1. The fire

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

1920s View down the Peak Tram line

1920s View down the Peak Tram line

Who: There are a couple of people to mention this week. Here's a clue for the first one:

Camelus bactrianus - Camel

Early photos of Central District

Thank you to Martyn Gregory for sharing these old photos of Central with us. The newest was taken in 1902, with all the others taken in the late 1800s.

You can click on any photo to visit its page. There you can zoom in to see more detail, read any notes about the photo, and add a comment about where and when it was taken.


Queen's Road Central
Queen's Road Central


Wellington street
Wellington Street

c.1955 Pok Fu Lam Road

c.1955 Pokfulam Road

Where: The road heading downhill with its distinctive curve is Pokfulam Road. The road on the right is High Street, and Water Street leads away from the bottom left corner. The layout is still the same today:

WhatThere's still a fire hydrant on the corner, though it's been upgraded to a newer model. The streetlight has swapped sides of the road and may have had a more significant upgrade. The modern light is definitely electric, but the old one looks to be a

Hong Kong 1920s-60s: Geoff Wellstead's photos

Kung hei fat choy!

The first post for the Year of the Sheep is an interesting set of photos from Geoff's family albums. Several are group photos, so please leave a comment if you can put a name to any of the faces.

First some background from Geoff:

A son of Russian Black Sea mill-owners, Captain Alexander Laihovetsky and his family happened to be living in Nagasaki at the time of the 1917 Russian revolution. They moved to HK after World War I, then went to Vancouver chicken farming (unsuccessfully) in the early 1920s, but by the mid 20s were back in Kowloon Tong. Captain Laihovetsky commanded various ships trading between Singapore-Indochina-HK-Chinese ports-Japan.
He helped launch the HK Agricultural Show and the Empire Products Fair, and was frequently called on for advice on raising chickens by the wives of Governors and the Colonial Secretary.  His 3 daughters attended KBS/CBS (later KGV), were active in Kowloon Girl Guides, and learned piano from long time resident Maestro Elizio Gualdi.
Wife Vera and the daughters were evacuated to Australia in 1940, but


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