Generous Jehangir Ruttonjee (1880-1960)
The most generous philanthropist in early twentieth century Hong Kong was an Indian immigrant called Jehangir Ruttonjee. The results of his generosity and industry can still be seen in contemporary Hong Kong: the Ruttonjee Centre in Central, Ruttonjee Hospital, Grantham Hospital and the Sing Tao Brewery, originally in Sham Tseng but now in Yuen Long.
Jehangir was twelve when he came to Hong Kong, where his father was a wine, spirit and food trader. His family was Parsee, a religious group that moved from Persia to India after being persecuted by Muslims. There are still Parsees living in Hong Kong and they have played a significant part in Hong Kong’s development.
Jehangir worked hard at school before joining the family business. Then he set up his own beer company on Castle Peak Road. He also bought property and made lots of money. But his life took a bad turn during the Japanese Occupation. He was thrown into jail for three years for offering free goods and shelter in his Dina House and Ruttonjee Building to desperate people.
While in prison, one of his beloved daughters died of tuberculosis. “Whatever our race and whatever our religious belief, our common humanity demands our help for the needy and suffering around us,” he announced in 1944, while gifting $500,000 to the Ruttonjee Sanatorium, a hospital which would specialise in fighting the disease. It was the biggest gift ever by any person or institution in the history of Hong Kong at that time.
In 1953, tragedy struck again: his second daughter died of cancer. This time Jehangir built the Freni Memorial Convalescent Home in Stubbs Road for tuberculosis patients. He also contributed over two million dollars to build the Grantham hospital. Later, his son, Dhun, continued his father’s fine family tradition of philanthropy.
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