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Sir Paul Catchick Chater


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#21 Yervant1

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 08:15 AM

Times of India
Sept 9 2017
 
 
The benevolent Armenian
 
Sep 9, 2017, 07:09 IST
 
 
 
On what would have been his 171st birth day, La Martiniere School has collabo rated with the Indo-Armenian Friend ship NGO to remember Paul Chater, the 'Grand Old Man of Hong Kong'. 

This pioneering Kolkata Armenian might only be known to the school's alumni and the people of Hong Kong, but his legacy continues to support millions through his philanthropic work and business acumen. Born in Kolkata on September 8, 1846, Sir Paul studied as a foundationer at Claude Martin's school and left as a qualified surveyor, a minor achievement that would, quite literally , build the foundations for Asia's business hub. 

Seen floating in a small dinghy out in the waters off Hong Kong, many thought he was out fishing as usual, but there was no bait at the end of his fishing line; there was a crude depth gauge. Over the course of months, he was measuring the depth of the waters. This data would lead him to carry out one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Asia: the expansion of Hong Kong by an estimated 57 acres using 3.5 million tonnes of earth, thus increas ing the overall size of the island. This project led to the foundation of one of his many companies, Hongkong Land. 

On Friday, at La Martiniere, a number of dignitaries assembled to unveil a bronze bust of Sir Paul, to be located between the Martin and Chater buildings at the school. The Bishop of Kolkata, the Right Reverend Ashoke Biswas, the Armenian Ambassador to India, Armen Armen Martirosyan and the secretary of La Martiniere, Supriyo Dhar, as well as Sir Paul's biographer Liz Chater and National Coordinator of the Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO Karen Mkrtchyan, will be present. "The unveiling of the bust is the product of a long-held ambition to remember and recognise a man who is arguably Kolkata's most important Armenian," says Mkrtchyan, an Armenian from Armenia but who studied at the Armenian College in Kolkata and, before that, at La Martiniere. 

In a sign of the growing links between the two nations, an Indian artist has been commissioned to sculpt the bust. Originally from Odisha, Kantikishore Moharana has represented India on various international platforms, including twice at the International Sculptors' Symposium in Nagorno Kharabagh. The bronze bust took him a month to make.   

  Sonia John, who was both a foundationer and a member of the board at La Martiniere, says: "Sir Paul Chater left a very generous donation for the poor Armenians of Kolkata. His donation has allowed many Armenians to study at La Martiniere, including myself. It is because of these donations that he is still revered at La Martiniere, which was saved from certain closure due to his benevolence." 

Dhar holds Sir Paul in equally high regard "The school was in a very grave financial situation and its future looked uncertain. If it hadn't been for Sir Paul's generous donation, I am not sure the school would be here today."   

  Sir Paul owned, or had a stake in, over 20 businesses in Hong Kong, including many utilities. He held a number of senior government posts -treasurer and chairman of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Committee, member of the governor's executive council, consul for Siam in Hong Kong and chairman of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Committee.He had a great interest in sports too -he was the longest serving chairman of the board of stewards of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club (1892-1926). For his achievements, he was awarded the Legion d'honneur by France and made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George by the British. The myriad of business interests allowed him to donate Rs 11 lakh (its equivalent today would be tens of crores) in the early part of the 20th century to his alma mater when it was on the verge of collapse. 

Both Hong Kong and La Martiniere are thriving today, thanks to major interventions by Sir Paul.Hong Kong is the financial trading hub of Asia while La Martiniere is one of the city's top private schools.
 

 

"It is a wonderful thing that La Martiniere and Indo-Armenian NGO have done. Sir Paul should have more recognition than he currently gets, and I hope this permanent statue will go some way to helping that happen," says Liz Chater, Sir Paul's distant relative and a genealogist currently working on a biography of Sir Paul.
 

 

Sir Paul's legacy is visible elsewhere in the city too: the `Sir Catchick Paul Chater Home for the Elderly' is in the same compound as St Gregory's Chapel near Park Circus, the rear gate of which leads into the Armenian section of the AJC Bose Road cemetery , where many famous Armenians are buried including some of Sir Paul's relatives; one of the companies he founded is still trading here in Kolkata -Jardine Henderson; and two plaques honour his memory at the Armenian Church in Burrabazaar.His palatial mansion in Hong Kong `Marble Hall' accidently burnt down but his final resting place there remains, as does Chater Road and Chater Garden, constant reminders of a Kolkata boy .
 

 

The author is an Armenian and a distant relative of Sir Paul Chater . He works as a historian, is a Kolkata heritage enthusiast and conducts heritage walks and tours in the city.
 

 

(Anthony Khatchaturian) 
 

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