Law firm's archives shed light on the tycoons of Hong Kong's past

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 5:09am

Wills and documents involving famous businessmen Sir Robert Hotung, Sir Ellis Kadoorie and Emanuel Raphael Belilios go on show to the public from today.

Local law firm Deacons, founded in 1851, has entrusted the University of Hong Kong with its historical archive containing more than 8,000 client documents, most of them dated from the 1880s to 1950s.

Twelve of the documents will be exhibited in the university's main library from April 4 to 28. Others are available for research purposes upon request.

One agreement dated 1900 shows Hotung bought a land lot on Wong Nai Chung Road for HK$7,990, a mere HK$20 more than the reserve price. It was specified that only European residences and designs could be built on the land.

"At that time, one bid would be for HK$20. Hotung managed to get the land with just one bid," Iris Chan Kwai-ying, special collection librarian of the University of Hong Kong libraries, said.

Wills also offer an insight into the past. Kadoorie, who died in 1922, left HK$920,000 and ordered funds to be set aside annually for schools in Hong Kong and China, and hospitals in England.

Belilios, the chairman of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation from 1876 to 1882, died in 1905. He instructed in his HK$2.4 million will that a free college be established in Calcutta for Jewish children.

In one exhibit, dated 1914, the superintendent of imports and exports gives permission for Messrs Cawasjee Pallanjee & Co to move chests of opium from their warehouse in Central to a government licensed warehouse in Sheung Wan.

A series of notes in 1962 showed the magnitude of damage brought by typhoon Wanda.

According to the Hong Kong Observatory, 24 vessels were beached and 12 were involved in collisions during the storm.

Deacons senior partner Lilian Chiang Sui-fook said the firm started approaching offspring of the documents' owners in 2005. Most agreed to make the papers publicly available.