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, including the Armenian Philanthropic Academy (as it was called then). In 1856 the latter institution was on the verge of dissolution. The Englishman reported: “…..The Armenian Philanthropic Academy has long been dying at its core, if energy could have preserved it, the exertions of men like the Apcars and Mr. Joseph Agabeg would have kept it in health…….” A very good reason why Paul Chater’s guardians chose La Martiniere over the local Armenian school.
Years later in the 1920’s, when he was a self-made multi millionaire he came to the aid of the ailing La Martiniere 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 Martiniere 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 today….
Mr. F. Fleming Acting Governor of Hongkong 1890
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……
Hong Kong Daily Press 1926
Three roads were named after Catchick Paul Chater, one on the mainland in Kowloon the other two on Hong Kong island.
In 1908, two of the roads were re-named: in Hong Kong, Kennedy Town, Chater Street became Catchick Street; in Kowloon, Chater Street became Peking Road. Chater Road in Hong Kong remained the same and is a landmark Road in the city today.
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.
The Prince of Wales visited Hong Kong in 1922 and spent a day watching the races at Happy Valley, seen here with Chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sir Paul Chater.
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 attended every annual race meeting in Hong Kong for 60 consecutive years which is probably more than any other individual in his lifetime.
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 1891
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
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 Sir 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.
One of many very generous donations made by Sir Paul Chater over the years was in 1923 just before he was about to depart Hong Kong for England. With only moments to spare he handed over to the Hong Kong Unversity a cheque for the equivalent of £30,000. At today’s rate of purchasing power that figure would be over £1.5 million.
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.
Permanent Memorials in India
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.
Permanent Memorial in Hong Kong
Just as there are commemorative plaques in the Armenian Church in Kolkata, there is also a plaque remembering Sir Catchick Paul Chater in St. Andrew’s Church Kowloon in recognition of his generous legacy to the church and the community as a whole as well as the stone commemorating the construction of the church hall.
Last Resting Place
Sir Paul was interred 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.
The End of an Era
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….
Sir Paul Chater 1922
He left so much more than iron……