Most people in the shipping world, know the name
“Moller”. This is in no way a full
account of the life of Eric Moller, that has been covered in publications and
books already, but rather a snapshot of a time when his life crossed with Sir
Catchick Paul Chater. Chater valued Eric for his talent and experience as a
jockey and trainer and the all-important winning horses, and Sir Paul, being
the man he was, retained Eric with ample generosity.
|Image: Liz Chater's private archive|
The hyperlinks in square brackets [ ] do not work, please scoll to the end for the appropriate reference number.
Eric was drawn to horse racing, both in Shanghai and Hong Kong, his father Nils Moller was just as keen, so it was rather inevitable the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. As early as 1899, Eric is recorded as racing in Hong Kong. Watching from the Judge’s box, Paul Chater saw the potential talent this young man had, and very likely earmarked him as a possible jockey in his own stable. That year, Eric rode for a number of owners a total of 16 races during the meeting; he had 2 wins, 1 second place and 3 third places. His wins that year were on Mr. Arnold’s Straightaway´ in the “Lucky Cup”, and Mr. Orr’s ‘Rookwood’ in the “Flyaway Stakes”, it would be the beginning of a racing career that would eventually propel him to being a very successful jockey and later a celebrated owner in Shanghai.
But first, a complicated family setup meant there was a lot to learn about life for him and some bitter pills to swallow. Extreme circumstances, requires extreme measures, and they are not always the ones you wish to take. To find yourself in a position where you have to fight a parent in a court of law over a family inheritance that you are legitimately entitled to, is quite simply, shocking. Following the death of their mother, that is the situation Eric Moller and his siblings found themselves in.
Eric Moller’s father was a sea captain named Nils Moller, who was born in Brunnby, Sweden in October 1825. He had first married Jenni Charlotte Marie Holm in the early 1850s, most likely in Scandinavia, their first child, Pehr, named after his own father, was born in Burr Street, Aldgate, London in April 1856 and was baptised in St. Boltolph Without Aldgate, on 1st June. Nils and Jenny’s second child, Maria Teresia Moller was born 25th March 1859 in Sweden. Jenni died just a few months later also in Sweden. Nils wasted no time in remarrying, after all, he had two small children who required care and a mother figure.
|Simple family tree showing Nils Moller's first marriage|
That came in the shape of Alethea Appleby Stephenson. Daughter of a vicar, she and Nils were married in Nottingham on 31st October 1860 at St. Mary’s church in the city by her brother, also a vicar, the Reverend W. Stephenson. No sooner had they married, they then sailed for Shanghai, where, in 1861, Nils dipped his toe into general trading and auction room sales, before getting into the shipping business in 1866. Nils and Alethea went on to have at least five children:
Charles Henry Christopher Moller born 1862 in Shanghai
Eric Arthur Moller born and died in 1864 in Shanghai
Hilda Jane Appleby Moller born 1865 in Nottingham
Anna Muriel Moller born 1867 in Nottingham
Warden Appleby Moller born 1871 in Shanghai
In addition to her own children, Alethea was also caring for her two step-children, Pehr and Maria Teresia Moller.
|Simple family tree showing Nils Moller's 2nd marriage|
On a voyage back to Shanghai from England in 1870, Alethea had engaged a lady companion for the trip; she was called Hannah Clappison.  Once back in Shanghai, Nils appeared to take more of a shine to Hannah than he did his wife, and went on to conduct a relationship with her right under the nose of Alethea, fathering five children with Hannah, they were:
Hannah Marian Moller aka Minnie born in 1874 at sea on board the ‘Glaucus’
Nils Eric Amelon Moller aka Eric Moller born in 1875 in Sculcoates, Yorkshire
John Arthur Moller born in 1878 in Shanghai
Daisy Moller born in 1879 in Shanghai
Kate Winifred Moller born and died in Shanghai 1884/5
|Simple family tree showing Nils Moller's relationship|
with Hannah Clappison.
Also third marriage to Harriet Fuller
By 1881 Alethea had returned to Nottingham, England with her children and set up home in Prospect Place. Not only was Alethea looking after her own children, she was looking after her step-daughter Maria Moller. Meanwhile, Nils was in Shanghai with Alethea's 'lady companion' Hannah, who had assumed the role of 'wife' to Nils. There was no divorce for Alethea who remained in England. She travelled on a couple of occasions to the USA to see her step-son Pehr and her daughter Hilda Standring and their families. On the whole, Alethea lived in various locations in the South East of England, dying in St. Marys and St. Josephs Nursing Home, Chiswick in March 1920. She is buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Barnes, Surrey. In the same cemetery are the remains of her children, Charles Henry Christopher Moller who died in 1928, Anne Muriel who died in 1942, and Warden Appleby who died in 1950. In addition, there are also the remains of Charles Moller’s wife, Mary Helen nee Pierce who died in 1961 and two of their children, Harold Percy who died in 1952 and Nils Harry who died in 1962 respectively. 
Hannah Clappison died in Shanghai in May 1891, and of course Nils was still married to Alethea. Hannah made a will before her death, providing amply for her 4 surviving children, making Nils the executor to oversee the equal distribution of her estate to her children.
“All I own in this world, such as ships, houses and landed property, I give and bequeath to my good friend Nils Moller, in trust for my four children when they come of age, and may God bless and protect them all. Amen. Dated at Avenue Lodge this 5th Day of February 1891.” The will was written in the handwriting of Nils Moller.
She was possessed of three sailing barques (later Nils would claim these were “gifts” from him, who expected her to return them to him as bequests in her will), the “Valkyrien”, “Contest” and “Lucia”, as well as three lots of land in Shanghai; B.C. Lot 1156 known as the “Washing Company’s” land; B.C. Lot 570 known as “The Gables” and finally the family home known as “Avenue Lodge”. Nils successfully proved the will at the Supreme Court in Shanghai in July 1891, but he had failed to include as assets the barque “Valkyrien” as well as the three lots of valuable land. Nils had deliberately tried to devalue the estate of the woman he considered his “wife”. He was able to deceive the children because they were all still under age. Meanwhile, Nils, set out to “reclaim” ownership of Hannah’s property in a most despicable fashion.
Nils was custodian of the property in Hannah’s will, which was to be held in trust until her children came of age. He deliberately chose to undertake a “transfer” of ownership of the vessel “Valkyrien to his son, Eric Moller in 1895, who was actually already the owner. Nils then got his son Eric to sign a document giving all the property to his father. Nils qualified the transfer of property from Eric to his father by saying: “the will was not worth the paper it was written on”; Eric and his siblings believed him. Why wouldn’t they? He was their father, the person you trust with your life. Nils went on to sell the “Valkyrien” in 1900 without Eric’s knowledge or permission, a vessel Nils had no right to sell. The transfer document Eric signed in favour of his father included B.C. Lot 570 (The Gables) and B.C. Lot 1156 (Washing Company’s land); Nils had sold his son’s legitimate inheritance from under his nose.
With the children still under age, and therefore not in control of their own affairs, Nils did this feeling confident it was something he could get away with. Not only did Nils fail to pay his children their rightful money, he refused to do so when the sales of these items had come to light. Besides the lack of honesty regarding the money from the sales, there was the personal betrayal and deceit Nils had undertaken towards his own children. One can only imagine how Eric must have felt. Nils’s own business affairs was not plain sailing, and on 1st January 1894, perhaps anticipating financial trouble ahead, and not wishing to divide any of the children’s inheritance he had full charge and control of, decided to amalgamate the whole lot by establishing the firm “Nils Moller and Sons” with himself as senior partner and Nils Eric and John Arthur Moller as (under age) junior partners. The firm was created purely with the property of Hannah Clappison, something the two brothers Eric and John Arthur were completely unaware of at the time. In 1895, Nils, as senior partner, head of the firm of Nils Moller and Sons, and being the sole trustee of the estate sold the “Washing Company”, B.C. Lots 1156 and 1654 for Tls 24,000. Later in 1897, Nils sold “The Gables”, B.C. Lot 570 for Tls 16,000, the proceeds of each transaction being placed in the accounts of Nils Moller and Sons. It was during this time that Nils got Eric to sign over a “Division of Property” document. The contents were dictated by Nils to Eric, and said:
Shanghai 25th March 1897
My Dear Father,
This is to certify that all ships, houses and landed property now registered in my name in the British Consulate of Shanghai are your bona-fide property, and I hold same subject to your disposal and I am prepared to transfer same to any one you may appoint when called upon by you to do so.
My Dear Father
Your Affectionate Son
Nils Eric Moller
To Mr. Nils Moller
In the Empire of China
Witness to signature
As naïve Eric Moller, captivated by his love of horses, forged ahead with his racing career, he was completely oblivious to the underhand dealings his father was conducting and how his mother’s legacy was being manoeuvred, not to benefit Eric and his siblings, but to reinforce the pockets of his father. Eric continued to ride horses, both in Hong Kong and Shanghai and it was becoming clear he had a good eye in spotting winners and riding them over the line to win.
In 1900 Nils Moller gave a Deed of Gift to his sons Eric and John Arthur Moller giving them equal shares in the vessels “Lucia”, “Osaka”, and the “Contest”, along with office furniture and the goodwill of the shipping business. Out of the income from these ships a monthly allowance was to be paid of $60 to each sister, Minnie and Daisy. Nils also went on to stipulate that his two sons were to abstain from “all gambling in shares and stocks, and also from all horse training and riding for the public, and they are to give their undivided attention to the shipping and commission business of Nils Moller and Sons”. Nils expected his sons to demonstrate dedication, commitment and honesty in return for the company; however, these were not qualities he wanted to reciprocate to them.
The siblings (Plaintiffs) were represented in court by Mr. Stokes who requested that the proceedings of the case should be held without the presence of reporters. Mr. Stokes said: “What I have to say involves a great deal of personal history. It affects not only the living, but the dead, and I most urgently beg for that concession, if not out of regard for the living then for the sake of the memory of the dead”. They did not get their way and Counsel for the defendant (their father) said: “As they have chosen to make these statements public, they must stand by any unpleasantness that may arise from that publicity.” Family shame and embarrassment would unfold.
The Court heard that the siblings became suspicious of Nils’s actions around 1901 when “a dispute arose over five tug-boat shares which were given by Nils to his two daughters Minnie and Daisy, and were kept in the safe of Nils Moller and Co. He got the girls on one occasion to sign a transfer, as it would, he said, be more convenient for collecting dividends if they were in his name. Everything went on smoothly and the dividends were paid, until the girls happened to hear that these shares had been sold and from that there was a split in the family. Nils first denied that he had sold the shares, but afterwards admitted it, and from that time there was unfortunately a want of that confidence which should obtain between parent and children, and the boys thought they would like to make some enquiries and find out what was the value of their mother’s will. They went to the British Consulate General and found to their surprise that this was a bona-fide will. Nils had put all the property into the name of the firm Nils Moller and Sons, and when the Gables was sold the proceeds were put on a fixed deposit in the Bank in the name of Nils Moller and Sons and the same was done in the case of the Washing Company and the Valkyrien.
Nils continued to syphon assets that belonged to his children into the company Nils Moller and Sons. In court he was supported in his petition by his wife Alethea Appleby Moller and their four children as well as the two children Nils had with his first wife Jenny, Pehr and Maria Theresia Moller. By siding with their father it was clear the legitimate children were rounding on the illegitimate children, all implying to the court that the claim of Eric and his siblings would have an adverse affect on their own inheritance.
It was judged that a Deed of Gift dated 6th December 1900 from Nils Moller to his sons Eric and John Arthur Moller “giving” them 3 sailing vessels along with $5,000 was deemed invalid; how could he give to his sons property that didn’t belong to him in the first place; Nils had been generous to a fault with someone else’s property, and his scheme had backfired. Another Deed of Gift between Eric Moller and his father Nils of 1897 where Eric gave “all ships, houses and lands……” was also deemed invalid because Eric had been misled in a coercive fashion regarding all the property. All-in-all, Nils had been caught with his fingers in the till; swiping not just money and assets, but personal integrity, honesty and trust from his children.
Almost a year after the start of this case, the final payment outcome was judged to be as follows. Nils had to pay to his son Eric and his siblings Tls 25,649.24, they were also to retain 3 sailing vessels and the goodwill of the company Nils Moller and Sons. In addition, Nils was ordered to pay Tls 1,608.75 to his daughters Minnie and Daisy Moller, interest was to accrue at a rate of 7% from the date of judgement, 20th January 1903, until payment of the principal sum was made.
It is often recorded that Eric and John Arthur Moller “took over” or inherited the shipping business, from their father. But we can clearly see that wasn’t the case; it was rightly awarded to them by a Court of Law following a continued and prolonged period of deception of Nils towards his children where he tried and failed to manipulate the assets of his late mistress to his own benefit. Nils miscalculated; a judge saw through his deception. 
To add insult to injury for Eric and his siblings, there was the fact that only 5 months after the death of their mother Hannah, Nils had remarried to Harriet Fuller of Shanghai.
|Marriage record of Nils Moller and Harriet Fuller|
Harriet was the daughter of an architect and active Missionary, William Robert Fuller, so I guess Nils conveniently forgot to mention he already had a wife back in England who was very much alive. Dishonesty raised its ugly head again, Nils had committed bigamy.
|Probate notice for Alethea Appleby Moller|
Nils’s legitimate wife, Alethea died in 1920.
After the court case, Nils returned to Sweden, where he passed away in May 1903. There was the briefest of notices in the Shanghai/ Hong Kong papers.
Free of the controlling constraints of his father, Eric threw himself back into horseracing with gusto. He rode for a number of owners, including Sir Paul Chater on various occasions. He, along with McBain, F.R. Vida, and A.R. Burkill were the "go-to" jockeys Sir Paul relied on. Sir Paul made every effort to bring them down from Shanghai to Hong Kong as much as he could, to ride for him at Happy Valley. I have no doubt he made it financially attractive for them to make that journey. Eric Moller's business was run from McBain Building on the Bund in Shanghai, all the jockeys had full-time business operations and they used horse racing as their "pastime". Squeezing racing in between work!
One of many acts of kindness performed by Eric Moller during his life was in 1918, when his manager of Messrs. Moller & Co., (Hongkong) married in Shanghai to Miss Clarice Leslie of Sydney. After a quiet ceremony at the Cathedral, Eric entertained the wedding party to lunch at his original family home “Fairyland” in Route Ghisi. This house had been purchased by his father-in-law, John Blechynden, around 1907 and put in his wife’s name. to ensure the family had a safe and secure home. It was a well thought through move, because in 1924 Eric found himself being declared bankrupt, his creditors accepted the deal presented to them of 5/- in the Pound. They were all swallowing substantial losses, and it couldn’t have been an easy time for Eric and his family.
In December 1926 Eric sold the Moller family home, “Fairyland” at Route Ghisi to the Sino-Japanese Society for $2,000,000. It is today known as Yueyan Road and I believe is now the home of the present Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences and Chinese Academy of Sciences.
18th December 1926 notice Moller’s “Fairyland” is sold.
This period coincided with Eric riding successfully for Sir Paul Chater, both in Shanghai and in Hong Kong. It is almost like he turned to what he knew to be constant and reliable to regain some stability in his life.
The main building was erected in 1931 with compensation from the Boxer Rebellion. The taller building is definitely of 1930s architecture,
|Image: Via Shanghai Now. http://shanghaiimayou.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-126.html shows the two clear styles of architecture.|
You can see the difference in architecture quite well
from this image,
courtesy of ShanghaiArchitectureWandering
But the smaller single storey entrance is more in keeping with the style of architecture from around the turn of the century, I would say the gate posts are also original and I speculate that they, along with the single storey entrance way were originally part of the Moller “Fairyland” home.
Looking at the single storey entrance, and compared to other buildings in Shanghai at the turn of the century, such as the French Consulate, there are striking similarities, but I emphasise it is only to the entrance way, not the taller building behind. I would therefore suggest that it is very likely that part of “Fairyland” was incorporated into the new building, and this may be the only part of the original “Fairyland” existing. There are a couple of good close up images on Flickr where the two different styles of architecture can be seen.
Further evidence this is the same building Eric sold to the Society can be found in the report which states: “……Mr. Yada and Mr. Ouchi, Japanese, will act as trustees of the Society’s fund, which, derived from the Japanese portion of the Boxer Indemnity Fund……..” the wall plaque confirms erection of the building.
|Image: Via Shanghai Now. http://shanghaiimayou.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-126.html|
This is the first time that Moller’s first home and the Science building have been proved to be connected to each other.
Buoyant again with money in his pocket, Eric was quick to instigate a rebuild of a home that could accommodate his large family. He started in 1927 and it was completed in 1936, today, what is known as “Moller Villa” in Shanghai is the result of that vision.
|Image courtesy of www.mollervilla.com|
Although Eric’s business life was in a difficult place, having recently been made bankrupt, he nevertheless took up Chater’s very tempting offer to ride Saucy Dahlia in May 1925 in the Shanghai Races, winning the Derby there. In 1926 Sir Paul Chater won the Hong Kong Derby with ‘Glorious Dahlia’ ridden by Teddie McBain.
This unique, rare and never before seen image shows Eric helping to lead in that winner with Sir Paul and Lady Chater (out of shot).
|Image: Liz Chater’s private archive|
Eric and his family were always part of Shanghai life. Some articles and books state he arrived there in 1919 with nothing to his name. This is not true; he had arrived in Shanghai as a baby, spent his early years there, was educated there, took his first tentative steps into business there. He made a business trip to England in 1919 and he returned to Shanghai in 1920 after a 6-month visit, He had gone to review his business interests there. Finding they were in a sorry state, he came back to Shanghai, where he had always lived and worked and brought his family up.
There’s an awful lot more about this man, and the Moller family available to read, if you are interested, I do recommend you research more online. My particular story on this blog is simply a small snapshot of how his life touched that of Sir Catchick Paul Chater through their shared passion for horseracing, and is in no way a full and complete record. I have deliberately not included his business life, I wanted to highlight the sporting connection to Sir Paul Chater, rather than Moller’s business dealings.
A recently published book that includes a number of references to Eric in Shanghai is worth a look: “Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai” by James Carter. A number of pages are available for review on google.
Eric, was a very well liked and respected businessman throughout his life, but it was tragically cut short when the aeroplane he was travelling in, crashed at Singapore Airport in 1954, his daughter Nancy, witnessed the disaster from the terminal. Further distress was caused when it was discovered that Eric’s body had been mistaken for a Hindu banker, who also died in the plane crash. The banker, who had mistakenly been identified as Eric Moller, had been buried as a Christian in the mass grave prepared for the victims of the crash, whilst Eric’s body had been taken to the Hindu crematorium in Singapore, his ashes, mistaken as the Hindu banker, were then flown to India to be sprinkled in the Ganges. The error came to light when a dental plate was found at the Hindu crematorium, it was identified as Eric’s. His daughter Nancy asked the Courts for the body to be exhumed from the mass grave in Singapore for re-identification. Only then did the painful truth come to light.
His wife carried his legacy, his children carried his
genes and those of his father Nils and mother Hannah.
|Image: Liz Chater’s private archive|
And what of Nils Moller’s final bride, Harriet Fuller, who found herself in the embarrassing position of marrying a bigamist? Although there is no official record available at the moment suggesting she found Nils out, by 1893 Harriet had reverted to her maiden name of Fuller when witnessing the marriage of friends Ebenezer Murray and Emma Ann Fairy in Chefoo. Another witness was Harriet’s sister Edith E. Fuller, so the very longest the “marriage” survived was two years.
In fact, Harriet is recorded as marrying again, using her full maiden name, in September 1897. Taking vows for the second time in her life, she betrothed to Harry Houston, an American from San Francisco, who, as it turned out, was a deserter from the US Navy, although I doubt Harriet knew that at the time.
The marriage was at the American Consul General’s office in Shanghai, he was 21, she was around 37 but this too, was to quickly turn sour for her. In November 1898, a year after they married Harry took £1000 from Harriet saying he would go to the USA to set up some business agencies, but he failed to return to Shanghai as promised. In February 1899 Harriet happened to see in the San Francisco Chronicle an application by Harry to have the marriage annulled on the grounds he had been “under age” and personally threatened with violence if he didn’t marry Harriet. Her response was swift and forthright, and denied she had coerced him in anyway, and implied that in fact he had married her for her money and done a runner. Her fight to clear her name and regain her reputation continued, and in June 1899 she also discovered that Harry had remarried to Isabelle Jellison on 29th January 1899; he had done to her exactly what Nils had done, committed bigamy. Isabelle Jellison’s parents were non too pleased, to say the least, and the whole sorry saga must have been a very bitter blow for poor Harriet.
In the early 1920’s Harriet left Shanghai for good and went to live with her sister Edith and her family in Canada. Harriet passed away in British Columbia on 5th January 1936, her funeral took place the next day and she was buried in the Royal Oak Burial Park, Victoria.
I do wonder if Eric Moller and his family offered any sympathy, support and comfort to Harriet during her traumatic time with Nils and later, her misguided marriage to Harry. Eric was a kind and generous man by nature, and I would like to think he extended a hand of friendship to the beleaguered Harriet. Eric did seem to take everything life threw at him with an unusual amount of stoicism and grace, and I tend to think he was the kind of gentleman Sir Paul Chater enjoyed the company of enormously. Their shared passion of horseracing would have given them hours of gentlemanly conversation over the years, and I’m sure each learnt a little more from the other.
© Liz Chater 2021
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 Birth certificate
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 My Heritage
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 Public examination into his bankruptcy
 Shanghai Now. http://shanghaiimayou.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-126.html