Happy Valley Racecourse [1846- ]

Submitted by Admin on Mon, 03/09/2009 - 21:17
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The Happy Valley, situated to the Eastward about half an hour's walk from the Clock Tower, was much favoured as a place of public resort as far back as 1845; the first driving road to run round the oval shaped centre being made about that time. Some few efforts were also attempted to bring the place into popularity for residential purposes, but the malaria rising from the cultivated ground, (then paddifields), distributes its death-fever so liberally that the idea had to be abandoned. _ During more recent years the place has been scientifically drained and improved in many ways, and thereby divested of most "of its poisonous atmosphere, so that to-day it forms the grandest Recreation-ground in this part of the world. It is no uncommon thing of an afternoon, when the sun has dipped behind Victoria peak, to see from two to three thousand spectators anxiously watching some exciting contest at Football or Cricket. And at the Annual Race Meeting, which is held every year in the month of February, the numbers collected" together will be ten times as great.

There is yet another interesting aspect in viewing this very beautiful spot. Many, very many,  who have in their day been participants and eye-witnesses of the season's innocent sports and pastimes extending over a period in some few cases of nearly half a century; have finally taken up their last resting place in sight of their life's playground. There are four cemeteries on the hillside to the right hand of the valley. Taking them in the order of approach, they are the Mahommedan, Roman Catholic, Angelican, Parsee, and Hindoo, all beautiful as regards their monuments and the peaceful calm which surrounds them.


Source: The Tourist's Guide to Hong Kong, with short trips to the Mainland of China (1897) by HURLEY, R. C.

It's great to read the mention of the football and cricket matches at Happy Valley and the nearby cemeteries in the 1897 Tourist Guide. As per the Director of Public Works' Reports of the time, one of my ancestors (Charles A. Boreham) was Custodian of the Wongneichong Recreation Ground (which I believe is now the sports fields inside the race track) from 1894-1896. Charles lived in Queens Road East at the time and having married a Portugese lady, and adopted her faith, is buried alongside his wife in the Roman Catholic cemetery. Before the granstands were built the cemetery would have overlooked the sportsfields.

Anyone have any insight as to what the role of "Custodian" entailed - it appeared to be a paid posiiton, but the responsibilities are unclear. 



As it happens, I have a photograph of the grave of your grandfather, Charles A. Boreham. My grandfather Charles E. Warren had a monumental masonry yard as an offshoot of his tile business. He died in 1923, but I had noticed that the people who commissioned graves from his company were often friends of the family or members of the St Joseph's congregation like him. I couldn't find many graves in the Roman Catholic cemetery that had the CEW & Co.  imprint just by walking around it, but your grandfather's was one of them. I will post my picture.

Incidentally, I believe my grandfather tendered for the area that became the Wongneichong Recreation Ground in early days, but lost out to one of the Kadoories.

According to the account in The Yip Family of Amah Rock,* the name Happy Valley was given according to Chinese custom, to divert spirits of evil omen from their haunts by giving a good name to a place of ill repute.  The health dangers of malarial mosquitoes has already been mentioned; ghostly hauntings were also frequently reported, and tragic accidents occurred in the region 'more often than can be attributed to coincidence.'

The Wongneichong villagers above the valley greatly feared the hauntings and ghostly visitations, and the auspicious name of Happy Valley hadn't succeeded in eradicating evil omens in this area.

One of the most tragic disasters in the history of the colony occurred here in 1919, when the main stand at the racecourse collapsed during a meeting. Many were trapped under fallen timbers, and as the crowd panicked, more and more people were trampled and trapped.  Then a charcoal stove was upset in a foodstall and the scene became a blazing inferno.

I see we have a pic of a fire at the racecourse in 1818.  My apologies if this information has been mentioned elsewhere.

*Author Jill Doggett