw Nowrojee shall follow the directions and opinion of the said Catchick Paul Chater but I expressly declare that this is only a desire and wish on my part and shall in no way be obligatory or binding on the said Thomas Jackson Hormusjee Cooverjee Setna and Dinshaw Nowrojee…….”

It is interesting to note that Mody’s opinion of Paul Chater’s judgment in his final wishes was considered  to be greater than those of the other gentlemen, even greater than Thomas Jackson, chief manager of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.

However in a codicil made on the 3rd June 1909 Mody revoked the instruction of appointing joint executors and appointed Catchick Paul Chater the sole executor. By this codicil in 1909, the biggest responsibility Mody wanted to protect was the completion of the building of Hong Kong University. Still only an idea on architects drawings at this stage, there was no doubt that he considered this to be his biggest legacy. His codicil simplified his Will, removing the previously named executors (but still retaining them as trustees for elements of his instructions), he replaced them with Catchick Paul Chater’s name as the sole executor.

Mody also wanted to ensure that Paul Chater continued to be in control of their joint business interests and assets in their firm, Chater & Mody.  he stated that “ Catchick Paul Chater should have the fullest powers in respect of those portions of my estate hereinbefore referred to including the carrying on of the business of the said firm the postponement for any periods in his absolute discretion of the realisation thereof and of the said portions of my said estate the paying off and renewal of mortgages and loans”.  He went on to say: “That I further direct the executors and trustees of my said will to duly and fully carry out all obligations undertaken by me in my lifetime in respect of the erection of a University Building in the Colony of Hong Kong in accordance with the plans therefore which have been approved by the Government of the said Colony and by myself AND also all obligations similarly undertaken by me in respect of the erection of a Seamens’ Institute in the said Colony AND I further direct my said executors and trustees to provide for the due fulfilment of all such obligations from out of my estate as they shall think best and whenever received so to do.” 
Mody was making it perfectly clear that Sir Paul Chater was the only one he trusted to oversee and finish the completion of the University and the Seamans’ Institute. Sir Paul undertook his obligations with great pride and determination to fulfil  the last wishes of his dear friend and partner.

On the 3rd May 1911, Sir Paul Chater set sail from Hong Kong with Henry Keswick as the Colony’s representatives at the forthcoming coronation of the King in London. Sir Hormusjee Mody, although extremely unwell, made it down to the quayside to wave them off. He probably had a pretty good idea that he wouldn’t see Sir Paul again. With a heavy heart, Sir Paul also knew that it was unlikely he would see his good friend again. Before every trip abroad, Sir Paul was meticulous in making a Power of Attorney agreement with his lawyers, to ensure his business transactions were taken care of should anything unexpected happen to him. It was no different for this trip except the wording reflected what they both knew between them and what they must have surely discussed in one of their most difficult, private, and emotionally charged meetings before he left.

On the 29th April 1911 Sir Paul’s Power of Attorney said: “….And whereas I am about to temporarily absent myself from the said Colony and whereas I am desirous of making arrangements for the carrying on of such business in the event of the death of the said Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody during my absence now know ye that in the event of the death of the said Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody during my absence I in my capacity as a partner in the said firm hereby nominate constitute and appoint Charles Montague Ede of Victoria aforesaid gentleman to represent the said firm of Chater and Mody during my absence……”
Power of Attorney of Sir Paul Chater 1911

Sir Hormusjee Mody passed away on the 16th June 1911. Sir Paul was in London.


To Learn... Is To Be Free
Sir HN Mody’s Biggest Legacy:
“For All Those Involved: They Built Better Than They Knew…..”

According to Austin Coates in his book ‘China Races’ Hormusjee Mody “went to Hong Kong in 1860, four years before Paul Chater. Mody first worked for a Hindu Bank which was in fact an opium agency. Two years later he formed his own opium firm which held out until the telegraph was installed. Mody then realised (just as Jardine’s did) that the opium business had run its course. Mody gave it up and joined Chater in one of the most successful brokerage undertakings in Hongkong history. Chater interested Mody in horseracing, with results already noted in Shanghai. The two of them were an extraordinary combination”.

Coates continues: “Chater gave Mody a lifelong interest in racing. Years later Mody reciprocated by suggesting Chater take an interest in art, which he did. (Mody was an avid art collector in his own right and Coates stated that after his death, Mody’s collection found its way into the hands of a private collection in Manila). However he was no match for Mody’s knowledge and engaged his friend and architect James Orange to advise him. Chater went on to purchase the collection of Windham O. Law and it formed the backbone of the prestigious Chater Collection.

Chater suggested to Mody that he take up the idea put forward by the China Mail to combine the medical and technical colleges and form a university, which in 1908 Mody did, publicly offering $150,000 for the construction of university buildings. The offer was eventually taken up and it led to the foundation of the University of Hong Kong.

The two men were the great racing men of their time and they demonstrate the quality of the people who were drawn to the China races.

Hong Kong University: A Lasting Legacy
Created in the 20th Century
For the 21st Century and Beyond

Mody’s biggest personal achievement has to be the creation of Hong Kong University. He donated  the funds required to build it and he took great pleasure in seeing the foundation stone laid in March 1910. It was at this ceremony that Sir Frederick Lugard announced to a stunned Mody that he had been Knighted. It came completely unexpectedly and for a moment Mody was left unsteady by the Colonial bow-wave that had travelled from London to Hong Kong. Sadly, Mody never saw the university officially opened in 1912, fighting ill-health for many months he passed away in 1911.

This is the speech Mody gave at the ceremony.

“Your Excellency, Ladies and gentlemen.  Before I ask Your Excellency “to well and truly lay” this stone, it will be well that I crave your indulgence for a few moments in explanation of how it was that I came to make my offer of this building, the erection of which is today commenced by this ceremony.

As a young man, the advantages of education were unfortunately not within my reach, and I have today at my advanced age to confess myself no scholar.  Throughout my long life I have daily realized all that I have missed for want of a sound education, and it was with the idea, in some measure, providing for others what I was myself denied, that I determined to offer to erect, at my own cost, a building which should bring within their reach those educational advantages which I have myself so greatly missed; and I may say that I was much encouraged thereto, by a conversation I held one day on the subject with one, whose absence from us today, no one deplores more than myself, sure though I am, that though absent in person, she is with us this day in spirit.  I refer to Lady Lugard (Applause) herself a keen educationalist, who took great interest in my scheme, and who before leaving Hong Kong expressed to me the assurance that it would arrive at a successful issue and the hope that Sir Frederick Lugard would, before his departure on leave, lay, as he is now about to do, the foundation stone of this University. (Applause).  I need hardly say that it was very gratifying to me to find my proposal so cordially received and accepted. But the mere erection of a building, though admittedly of the first importance, is not in itself sufficient to accomplish so vast an undertaking, as the establishment of a university, and the scheme must have undoubtedly have fallen through but for the untiring perseverance and personal efforts of His Excellency the Governor, whose zeal in furthering the scheme has undoubtedly been of immense assistance in bringing to a successful issue, (Applause)  and, to him, I personally, and the Colony in general, owe a deep debt of gratitude. (Applause).  As I have already said the establishment of a University means more than the mere erection of a building, it requires funds for its proper equipment and furnishing as well as a capital wherewith to carry on its good and useful work )and that by no means a small one), and it is due to the large heartedness and generosity especially of men like Mr. Scott, of Messrs. John Swire and Sons (Applause) who, by the large sums subscribed by his firm and his sister companies, has proved to us how fully he realizes the future advantages to our Colony whose needs he knows so well, of such an institution as this University, and who by coming forward so promptly started the ball rolling so successfully – and to such corporations as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, such firms as Messrs. Jardine Matheson and Co., the Sassoons and others, both in Hongkong and in the homeland, far too numerous to mention here, whose ready support and generous contributions have given us so much money for this purpose, that we are today able to make a start in the erection of the necessary buildings. It must not be thought, however, that what I may describe as the English subscriptions, generous and magnificent as they were (Applause) would in themselves have been sufficient to provide the large sum required for the Endowment Fund, which was needed before the University could become as accomplished and had it not been for the princely liberality of our Chinese friends headed by His Excellency the late Viceroy of Canton, (Applause) who took a great personal interest in the scheme, subscriptions throughout China proper, and from Chinese friends of the project in the Straits, Saigon, Australia and elsewhere, the idea must yet have fallen through for want of funds, indeed I may say that at one time it looked very much as though it must so come to nought for want of support, but in spite of cold water thrown on the idea from some quarters, the difficulties experienced by myself, and those who had the scheme at heart, we were not to be discouraged.  I personally was more than pleased to extend the limit of time I had originally fixed for the collection of these needed funds for a further period of six months, and it is most gratifying to me to see, by this ceremony today, the scheme now an accomplished fact. (Applause).  May it please the Almighty to permit me to see the building duly completed and successfully started on its useful work. (Applause). 
Front cover of the Souvenir Mody prepared
for the laying of the foundation stone of
Hong Kong University
If you will open the Souvenirs in your hands you will see a picture of the building as it will appear when completed, and the fact that its erection is under the care of so well known a firm of architects as Messrs. Leigh and Orange, is in itself a sufficient guarantee that you will have a building truly worthy of so important a Colony as this, (Applause) but if you need any further such guarantee I give you mine – (Applause) that they are instructed to spare no expense in making it so worthy. That the establishment of this University here in Hongkong must have a very beneficial effect on the political, as well as the commercial, relations of this Colony with China, I am convinced. By the opportunities for a sound education it will afford, it cannot fail to attract to us the sons of wealthy and influential Chinese from all parts of China, many of whom today send their sons to seek their education in the distant universities of England and America, for want of such an institution as this nearer home.  These young men must necessarily in time become imbued with Western methods and ideas, which they will carry away with them at the end of their course of study, and which, remaining with them throughout their lives, just be of lasting benefit not only to themselves but to those with whom they come in contact and over whom they exercise the influence of their position as the gentry of China.  And, further, the parents themselves may well be expected to visit their sons here during their student days and thus a mutual knowledge and common interests will be promoted; and if by the gift of a building such as this I shall have been in some way instrumental in bringing about such a happy state of affairs it will be but little for me to have done for a Colony wherein I have spent so many years of my life. (Applause).

Last but not least I must pay tribute of gratitude to the committee for the work they have done, and to our honorary treasurer – my friend, Sir Paul Chater – (Applause), whose interest in the scheme from its inception has been unremitting, and who has done so much and so well in raising the needed fund.  I will now ask Your Excellency to receive at the hands of Mr. Bryer, of the firm of Messrs. Leigh and Orange, the gold trowel with which to lay this Foundation Stone, and I hope that you will accept the same as a trifling memento of the occasion. (Loud Applause).”
Image: Private archive of Liz Chater. The ceremony and Mody giving his speech

Two Great Men Make Two Great Contributions In Hong Kong

It was a thoughtful act by Mr. Mody and quite in keeping with his generous nature to supply each of the guests with a most elaborately produced foolscap souvenir, specially bound and finished in gilt and white, containing a historical memorandum of the University scheme, its objects, history and development, coloured plans of the buildings and a photographic reproduction of the architects drawings of the finished structure.   It also contained as appendices resolutions passed by the committee, various letters from prominent men, estimates of annual revenue and expenditure estimate of residential quarters for students, statement of the endowment fund up to March 11th.  The latter shows that a magnificent sum of $1, 384,484 had been obtained.  In the letterpress of the souvenir was a statement bearing out the well established fact that the idea of establishing a University in Hongkong was first advocated by the China Mail  in 1905.


During the course of the ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the Hong Kong University in 1910, His Excellency, the Governor, Sir Frederick Lugard made the unexpected but delightful announcement that Hormusjee Mody had been Knighted. This is how he announced it.

………His Majesty has been graciously pleased to give a further token of his approval and it affords me the very greatest possible pleasure to read to you this telegram which I have received from the Secretary of State with instructions that I was to keep it secret until to-day.

“His Majesty has been pleased to approve that Mr. Mody be appointed Knight Bachelor. Letters Patent will be issued in due course.  I concur in your proposal to announce the honour at the laying of the foundation stone of the University. A simultaneous announcement will be made in the United Kingdom. “(Sd.) CREWE.” (Prolonged Applause).

Ladies and Gentlemen, you will, I am sure, all desire me to express on your behalf as well as on my own, your most hearty congratulations to Sir Hormusjee Mody on the honour conferred upon him by the King. (Prolonged applause). His public benefactions culminating in this great undertaking which owes its inception solely to his thought have well deserved the honour.  Long may he live to enjoy it and to see this university the assured success which his generosity deserves…….” 

Further newspaper reports said:

“…..The official statement was entirely unexpected, and Mr. Mody stood amazed while the great assemblage cheered themselves hoarse over the honour which, as the Governor himself said, and as most others will echo, was thoroughly deserved.  Not only was the King’s recognition of a worthy citizen a welcome indication of His Majesty’s interest in this distant out-post of the Empire a pure bolt from the blue but the Governor himself stated that he had been commanded to keep the honour a secret until the last moment.  What is more, His Majesty telegraphed that the news would appear in the London Gazette and in Hongkong simultaneously.

Sir Hormusjee Mody was visibly overcome when the Governor spoke of the King’s message.  A friendly word of praise by his old friend Sir Paul Chater scarcely restored him.  He bowed repeatedly when the words of the telegram were read out while the plaudits of his friends resounded in the sunshine.”

Hongkong Telegraph 17 March 1910. 

Part of the speech given by the representative to the Viceroy of Canton during the ceremony…”they built better than they knew…..”

Sir H.N. Mody said, in a voice so choked by emotion that he could hardly be heard two yards away: “Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen- Before we depart from this assemblage I have to thank His Excellency the Governor for the information which he has conveyed to me just now, and for the honour which has been bestowed upon me by His Majesty the King and Emperor of India (applause). Sir, I cannot find appropriate words to express my deep gratitude for the little I have done for this Colony.  I feel His Majesty has rewarded me for little that I have done.  Now I ask Your Excellency to convey to His Majesty my thanks and gratitude and loyalty to His Majesty (loud applause). I thank Your Excellency for the kind words uttered for me and I shall always retain those golden words in my memory………..”

On the back of his efforts with his partner Sir Paul Chater in coal mining in Tonkin (present day Vietnam) then part of French Indochina, another honour was given to Sir Hormusjee Mody in May 1911. The French Government awarded him the Légion d’Honneur. Sir Paul Chater had previously had the honour of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur from the French conferred in October 1891 also for his work in coal mining in Tonkin.

Sadly, Sir H.N. Mody did not survive long enough to be able to wear the honour.

The University was officially opened on the 11 March 1912

Sir Hormusjee Mody’s son Naoroz Hormusjee Naoroji Mody attended the opening ceremony, and said:

“Your Excellency [Lord Lugard], it is with feelings of the utmost pleasure and pride that I proceed to perform the duty which devolves upon me of formally in the name of my late father, presenting this University building, to the community, and requesting that you, Sir, may be pleased to declare the same open, and, on behalf of my mother, I also desire to express her regret that, through ill health, she is unable to be present this day……I desire to express to your Excellency the satisfaction which my mother and family feel on this auspicious occasion when the work so nobly undertaken by your Excellency and my father, is about to be brought to so successful and fitting a conclusion……….I would add that had my father been spared to see this day his heart would have rejoiced at this realisation of his hopes.  I may further state that I have given instructions for the making of a silver model of the main Building of the University which, when complete, I would ask your Excellency to accept as a souvenir of this opening ceremony, which is, I think a memorable one in the annals of the Colony.”

The silver model was completed in 1914, The Straits Times of 2 April said: “A handsome model of the Hongkong University buildings, in silver, has been on view at Hongkong.  It has been copied from one in wood provided by the architects, and has taken four men in Wang Hing’s Canton factory nine months to complete. The model, which is perfect in every detail, is a beautiful example of the Chinese silversmith’s art. On the ebony plinth on which it stands is a silver plate bearing the following inscription:

“Hong Kong University. Presented to Sir F.J.D. Lugard, G.C.M.G., C.B., D.S.O., by N.H.N. Mody, Esq., son of the late Sir H.N. Mody, Kt., donor of these buildings, on the occasion of the opening ceremony, March 11, 1912.”
Image: Hong Kong University

As honorary treasurer, Sir Paul Chater donated HK$250,000 to the Hong Kong University in May 1923, equivalent to £30,000, at today’s purchasing power market value that would be around £1.5 million. This was a lifesaving contribution to the University, rescuing it from financial problems and an uncertain future.
The monument tribute to Sir Hormusjee Mody at the Parsee cemetery, Hong Kong.

The Estate accounts of Sir Hormusjee Mody.

The sole executor of Mody’s estate was Sir Paul Chater. It was his responsibility to ensure the funding was made available as quickly as possible to fulfil Mody’s last wishes. The accounts show HK$233,205.00 paid out in June 1911.

Hong Kong University


Founded by Sir Hormusjee Mody
Quietly overseen by Sir Paul Chater

This story is brought to you with the support of the
AGBU UK Trust.

colourisation image of Sir Hormusjee Mody – ColorByColin
Images of Mody estate document from
Hong Kong University, image of silver model
Hong Kong Public Records Office
Hong Kong Newspapers
National Archives, Kew, London
Japanese National Archives
Singapore National Archives
Singapore Newspapers
British Library
Australian National Archives

[1] Hong Kong records: extracted from “Note On Ownership of 37 Conduit Road”. HKRS621-1-8.
[2] The Will, codicils and Probate of Nowrojee Hormusjee Mody via UK Government Wills online.
[3] There was some discussion within the Hong Kong Government as to whether Buxey Lodge should be confiscated as “enemy property”. However, they could not prove that Naoroz was in sympathy with the Japanese because of his long standing connection with Japan. It was decided that since there was no proof of any potential connection, Buxey Lodge should be considered an “abandoned property” instead. This gave the government power to requisition it for their own use.
[5] China Mail 11 February 1924
[6] Hong Kong Telegraph 11 April 1924
[7] Hong Kong Telegraph 4 February 1925
[8] The Will and Probate of Jehangir Hormusjee Mody via UK Government Wills online.
[9] Torbay Express and South Devon Echo 12 November 1949
[10] Calculated using the website Measuring Worth
[11] The Will and Probate of Kathleen Mody via UK Government Wills online.
[12] The Will of Lucy Mui Kwai via UK Government Wills online.
[13] The Will, Codicil and Probate of Dame Maneckbai Mody via UK Government Wills online.