(This is the success story of a Parsi youth who was knighted a century ago. A teen age journalist became a merchant prince and founded Hong Kong University. It is written with the hope that it would inspire our youths – Marzban J. Giara)
His family originally hailed from Surat but is different from that of Davar Mody family. His grandfather Rustomji Navroji’s grandfather Lowjee Dhanji worked as a supplier of goods to Abdul Gafoor’s (a 17thcentury merchant) commercial vessels and thus his family derived the surname Mody. Lowjee’s son Manekji was a cloth merchant at Surat and was also an agent of Portuguese traders. One of his sons Rustomji went to Daman on the recommendation of a Portuguese official and started a cloth weaving and dyeing factory. Rustomji and one of his sons Kharshedji stayed on at Daman and were known as Damanwalla Mody. His other son Navroji went to Lahore and was the administrator of Jassawalla’s firm there for many years. Navroji’s two sons Nusserwanji and Rustomji went to Lucknow and settled there. Nusserwanji was the deputy superintendent of police at Lucknow in 1859. Hormusjee, the third son of Navroji went to Hong Kong and became famous.
Hormusjee started life as a journalist while in his teens. He started a printing press and a newspaper “Pruthvi Prakash”. He landed in Hong Kong in 1858 as a 20 year old youth with a few hundred rupees in his pocket. He started the business of auctioneering and made a fortune. Later he became a partner of Sir Paul Chater and together they developed the coal industry in southern China. He was responsible for reclaiming and developing much of urban Kowloon and Hong Kong.
On the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of ascending the throne on 21st June 1887 the Zoroastrians of Hong Kong had a jashan performed by their anjuman mobed Kawasji Hormasji Kotwal. Hormusjeee, as President of Zoroastrian Community Funds made a speech and declared that a “Victoria Jubilee Parsee Charity Fund” was started by all Parsis to help destitutes of all communities in China. On 15th July 1892 the French Government conferred on him the title “Chevalier de Anam” French knight for his playing a leading role in developing the coal industry as a director of a large coal mine at Tonkin.
On 22nd June 1897 on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee of her reign, he was presented a gold medal by the Viceroy for his valuable services. On 12th June 1902 he was appointed acting Consul General for Siam (now Thailand) at Hong Kong. He donated Rs.10,000/- to the fund of Ladies Benevolent Society. On 28th February 1908 he donated Rs.2,500/- to Masonic Hall at Bombay. He donated Rs.2,000/- to Parsi Girls’ Schools Association as also one thousand dollars for building a pavillion at Kowloon Cricket Club in Hong Kong. On 13th March 1908 he donated 50,000 dollars for a Seamen’s Institute to serve as a sailors’ home. On 28th April 1909 the foundation stone laying ceremony of Seamen’s Institute was performed by Sir Frederick J. D. Lugard, Governor of Hong Kong. The Governor lauded Sir Hormusjee Mody’s generosity during his 50 years of residence in Hong Kong.
On 30th September 1909 to encourage the Parsi cricket team he offered a prize of Rs.500/- if they win the final round of the triangular match against teams of other communities.
He was one of the principal founders of the Hong Kong University and the Kowloon Cricket Club. He activated the Hong Kong Gold Bullion Market (today Asia’s largest) and the Hong Kong stock exchange (Asia’s second largest). He owned a famous horse racing stable. He donated 1,50,000 dollars for a building for Hong Kong University.
He presented the city of Hong Kong with a statue of King George V which was unveiled on 25th November 1909. It graces the public garden there. He gave scholarships amounting to over 10,000 dollars to eight schools of Hong Kong. He donated Rs.22,000/- to Garib Zarthosti Rehthan Fund for building a chawl for the poor Parsis in Bombay in memory of his elder son Merwanji.
He was knighted on 16th March 1910 for his public benefactions. On the same day Sir Frederick Lugard, Governor of Hong Kong laid the foundation stone for Hong Kong University Building. The Hong Kong University building built out of Sir Hormusjee Nowrojee Mody’s philanthropy was inaugurated by Sir Frederick Lugard, Governor of Hong Kong on 11th March 1912.
Sir Hormusjee Mody passed away on 16th June 1911 at age 72. The Governor of Hong Kong paid his respects at his funeral. The Hong Kong Stock Association, public banks and public departments remained closed as a mark of respect to him. He attained fame and wealth by self help. An arterial road in Tsim Sha Sui district in Hong Kong is named after him as Mody Road.
A statue of Hormusjee Mody was placed in the University building but went missing. Due to the persistent efforts of some Parsis and the Trustees of ZCF the statue has been replaced in 2002.
The 60 m high bronze bust is set on a polished wooden plinth with a base of solid black stone. The inscription reads: “Sir Hormusjee N. Mody (1838 – 1911), major donor towards the founding of the University of Hong Kong, a distinguished Parsi businessman, renowned philanthropist and benefactor of Hong Kong for over 50 years. This bust is presented to the University of Hong Kong on 17th June 2002 by the Incorporated Trustees of the Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hong Kong, Canton and Macao to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the University of Hong Kong.”
This bust was unveiled jointly by Mr. Jal Shroff, President ZCF and Prof. Ian Davis, Vice Chancellor of the Hong Kong University on June 17, 2002 before a distinguished gathering. Thousands of students would remember with gratitude the philanthropy of this Parsi businessman.