Hong Kong stories: The Indian immigrant who helped build HKU and the road that bears his name

Mody Road is just one small part of the legacy Hormusjee Naorojee Mody left in Hong Kong

Rhea Mogul |

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Mody was a renowned philanthropist. He helped to establish the University of Hong Kong, and gave a speech at the university's opening ceremony.

For years, Mody Road, a major artery in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, was one of Hong Kong’s most popular streets. With its amalgamagtion of emporiums and restaurants, it embodied the city’s cosmopolitan culture. Today, the road is home to mostly offices, residential buildings, and an array of tailors and jewellers.

This iconic Hong Kong road, with a uniquely out-of-place name, is named after an Indian man, who has an equally unique history.

Hormusjee Naorojee Mody was born in Mumbai, which was then called Bombay. He first arrived in Hong Kong in 1860 at the age of 19. His uncle, Jehangirji Buxey, owned an auction house in the city, and hoped that Mody would someday take over the business.

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Mody worked as a clerk in the Bank of Hindustan, China & Japan, before eventually taking over his uncle’s company. Through his many clever investments and dealings in the stock market, he soon became a respected figure in Hong Kong, serving as the director of several companies.

Mody was a Parsi, a follower of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism. Parsis migrated from what is now Iran to the Indian subcontinent between 636AD-651AD to escape religious persecution during the Arab conquest of Persia.

“There is evidence of Parsis migrating to the mainland [China] as early as 1756, before a small group decided to search for more opportunities in Hong Kong,” says a senior member of the Zoroastrian community in Hong Kong.

Mody moved to Hong Kong from India as a teen.

By 1868, Mody was an experienced stock broker. So he set up his own firm, Chater & Mody, with Catchick Paul Chater, an American man whose family had lived in Kolkata (then Calcutta), India, for several generations. Mody and Chater made a remarkable team, and the company was hugely successful.

The pair eventually branched out into real estate. Seeing the potential for development in Kowloon - still mostly a barren area - they made several investments in the area. Mody also solely financed the building of the Kowloon Cricket Club; in January 1908, he laid the first stone on the site.

But perhaps Mody’s greatest contribution to Hong Kong was his role in the founding of the University of Hong Kong. After the university was proposed by the then-Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Fredrick Lugard, Mody donated HK$150,000 towards its construction and HK$30,000 towards other costs. The foundation stone for the university was laid on March 16, 1910. Mody gave a speech at the ceremony.

In recognition of Mody’s many contributions to Hong Kong, the now-famous Mody Road was named in his honour in 1909.

Mody Road runs through Tsim Sha Tsui and was home to a jumble of emporiums and restaurants in its heyday.
Photo: wikipedia

Mody died at his home on June 16, 1911, at the age of 72. He is buried at the Parsi cemetery in Happy Valley.

His grand estate - Buxey Lodge - on Conduit Road was donated by his wife, Maneckbai, to the Hong Kong Government in 1946. Today, a block of flats stands in its place, with a Wellcome supermarket and Watsons shop at the bottom.

“Our Zoroastrian teachings say, one should always keep in mind that we approach life with a great love for humanity in our heart. Mody followed the teachings of Zoroastrianism throughout his life,” says the member of the Zoroastrian community. “Our teachings tell us to live by humata, hukta, huvarashta (good thoughts, good words, good deeds). He did this to the fullest and much more.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge