THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Birth of Paul Chater
(September 8, 1846)
Sir Paul Chater is regarded as the man who placed the footprint of Hong Kong down and allowed the city to become one of the leading economies of the world today. In 1902 he represented Hong Kong at the coronation of King Edward VII of England, even though he was neither Chinese nor even born in Hong Kong.
Catchick Paul Chater was born Khachik Poghos Astvatzatoor (Khachik Pogose Astwachatoor) in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, on September 8, 1846. He was one of the thirteen children of Chater Paul and Miriam Chater. His father was a member of the Indian civil service.
The young Khachik, orphaned at the age of seven, entered La Martiniere College. In the early 1910s he would become a benefactor of the desperately struggling school by making his single biggest donation to any institution or organization while still alive. It allowed his alma mater to avoid certain closure.
Chater moved in 1864 to Hong Kong and lived with the family of his sister Anna and sister’s husband Jordan Paul Jordan. He was an assistant at the Bank of Hindustan, China, and Japan. Later, with the aid of the Sassoon family, he set up business as an exchange broker, resigned from the bank, and traded gold bullion and land on his own account. He took sea-bed soundings at night and was thus instrumental in the reclamation of Victoria Harbour. He is credited with a fundamental role in the colonial government’s success in acquiring lands then held by the military.
In 1868 he and Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody formed Chater & Mody, a largely successful business partnership in Hong Kong. In 1886 Chater entered the Legislative Council, taking the place of another Armenian, F. D. Sassoon. In 1889 he partnered with James Johnstone Kewsick to establish Hong Kong Land. The following year, the company commenced the land reclamation project under the Praya Reclamation Scheme. They secretly acquired an old graveyard, where they built one of the earliest electricity power stations in the world. The Hong Kong Electric Company went into production with Chater’s help as an informal member of the Executive Council of Hong Kong. He was appointed to the Council in 1896 and served until 1926.
Chater was knighted in 1902. The year before, he had built a very fine home with imported European marble, which he named Marble Hall. He housed there his collection of fine porcelain. In 1904 Chater financed the construction of St. Andrew’s Church.
The Armenian businessman held many titles and positions, including those of senior justice in Hong Kong and consul for the kingdom of Siam (Thailand).
Chater died on May 27, 1926 and bequeathed Marble Hall and its entire contents, including his unique collection of porcelain and paintings, to Hong Kong. The remainder of his estate, besides generous bequests to nephews and members of his family, went to the Armenian Church of the Holy Nazareth in Calcutta, which runs a home for Armenian elderly, named The Sir Catchick Paul Chater Home. He was interred at the Hong Kong cemetery.
His wife lived in Marble Hall as a life tenant until her death in 1935. Ownership then passed to the government. It became the official residence of the naval commander-in-chief, and was commandeered by the Japanese during their occupation. It accidentally burned down in 1946, and 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.
Chater gifted to Hong Kong his large collection of historical pictures and engravings relating to China (430 pieces). The Chater Collection was dispersed and largely destroyed during the Japanese occupation, and only 94 pieces, now at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, are known to have survived.
His name is also preserved in other places of Hong Kong, such as Chater Road, Catchick Street, Chater House, and Chater Garden. In 2009 the company he cofounded, Hong Kong Land, commissioned a bust of him on the 120th anniversary of its foundation, which is permanently displayed in Chater House.