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Colonial Cases

Re Hardoon [1932]

[succession - challenge to will]

Re Hardoon

Consular Court, Shanghai
Source: The Palestine Bulletin, 15 July 1932



Shanghai, (J. T. A.) - The British Consular Court of the First Instance has ruled against the contestants for a share in the estate of the late Elias Hardoon, Jewish multi-millionaire, and dismissed the case.

   The validity of the will, which left the entire estate, estimated at £100,000,000, to his Chinese widow was recognized by the Court.

   The relatives of Hardoon, who sought to have the will set aside on the ground that the marriage of Hardoon to his Chinese wife was not legal, inasmuch as it was not in accordance with Jewish Orthodox law, were required to pay the costs of the suit.

    The request made by counsel for claimants for a stay in execution of the verdict was also refused by the court.  Counsel for the relatives thereupon lodged an immediate appeal against the verdict.  If the appeal is granted, the case will probably come up before the Pricy Council in London.

   A cabled request was sent to the government of Iraq to come to the defence of the claimants, who are all natives of Iraq.  The Iraq Government has been supporting their case on the ground that the deceased, who was a native of Baghdad, never renounced his Iraquian citizenship and has urged that the case be tried under the law of Iraq.

   Silas Hardoon died June 18, 1931, at the age of 84.


Source: Nambour Chronicle (Australia), 16 September 1932

Chinese Widow's Fortune.

Army of Kin Frustrated.

A recent decision of the Court of First Instance at Shanghai against the numerous plaintiffs who were trying to break the will of Silas Aaron Hardoon, thus ensuring that his entire fortune, one of the largest in the world, would go, as directed by the testator, to his Chinese widow, ended a most romantic and colorful struggle (says the New York "Times").

The fight was carried on by a horde of relatives to obtain the vast wealth accumulated by a more industrious kinsman, who desired it to go to the woman who had helped him win it, and who in the will is described as "my partner, comforter, and wife, Liza Roos Hardoon."

That the contending "relatives" had already been greatly benefited from the fortune, when it was in process of making, did not please them. From Afghanistan, Persia, Turkestan, Baluchistan and Bokhara they flocked to Bagdad, for it was under the laws of Iraq that they hoped to win.  There they elected thirty Hardoons to represent them at the British Consular Court at Shanghai.

When the case was opened last winter they were all there in strange dress and speaking strange languages.  They brought with them the glamour of the Bagdad of "The Arabian Nights," as well as the endorsement of King Feisal to their claim, and at once engaged eminent counsel - H. P. Wilkinson, K.C., once Crown Advocate at Shanghai, and Harold Browett, a well-known solicitor.


The endorsement of King Feisal is a curious telegram, signed by the British High Commissioner of Iraq and reads:-

                              "Iraq Government claims late Silas Hardoon at time of death was an Iraquian national under Article 8 B., Iraquian national law, and requests rights of Iraquian relatives may be safeguarded.  Their claim is that Iraquian law of succession should apply. - High Commissioner."

This document was presented to the court by Ezra Abdullah Hardoon, the spokesman of the intransigent heirs, in whose name the case was brought.  Opposing the case, in the name of the widow, was Eldon Potter, K.C., of Hongkong.

Silas Aaron Hardoon died in his palace in Bubbling Well Road, in the Foreign Settlement of Shanghai, June 19, 1931, was buried in his palace garden, as had been his wish, and a few days later his will, making his widow executrix and sole legatee, was filed in the British Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Sir Peter Grain and was proved for probate.  His fortune, estimated at about 200,000,000 gold taels, or 150,000,000 dollars, was chiefly in Shanghai real estate.

It was supposed to have been otherwise invested and the mystery of its conversion accounts for the revolt of the Hardoons all over Central Asia, but not for their family solidarity.  That is another matter.

In the bazaars and family industries of the Orient the family of Hardoon is chiefly identified with the fabrication and sale of shawls and rugs.  It has been so for three centuries, ever since Abraham Hardoon founded the family at Bagdad and gave it its vocation.  In the evolution of that vocation many secrets were learned and passed on from father to son.  The business of the family grew but was without any particular organisation - some rugs were made where it was most expensive to make them, others should not have been made at all; there was no method of scientific distribution, no attempt to regulate the sales.


In 1871, at the age of 23, Silas Aaron Hardoon journeyed from Bagdad to Shanghai, bringing with him about all there was to know on the manufacture of shawls and rugs, and at once began to reorganise the family business throughout all Central Asia.  Soon he controlled it, both in output and distribution.  Under-production, over-production, high or law rates of transportation, high or low tariffs - he regulated everything in accordance with the simple laws of supply and demand.


In the course of the trial such universal subjects and institutions became involved as nationality in the International Settlement, League of Nations, the Sevres Treaty, and other World War documents.  The past of the chief plaintiff, Abdullah Hardoon, was laid bare; he had come from Rangoon and not Bagdad, and, according to evidence, the late Silas had merely helped him "because he was a poor relation and for no other reason, as he knew nothing about shawls and rugs, and was indeed quite illiterate."

It is, however, from shawls and rugs, not from Shanghai real estate, that the cost of the trial must be met, for Abdullah Hardoon, according to the ruling of the court, not only lost the case for his fellow plaintiffs, but must defray all the expenses of their attempt to get hold of the late Silas' vast fortune.

Source: The Hebrew Standard (Australia), 16 December 1932


Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School