Wednesday, August 23, 2006

University of Hong Kong and Mody

I have received a request to do more of a study on a famous Parsee of Hong Kong, Mr. Hormusjee Naorojee Mody. Parsees, as I've mentioned before, are Zoroastrians that, as a community, left Persia for India in the 16th and 17th centuries, and became successful traders on the subcontinent. When the British came and installed the Raj, the Parsees, as consummate traders, took advantage of their expanded horizons, many of them involving themselves strongly with the opium trade. Many also did not, and both types of Parsees made their way to Hong Kong. Their legacy can still be found, albeit of the silent kind, in the Parsee cemetery just past the entrance to the Aberdeen tunnel on your way to Happy Valley. A more alive reminder that is barred to foreigners is the Parsee/Zoroastrian temple that can be found on Sun Wui Road in Causeway Bay, just down the street from the Po Leung Kuk.

Funnily enough, the Zoroastrian Building's ground floor houses a Bentley dealership, whose logo, minus the B of course, would be a dead ringer for the wings on the sun logo that has survived thousands of years from the time of Persepolis, Darius and Xerxes of Persia. If it wasn't going to be Bentley perhaps (Ahura) Mazda might be more apropos?

But enough jokes. The Parsees, despite their very small numbers, made great at lasting contributions to Hong Kong. They were very much involved in the hotel business and in shipping, and the Star Ferry remains a daily reminder. In academics, of course, there is the legacy of Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody, who was instrumental in the creation of Hong Kong's first general institution for tertiary education (the Hong Kong College of Medicine predated HKU, but was absorbed into HKU after the latter's founding). Without his funds, Governor Lugard's pet project would never have gotten off the ground, because there would have been no building to house the university. He was able to see the groundbreaking ceremony, but unfortunately passed away before the building could be completed.

The question now is, where did Mr. Mody get his money? A short answer would be that he was in business with the very enterprising Mr. Paul Chater, who I've written about several times in these pages (do a search on this site to find these references). But Mr. Mody clearly had his own sense of investment timing, for Mr. Chater prized him, this reclusive, very private Parsee, about all others as investment partner. For it was with Mody that Chater bought up the TST docks after the typhoon, and convinced Jardines to co-invest into their new 'Wharf' venture. Unlike Chater, Mody never sought the spotlight or a central role in the running of things - he was content to make his fortunes quietly, and to pursue happy domestic life at home in the Mid-Levels and go racing, owning his horses under the alias 'Mr. Buxey'. His home, not surprisingly, was known as Buxey Lodge at 37 Conduit Road. (His second wife, who unlike the first, was not Parsee, in 1946 donated the house to the Hong Kong government, who rather unsentimentally for such a grand old mansion, tore it down and put government civil servants' flats in its place after having the lands department buy it outright for HK$300,000 from the Navy.)

Because of the fact that Mody was such a private man, and stayed mostly out of the public eye, very little record of him survives. But he will be forever known as the father of tertiary education here in Hong Kong, and is a key reminder to Hong Kong's overwhlemingly Chinese population not to totally forget the contributions to the city of its multicultural society.

1 comment:

Liz Chater said...

Hi Dave and Stefan, Liz Chater here. A little snippet for you. Buxey Lodge in Conduit Road was actually the SECOND Buxey Lodge that Mody named and lived in.

The first was Buxey Lodge in Caine Road (was originally no. 31 then became no. 99) and the house was conviently sandwiched between the Chater brothers - Paul (the famous one) and Joseph (who was Paul's equal in business before his death in 1886). Mody lived next door to Joseph Chater and was only 7 houses away from Chater. On the other side of Mody was Chater's nephew, Dr. Gregory Jordan in "Forest Lodge".

I don't believe Buxey Lodge in Conduit Road was actually built by Mody but rather extensively refurbished to his requirements. I have found records of a house called "Newlands" on that plot being sold at exactly the right time Mody was looking to moved to Conduit Road to be near and stay in the same league as Chater with Marble Hall.

My research into Chater is still on-going and you may be interested to know that I am now including a lot of "Mody" personal stuff in it as the two were so intrinsically linked and it would be a complete injustice to exclude my Mody findings.

best wishes
Liz Chater