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The Life & Times of Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody
‘the Napoleon of the Rialto’


Prominent Zarathushtis




Business Achievements
Personal Life
Charitable Contributions

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The life of Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody is best summed up by the plaque under his bronze bust at the University of Hong Kong:  “A distinguished Parsi businessman, renowned philanthropist, and benefactor of Hong Kong for over fifty years.”

Business Achievements

Hormusjee Naorojee Mody was born in Bombay on 12 October 1838.  After completing his secondary education, he founded a printing press and began publishing a newspaper in India.

The exact chronology of his early years in Hong Kong is not well documented.  Some sources say Mody came to Hong Kong in 1860 at the invitation of his maternal uncle, Jehangirjee Buxey.  Buxey wished to retire from his modest auction firm in Hong Kong, Buxey & Co, and wanted one of his India based sons to take over the business.  But when they declined, he turned to Mody, who willingly agreed to come and join him.  These sources believe that later in the 1860s Mody worked for an Indian Bank (presumably the Bank of Hindustan, China, and Japan) before starting his own auction house.

According to other sources, Mody first arrived in Hong Kong in 1858 (aged only 19) as a clerk in the aforementioned Indian Bank.  Then in 1860, already in Hong Kong for two years, he took over Buxey & Co. upon his uncle’s retirement.  Regardless of whether he took over Buxey & Co. or founded his own company, Mody was making a handsome profit from auctioning in the 1860s, until the installation of the telegraph.  The telegraph would forever alter the prevailing trade practices of the day, making local auctioneers such as Mody uncompetitive.  Recognizing the changing situation, Mody looked for opportunities outside of the auction business.

In 1868, Mody formed Chater & Mody with Catchick Paul Chater (later Sir Paul), an Armenian Christian whose family had resided in Calcutta for several generations.  Chater had arrived in Hong Kong four years earlier as an 18-year-old assistant at the Bank of Hindustan, China and Japan.  Mody and Chater made a remarkable team, one of the most brilliant of Hong Kong’s early years.  Mody was a private man, but fluid, always ready to explore new opportunities while Chater was outgoing but steady.

Leveraging Mody’s auctioning experience, Chater & Mody first became brokers on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Gold Bullion markets.  Previously, though both markets existed, trading had been very thin.  Thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of Mody to vitalize both exchanges, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is now the second largest in Asia and the Hong Kong Gold Bullion market is now Asia’s largest and the world’s fourth largest.

Chater & Mody later branched out into real estate and this brought them their greatest financial successes.  Both Mody and Chater were men of great vision.  They believed in the potential of Kowloon (the area across the harbor from Hong Kong Island) at a time when it was almost undeveloped, and invested heavily in real estate there.  This reaped huge profits in later years.  Mody Road is still a major artery in the heart of the vibrant Tsim Tsa Tsui district.  In the Tsim Tsa Tsui East district, Mody Road and Mody Square are home to a row of deluxe hotels and up-market shopping malls.

Mody and Chater also initiated the development of the port of Hong Kong at the foot of Kowloon Peninsula.  The scheme started in 1872 with the reclamation of the waterfront, building of a seawall, then godowns (warehouses).  This laid the foundation of what later came to be known as the Hong Kong & Kowloon Wharf & Godown Co.

Encouraged by the successful completion of this Kowloon project, they then started the Praya (waterfront promenade) Reclamation on Hong Kong Island.  The Praya Scheme was originally floated by Sir John Browning in 1854 but had to be abandoned because of various problems between the merchants who held the foreshore rights, the government, and the navy.  Thanks in large part to Mody and Chater, the Reclamation of 1890 – 1904 was finally built and named Connaught Road.

The introduction of electricity to Hong Kong in 1890 provided another opportunity.  In 1892, Mody and Chater founded the Societe Francais des Charbonnages du Tonkin to develop coal mines in Vietnam.  They were able to undercut the price of coal from more traditional sources and establish a successful business.  The enterprise has been described as ‘one of the only truly successful commercial undertakings in the entire history of French Indo-China’.  A grateful French government rewarded Mody with the Legion of Honour.

Through his investments and dealings in the stock market he became the director of many companies.  As a responsible and innovative member of Hong Kong’s international business community, he was invited to become a director of many more companies.  In fact, Mody became the director of so many companies that he was nicknamed ‘the Napoleon of the Rialto [market]’.

Personal Life

There is no record of when Mody’s wife, Manekbai arrived in Hong Kong, but before she returned to India for a visit in 1886, she arranged to have a marble fountain built for the Parsee Cemetery in the Happy Valley district of Hong Kong Island.  There is also a record in the annals of the Parsee community of Hong Kong that their third and fourth sons were born in Hong Kong in 1872 and 1875 respectively.  It is believed that she was the first Parsee lady to have resided in Hong Kong.

Mody had a great interest in collecting antique furniture, French paintings, porcelain, silver, and objects d’art for his palatial home, Buxey Lodge.  Mody was reputed to have the finest collection of European art ever to exist in Hong Kong.  Buxey Lodge, named after his benefactor, was first listed in the government rate books in 1894-5 and was one Hong Kong’s finest residential showplaces for many years after.  Buxey Lodge, possibly renovated or rebuilt in 1911, was donated by Mody’s widow to the Hong Kong Government in 1946.

Chater, an incredibly keen race-goer, introduced Mody to horseracing.  Mody took up racing with tremendous success.  Mody (using the name “Mr. Buxey”) and Chater (using the name “Mr. Paul”) set up a successful stable together in 1872.  In 1884 they won 17 out of a possible 26 races in Hong Kong.  Mody expanded his stable to Shanghai and soon became a viable rival to David Sassoon, who had dominated Shanghai racing since 1886.  In 1892 Mody’s ‘Royalist’ won the Shanghai Derby and other Mody horses won six more races at the meet.  Later both Sassoon and Mody brought their best horses from Shanghai to Hong Kong and renewed their rivalry.  Mody continued to run one of the top stables in Hong Kong throughout the first decade of the twentieth century.  There is still an annual race on the Hong Kong racing schedule named after him.

Charitable Contributions

Mody’s public spirit and charitable contributions took many forms and occurred near and far.  Along with many smaller local charities, Mody funded the building of a Soldiers and Sailors Home and a Seamen’s Institute in Hong Kong.  At the opening of the Institute he is reported to have said “I have taken keen interest to the Mission to seamen here, because to our merchant seamen this Colony owes so much for its prosperity, its commerce, its very existence.”

Mody was also the President of and a generous contributor to the Kowloon Cricket Club.  He solely financed the construction of the KCC’s Clubhouse and laid the foundation stone on 18th January 1908.  The KCC was also home to the Amateur Athletics Association until 1950.  During Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebration he donated a statue of Queen Victoria to Hong Kong.  This statue originally stood in Statue Square and now resides in Victoria Park.

Mody was actively involved in the Zoroastrian community and local civic affairs.  He was the President of the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hongkong, Canton, & Macao in the 1890s.  He was a special juror for the judicial system at a time when most were only British.  He was also Acting Consul General for Siam (now Thailand).  There is a record of a Mody being on the organizing committee for and contributing a large sum to the Irish Distress Fund, set up after a great famine in Ireland in 1880.  There are also records showing a Mody was a Justice of the Peace.  However whether these two were Sir Hormusjee, one of his sons, or some other Mody is unknown.

Mody’s greatest and most remembered contribution is his donation that founded the University of Hong Kong.  At that time most people felt that since Hong Kong was so commercially oriented a university was unnecessary.  However, inspired by the suggestion of then Governor of Hong Kong Sir Fredrick Lugard and his wife, Mody pursued the idea whole-heartedly.  Mody donated the entire amount needed to build the Main Building, and contributed a very generous secondary endowment for its running as well.

On 16 March 1910 a grand ceremony was held to lay the foundation stone.  The 13th Rajput’s band played the national anthem and Governor Lugard announced to the gathered crowd of dignitaries “I am pleased to announce I have received a telegram to the effect that His Majesty has been pleased to approve that Mr. Mody be appointed Knight Bachelor and Letters Patent will be issued in due course.”  Mody, wearing his Pagri proudly, rose from his seat next to his old friend Chater to give the main speech.  He modestly explained his motives in making this benefaction “the idea of in some measure providing for others what I was myself denied.”

Sadly, Sir Hormusjee Mody did not live to see the completion of his greatest contribution to Hong Kong.  He died, at home in Buxey Lodge, on 16 June 1911, greatly admired and respected.  He is buried in the Hong Kong Parsee Cemetery in Happy Valley.

The University was officially opened on 11 March 1912 in the presence of Lady Mody and their son Naoroj Mody.  The building is magnificent, built in the traditional red-brick ‘Renaissance’ university style.  It has open courtyards inside and is surmounted by a tall clock tower and 4 turrets.  One of the finest buildings of the colonial British period in Hong Kong, it is gazetted a historic building.  His son was made a Life Member of the Court of the University of Hong Kong a few months later.

On 17 June 2002, as part of the University’s 90th anniversary celebrations, a brand new bronze bust of Sir Hormusjee was installed in the original Main Building he had donated.  The bust was unveiled by Professor Ian Davis, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, and Mr. Jal S. Shroff, J.P., the President of the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hongkong, Canton, & Macao (a position Sir Hormusjee had held 110 years earlier).

Sir Hormusjee N. Mody made a considerable fortune from his businesses, but he returned much of it to the land and people that made him successful.