OFF I went to another memorial meeting yesterday, February 13, with no moans involved, to commemorate a patriarch of the family who died one hundred years ago to the day. We, his descendants, now spread all over the world, opened up our jeroboams and drank to his memory.
By Ardeshir Cowasjee
Hormusjee Jamsetjee Rustomjee, my maternal great-grandfather, died in Karachi whilst Victoria Regina Imperatrix was Empress of India.
The editor of “British-Indian Commerce” (published in London) in his issue of March 15, 1899, wrote: “Only six months ago, British-Indian Commerce contained the illustrious story of the life of one of the most interesting personalities among the merchant princes of India, Mr H.J.Rustomjee, of Kurrachee. Mr Rustomjee was then in the full flush of healthy vigorous manhood, eager in the enjoyment of all the good things of life, and was looking forward to a pleasant journey through Europe on his way homewards to India. On the 15th ultimo, a telegram from India announced his sudden death and when the sad intelligence was circulated amongst his many friends in the City and the West End, the feeling of grief and sense of personal loss found keen expression.
“On behalf of those friends and of ourselves, we offer the sincerest condolences to the members of the Rustomjee family. They have lost an affectionate father and relative, and the firm which he founded mourns the departure of one whose strongly developed mercantile instinct, wide business experience, sound judgment, and almost daring enterprise have made the house of Rustomjee and Company uniquely famous throughout India and in most of the manufacturing centres of the world. The story of his career is as he was wont to say, only typical of that of a large number of other great Indian merchants and millionaires. His beginnings were humble enough; he was a young merchant, however, at 15 years of age. He was only 53 at the time of his death. For forty years his life had been a long series of business successes. He steadily ascended the ladder of prosperity, till he had placed his foot firmly on the topmost rung. In social life, he was a racy conversationalist, full of anecdote and shrewd observation of men and nations. His command of the English language was perfect, and his social gifts made him popular in all the commercial capitals of Europe.”
In 1891, he built for himself at Karachi a fine building to house his business empire, described thus in the Sind Gazette of November 10 of that year: “Mr Rustomjee has taken the utmost pains to set off his huge building to the greatest advantage …. the building itself is certainly one of the handsomest and imposing structures of its kind, not in Karachi or in the province only, but in India. The architecture is purely Italian and the facade closely resembles that of the New Dresdner Bank at Berlin …. The site is admirable, occupying a large space of over 8,000 square yards near the point where the two principal roads of the town, the Bunder and the McLeod roads converge, being thus in the very heart of the business parts of the city. Mr H. J. Rustomjee’s mansion has a frontage of 100 feet and is constructed wholly of stone, having three stories, the total height being over 60 feet.”
HJR was a firm believer that it was the bounden duty of the rich to look after their less fortunate brethren, the old Parsi maxim being that a man should give to his country and to humankind more than he takes from them. He knew that education was the key to progress and prosperity. He also realized, way back in those day, the importance of learning English, the universal language. He ensured that all the girls of the family were sent to convent schools where English was the medium. He was also a firm adherent to the belief that a man of means must participate in the affairs of his city. He was a member of the Municipal Council and represented the people as a trustee on the Board of the “Port of Karachi (Kurrachee), Sindh, West Coast of India.”
His charities were vast. He was the first in Karachi to build a low-cost housing colony. Schools, hospitals, parks and playgrounds always had his support. He, along with Dayaram Gidumal, Prem Kewalram Shahani’s paternal grandfather, contributed towards the establishment of the renowned Dayaram Jethmal Sind College. The norms of civilized society, one may say.
By Ardeshir Cowasjee
DAWN – Cowasjee Corner; 14 February, 1999
More about HJ Rustomjee 1846-1899
Nadershaw D. Kabraji writes
HJ Rustomjee my Children’s Great-Great-Grandfather and my Grand Children’s – Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, from his young days, with real business acumen and entrepreneurship built-up during the British Raj one of the biggest trading companies Rustomjee and Company. He was presented in the levee court of Queen Victoria as the Merchant Prince of India. They were the largest importers of Sugar, Food-grains and manufactured goods from Britain and agencies representing leading suppliers in Britain. Among his many charities in Karachi he built a resident Homes for the poor Parses of Karachi, which still stands, situated near the St. Partick Church.
Unfortunately H.J. (as he was called) – died very young at the age of 53. He was followed by five sons and one daughter – the eldest Rustomjee (my elder brother Rustom named after him), looked after the business but sadly after the death of his father, he died soon after, at a very young age. Rest of the four brothers were not interested in business and the firm and business fell apart. Rustomjee was followed by the Daughter – popularly known as Fuiji, a real Matriarch who looked after finances and management of the family. She was married in Bombay into the family of Sir Jamshedjee Jiji Bhai (Baronet) family but she lived mostly in Karachi.
All my love,
Nadershaw D. Kabraji