This guest post is written by David Twynham. Please click here for the background to this post.
On 26 February 1918, just after the running of the Derby at Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong, a long bamboo matshed set up beside the course on a temporary basis for the highly popular annual three day racing programme and holding an estimated 3,000 spectators at the time, collapsed ‘like a pack of cards’ and fire was seen to break out.
Within minutes the area was a blazing inferno. Escape from the area proved extremely difficult and for the many trapped within the collapsed matsheds impossible. Hundreds were asphyxiated and/or burned alive and others trampled to death in the stampede to flee the scene. The catastrophe was later reported to have taken the lives of 614 [1-1] men, women and children representing slightly more than one thousandth of the territory’s 1918 population which, according to Sayer (1975:139), stood at 561,500 [1-2] , with a further 400 or so injured. It remains the worst man-made tragedy in Hong Kong’s history. Moreover, according to Matthews (1995:220), it continues to be the world’s worst sports related disaster in ((modern history)) [1-3].
Coates (1983:171), briefly remarks that, in the aftermath of this tragedy, a Commission of Enquiry was set up by the then Governor of Hong Kong to determine the cause(s). The Coroner’s Enquiry jury was unable to determine the exact cause of the disaster but criticised both the Director of Public Works and the Captain Superintendent of Police for inadequate construction and safety precautions.
The Initial Collapse
As Coates (1983:171) describes it, 26 February 1918 began as <Read more ...>