Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala, baker, hotelier and founder of the first cross-harbour ferry service (later the Star Ferry Company)
This article about Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala was written by Sooni Shroff-Gander and first published in the Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, edited by May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn. The publisher, HK University Press, has kindly granted permission for it to be posted here, but retains copyright over this material from 2012.
HF: Regrettably I have been unable to find any image of Mithaiwala, and would be very grateful if someone could send one to me.
Thanks to SCT for proof reading the retyped article.
Mithaiwala, Dorabjee Naorojee b. India; d. 7 July 1904, India. Entrepreneur, hotelier, founder of the first cross-harbour ferry service
Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala arrived in Hong Kong from Bombay in 1852, hidden as a stowaway aboard a ship bound for China. The Portuguese captain who rooted him out was kind enough to permit the young stowaway to remain on board as the ship’s cook.
Upon his arrival in Hong Kong, Dorabjee Naorojee put this training to good use, working as a humble household cook. He soon left his employers to set up on his own, establishing a bakery in Hollywood Road. His timing could not have been better: with another China war brewering, there was intense hatred of the British and on the morning of 15 January 1857 the breakfast breads from Cheong Alum’s E Sing bakery, the only Western-style one to supply European households, was found to have been laced with arsenic. Dorabjee Naorojee’s new bakery immediately found custom and quickly became a flourishing concern. The bakery greatly prospered when he was contracted to supply the British Army and Navy.
In the early 1860s Dorabjee Naorojee went into partnership with the provision merchant firm of Duddell & Co., and as his business contacts grew, he expanded the company to establish three hotels: the Victoria and King Edward Hotels on the island, and the Kowloon Hotel across the harbour.
While small ‘wallah-wallahs’ were sporadically used to cross the harbour, it was obvious that a regular ferry service was needed and by the 1870s, a Mr Grant Smith was running an irregular service between Hong Kong and Kowloon. Entrepreneurial by nature, Dorabjee Naorojee saw an opportunity to take over the franchise from Smith in 1880, and began the first regular boat services. In 1888 he inaugurated the Kowloon Ferry Company, and his steamboat, the Morning Star, was used to transport his workers and cargo (mostly bread). Additional passengers had to pay on cent to cross the harbour, which was then about a mile and a half wide. By 1890 the company was running three more single-deck ferries: the Evening Star, the Guiding Star and the Rising Star. Dorabjee Naorojee’s ferries are believed to have greatly assisted his compatriot, Hormusjee Naorojee Mody, in developing Kowloon.
In May 1898, planning to retire, Dorabjee Naorojee sold all of his boats to the Hongkong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company Ltd, and the Star Ferry Company Ltd, as we know it today, was born.
An oil portrait of Dorabjee Naorojee hangs in the Zoroastrian Building in Hong Kong.
- Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, ed M Holdsworth & C Munn, HKU Press, 2012 This wonderful book collects in one volume more than 500 specially commissioned entries on men and women from Hong Kong history.
- The Star Ferry Company Ltd – company website
- The 120-year-old story of Hong Kong’s iconic Star Ferry SCMP 16th June 2018
- Star Ferry Fleet List gwulo.com
- Parsis in Hong Kong: A legacy to remember
This article was first posted on 22nd August 2019.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Cheong Alum and the case of mass poisoning at the E-Sing bakery
- Proposed revival of Walla-Walla water taxis in Hong Kong
- Relocation of Wanchai Pier results in 20% Star Ferry passenger loss – SCMP article
- The Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry Company Ltd, 1923-1973