Childhood and Family


Hussonally’s date of birth is unknown, but he died in 1920 and was likely 63-65 years old. Thus he was probably born around 1855 or 1857.

He came from Dholka with his mother, Amtulabhai. His mother was very ambitious and believed that Dholka, with its village-sized opportunities, was too small a place for him.


It’s said that he grew to be a person who was very strict and who had high standards. After work he could be jovial and liked to eat with everyone in the thal. He avoided distinctions between rich and poor. He was a “nice person” but seemed to only have one close friend. He is rumoured to have been emotionally “cool” and not expressive. This detail comes from the fact that everyone felt that his grandson, Gulamhusein Ahmedally, was thought to very similar in dress, appearance and personality as Hussonally, and this was the way Gulamhusein is remembered.


He had 4 wives over the course of his life.

He and his first wife (we don’t know her name), had six children, we think.  She died in childbirth. The only one who survived him was Mariam. She died shortly after him in 1920-21.

His second wife, Fatima also died in childbirth and they had three children. One girl survived him,  Zehra.

His third wife (we have no details about). He divorced her but we don’t know why. The unsubstantiated rumour is that she said he was impotent (which we know wasn’t true) and then he divorced her out of anger.

His fourth wife was named Sharifa.  [Note, this was Maimoona Esmail Bengali’s grandmother.] She had two children (Taher Gulamali, who was fathered by her first deceased husband). The other child was Khulsum who was two years old when he died.

Sharifa was a widow. Her deceased husband was one of Hussonally’s employees. She was a very poor woman with a son, and she wasn’t well read. People say that he married her out of pity.  She passed away in 1927, seven years after he did.

His youngest daughter Khulsum, was born around 1918. There is a 25+ year gap between his eldest and youngest child. As a side note, my nana, Ebrahim Merchant, was Mariam’s grandson, and being close in age to Khulsum, had a close relationship to her and they visited one another frequently).

Interesting details: He believed in women’s education and he got an English governess for Zehra. He didn’t want his daughters to be married to people within the family–no close relations. He wanted his children to be more widely travelled, to see how other people, in other towns and cities lived.

Zehra was a stylish “woman of the world” and an influence on Hussonally. Her husband Ahmedali Abedin and also a man of the world.

His eldest daughter, Mariam, is said to have controlled the whole household. She had six children named Safiya, Gulamhussein, Wazira, Abdulkader, Naimtulla and Dayam.

He was able to get his grandson Gulam Hussein into the Cathedral School because of his persistence and the social power he held at the time. Fakhera Merchant, his great granddaughter, related this story: “Hussonally wanted his grandson, Gulam Hussein Ahmedali, to go to the best school in Bombay so he stood on the steps of Cathedral and John Cannon School and said he wouldn’t move until his grandson was granted entry. He was the first Indian child ever to go to that school.”