The Happy Valley Racecourse Fire Disaster

Submitted by David on Sat, 03/21/2015 - 17:29

The following information has been extracted from David Twynham's dissertation for an MSc in the Study of Security Management. The dissertation was completed in October 1996, and titled:

A failure to exercise foresight

Case study analysis of available historical information relating to the Fire Disaster at Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong on 26th February 1918.

Many thanks to David for making these extracts available to us.

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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…

Brief History of Racing at Happy Valley Racecourse

    Interest in horses was not a traditional Southern Chinese characteristic. Lawrence (1984:5), claims it was imported by the British when they took over the then sparsely inhabited island of Hong Kong in 1841.

    The racecourse itself was established in 1865 on a flat, swampy area of land to the east of a small town named Wong Nai Chung (Yellow Mud Valley), but known to the European inhabitants of Hong Kong…

Public Matsheds from 1912 to 1918

    According to Coates (1983:170), by the 1918 three-day Chinese New Year racing carnival it had become the custom for the entire west side of the Happy Valley racecourse, from the village at the top end to the monument at the Valley entrance, to be lined by a long row of matshed stands. He claims that the Jockey Club was extremely careful to ensure that all matshed structures on its property were properly constructed and safe. With…