Formerly merchant farmers of Jewish origin, the Kadoorie Family settled in Baghdad, Iraq many centuries ago, and were amongst the leaders of their community. Silas Kadoorie, prominent philanthropist and patriarch of the Kadoorie Family, was married to Reemah Yacoob Elaazar Yacob in the nineteenth century. She was related to the Sassoon Family and together they had one daughter and six sons. In 1845, Elias Sassoon, son of David Sassoon, pioneered the settlement of Baghdadi Jews to the Far East.
In the late 1870s, Eleazar Silas (Elly) Kadoorie, son of Silas Kadoorie, followed this trend and left his family home to seek his fortune. He travelled to Hong Kong via Bombay to serve as a clerk in E. D. Sassoon & Co., arriving in Hong Kong in May 1880. Elly’s elder brother, Moshi, who had preceded him, was also employed in Sassoon’s and later, in 1883, he was joined by his younger brother Ellis. Elly left Hong Kong and was transferred to North China as the Deputy Manager of Sassoon’s branch in Wuhu (Anhui Province) and later moved to Ningbo. During an outbreak of plague, Elly withdrew a barrel of disinfectant without permission and for this he was reprimanded. He later left the company and returned to Hong Kong, where his brother, Moshi, gave him HK$500 to start anew. With this money, Elly set himself up as a broker, establishing “Benjamin, Kelly and Potts” with his partners, George Potts and Sassoon Benjamin, which soon became the premier brokerage house in Hong Kong; representing the small man’s interest. This firm was to play an important role in promoting China Light and Power Co. Ltd. (China Light) as a successful local company. Both Elly and Ellis used the name “Kelly” in the early years of their business careers, but resumed their original surname in 1901. Whilst Ellis was to remain a bachelor all his life, Elly married Laura Mocatta in 1897. A keen diarist, painter and adventurous traveller, Laura hailed from the prestigious Mocatta Family, a Jewish family originally from Spain. Among other activities, they operated as the sole bullion dealers for the Bank of England’s first century of operation in the 1600s and were one of the early Jewish families to establish themselves in England along with the Montefiores and others. Together, Laura and Elly had three sons; Lawrence and Horace, and Victor who died in infancy.
In the course of time, both Elly and his brother Ellis did much to promote the expansion of trade and industry in Hong Kong and Shanghai. In 1911, Elly’s family moved to Shanghai, where he made his fortune trading in Malayan rubber, later focusing on Shanghai based business and industrial ventures. The brothers would go on to invest in many successful companies such as the Peak Tramways Co. Ltd., Hong Kong’s pioneering transport system, The Hongkong Hotel Co. (later to become The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Ltd.) and China Light, the sole electricity supplier to Kowloon and the New Territories, as well as the Shanghai Gas Co. Ltd. and the Shanghai Land Investment Co. Ltd. In 1919, Elly’s Shanghai home on 161 Bubbling Well Road (West Nanjing Road) caught fire, and Laura tragically lost her life by returning to the house to rescue the governess. In 1922, Ellis passed away. Elly became a China Light Director in 1928 and was invited to take a seat on The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels board in the same year. Both Elly and Ellis received a number of honours and awards throughout their careers, including knighthoods.