"...I have never been in a place
that I have loved more than Hongkong, and in fact, the
longer I stay here the more I like it...."
Catchick Paul Chater was born
to Armenian parents living in
Calcutta, India on the 8th September 1846. Chater Paul
Chater and Miriam Zorer had thirteen children in all and Paul
Chater's siblings can be
seen on the right. Chater Paul Chater (known as Paul Chater) worked
for the Calcutta Civil Service under the British government where he
held a variety of positions mainly as an accounting clerk in the general
finance and foreign department.
The hardest thing a child could experience is the sudden loss of a parent, Catchick Paul Chater was orphaned at eight. His father drowned in the Hoogley River in 1853, his mother appears to have died a lingering death in 1855, whilst his vulnerable younger siblings Sophie seven and Theo just four could not have found the change in family circumstances easy to understand.
Paul Chater (as he was known,
preferring to drop his Christian name and anglicise what was left) was admitted to
La Martiniere School in Calcutta, an
institution with an excellent
academic record and one that implemented a curriculum that far
outweighed those of other local schools.
La Martiniere School, Calcutta
Years later in the 1920's, when he was a self-made multi millionaire he came to the aid of the ailing La Mart school when it found itself in a position of near collapse. He donated a much needed eleven lakhs Rupees, saving the school from certain closure. The school never forgot the gesture of it's old alumni and even today in the 21st century Paul Chater is remembered in the school's daily prayer.
He left La Martinere in 1862-63 having passed the surveying examination but rather than stay and carve out a career in Calcutta the city of his birth, he took a chance and went to Hong Kong where his eldest sister Anna had settled with her family. She had married Jordan Paul Jordan in Calcutta in 1845, (he was from the well known Jordan family of Madras) a year BEFORE Paul Chater was even born, thus although a sister to Paul Chater, she was old enough to be his mother.
Arriving in 1864, Hong Kong was the promise land for Paul Chater. He loved it so much that he never made one return journey back to Calcutta for the next 22 years. With the help of Jordan his brother-in-law, Paul Chater started a basic clerical position with the Bank of Hindustan, China and Japan. Listening and learning as he went along, within two years he had cast out alone and set himself up as a broker. In 1876 he formed a partnership with a new friend, a Parsee from Bombay, called Hormusjee Mody. Mody was eight years older and wiser and was the steadying hand on the shoulder of the bright, vibrant and enthusiastic Chater. The formidable partnership of Chater & Mody lasted until the untimely death of the then Sir H.N. Mody in June 1911. Chater was in London for the coronation of George V when the news was telegraphed through to him. He was wracked with guilt for not being with his lifelong friend.
"...Paul Chater.....whose energy, whose enterprise and
whose industry in everything connected with the welfare
of this island have, to no little extent brought the
colony to that prosperous condition in which it is
He developed many projects for the extension and benefit of the colony with such successful businesses and companies in Hong Kong as The Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company, The Star Ferry Company but none more successful that the founding in 1889 of The Hongkong Land Investment Company, later to become Hongkong Land in conjunction with James Johnstone Keswick.
One of his finest projects was the now famous Praya land reclamation scheme, a 57 acre area of land drawn from the sea and a project that had occupied his mind for many years prior to its inception. In the mid to late 1880's Paul Chater was often seen floating in a sampan in Victoria harbour with a rod and line. The talk was he was fishing, a pastime from his normal rigorous daily schedule. However, he was actually putting to good use the surveying qualification he had acquired in Calcutta as a teenager. The line was not a fishing line but a plumb line and he was calculating the depth of the harbour to determine if, with excavation, the harbour could take larger ships.
Because of his foresight in the 19th century, Hong Kong is now a major trading port in the 21st century.
"...Paul Chater the directing genius of Hongkong Land
from its inception...."
Cricket and horse racing where his two passions, and in his latter years travelling around the world with his wife Lady Christine became another passion. After they married on the 17th August 1910 at St. George's Church, Hanover Square, London they regularly visited San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, New York, Vancouver, Honolulu, the Philippines, London, Plymouth, Southampton, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Geneva, Genoa, Paris, Port Said, Marianbad and many other places.
Marriage certificate of Catchick Paul Chater and Maria Christine Pearson
He played for the Hong Kong Cricket Club first eleven, and was a
horse racing enthusiast with a keen eye for the China ponies. He never missed the annual
races of the
Hong Kong Jockey Club at the Happy Valley Racecourse in 60 years
attending each year between 1866 and 1926. He set up the Chater Stable in Hong Kong in 1872 that won many races at Happy
Valley. The Hong Kong Champions & Chater Cup, the Group One third
leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown, is named in his honour.
In 1896, Chater joined government ranks when he was appointed to the Executive Council of Hong Kong, and served there until 1926, the year of his death. Chater was knighted in 1902. In 1901, Chater constructed a very fine home with imported European marble at 1, Conduit Road, Hong Kong which he named 'Marble Hall'. Therein, he housed his collection of fine porcelain. In 1904, Chater single-handedly financed the construction of St. Andrew's Church.
St. Andrew's Church and the Vicarage, Kowloon
Some titles and positions held by Chater:
- Master of the Perseverance Lodge 1873
- Steward at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club
- Chairman of the Board of Stewards of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club (1892–1926)
- Senior Justice of the Peace in Hong Kong
- District Grand Master of Hong Kong and South China (1881-1909)
- Director of Dairy Farm Co. Ltd., 1886
- Consul for Siam in Hong Kong
- Treasurer and Chairman of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Committee 1887
- Honoured with the Legion d'honneur by the French Government at Tonkin 1892
- Member of the Public Lighting Committee 1896
- Member of the Governor’s Executive Council 1896
- Chairman of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Committee 1897
- Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George 1897
- Honorary degree of LL.D. by the University of Hong Kong for services as the Honorary Treasurer 1923
Zetland Hall, Hong
One should give more than a passing nod of acknowledgement to his Masonic life. Suffice to say there is too much to cover here, but both his public and private philanthropic contributions throughout his Masonic lifetime were thoughtful, generous, impeccably on-point and generally well anticipated by him even before he had been approached to help whatever cause was needing his contribution. Appointed District Grand Master of Hong Kong and South China in 1881 at just 35 years of age, he held this position for a consecutive 28 years retiring in 1909. However, he was asked out of Masonic retirement not once, but twice after this to install new District Grand Masters in Hong Kong.
He held many high ranking positions within Freemasonry such as Grand Superintendent of District Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Hongkong and South China, Prior of Provincial Priory of China but probably the most remarkable achievement and one that is perhaps little known and overlooked today is that in 1879, at the age of thirty three Paul Chater reached the throne of St. Mary Magdalene Chapter Rose Croix and was the only resident Far Eastern mason ever to be honoured with the 33rd Degree in the English constitution. [The 33rd degree is an honorary degree bestowed upon especially worthy masons who have accomplished outstanding work.] This is a clear indication of his remarkable achievements and the depth of respect he was held in by the Masonic fraternity.
Longevity was something he knew well and remarkably even today, he can be
counted as the longest serving Chairman of the Board of
Stewards at the
Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, a position he held for
34 consecutive years between 1892 and 1926.
Roll of Honour of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey
Club remembers Sir Paul's long service
Sir Paul Chater died on the 27th May 1926, and bequeathed Marble Hall and its entire contents, including his unique collection of porcelain and paintings, to Hong Kong.
The remainder of his not inconsiderable estate wealth was bequeathed to the Armenian Holy Nazareth Church in Calcutta in perpetuity.
The two commemorative plaques inside the Armenian Holy Nazareth Church in Kolkata placed by the church committee in gratitude and acknowledgement of Sir Paul Chater's everlasting legacy to them.
In the 1950's in remembrance and recognition to their generous benefactor, the Armenian Church in Calcutta built a retirement home for Armenian elderly, named the 'Sir Catchick Paul Chater Home' at Park Circus Calcutta (next to the Armenian Church of St. Gregory which is affectionately named by the local Armenians as 'the small church').
at the Hong Kong Cemetery alongside his beloved brother Joseph and
nearby his loving nephew John known as Theo Bagram.
The graves of Sir Paul and Lady Chater with Joseph Chater (brother) to one side and Theo Bagram (nephew) the other side.
Lady Chater lived in Marble Hall until her death in 1935. Ownership then passed to the government. It became “Admiralty House” – the official residence of the Naval Commander-in-Chief, and was commandeered by Japanese during their occupation. It accidentally burned down in 1946, and the government buildings occupied the site since its demolition in 1953. Government residences named 'Chater Hall Flats' are today located on the site of Marble Hall.
The Chater Collection Catalogue and the rare Bizen Ware catalogue that formed part of The Chater Collection on display in Marble Hall
Chater amassed a large collection of historical pictures and engravings relating to China which he gifted to the colony. The Chater Collection was subject to a work by its curator, James Orange, in 1924, at which time the collection stood at 430 items. Its backbone was the collection of Wyndham Law of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, and included oil paintings, watercolours, sketches, prints and photographs, most of which are based on landscape scenes of the South China trading ports in the 18th and 19th centuries, and of British activities in China. The Chater Collection was dispersed and largely destroyed during the Japanese occupation, and it would appear only 94 pieces (now an important part of the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art) are known to have survived.
This is a very brief synopsis of the life of Sir Paul Chater.
"...Hong Kong has given me a great deal, and I hope to
be able to do something for it in return, if I can leave
an iron industry as a heritage I shall be glad....."
He left so much more than iron......
Copyright Liz Chater 2013
Site updated 03 May, 2013
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