Resting Travelers’ Cheery Place; Betting Gambler’ Merry Land
Happy Valley,has been noted for its picturesque hill scenery, its race-course, and its cemeteries.
There were several changes for its plans and usages before and after the Colonization.
Happy Valley was considered too far from town and too mosquito-ridden ever to be needed as building land.
1889, Hong Kong’s earliest cemetery in Wanchai was finally closed.
But the first batch or graves could be dated back even earlier in Happy Valley or some were moved to there.
Over one hundred years, cemeteries in Happy Valley were the burial places for many Protestant and Nonconformist deceased.
Those cemeteries, beautiful, inspiring and peaceful and more importantly are significant source of material and references for Hong Kong’s heritage.
Besides, they are valuable resources as well, for those with a general interest particularly in the fields of history, sociology, genealogy and architecture.
The name ‘Happy Valley‘ is not derived from the fun and excitement of race-days.
The answer lies less than half a furlong away behind the grandstand and across the busy Wong Nei Chung Road.
Parallel to the highway is an ensemble of four charming nineteenth century cemetery gardens.
This relatively untouched, tranquil and verdant landscape is a rare oasis amidst the surrounding urban
Rising on the slope of the hill behind the grandstand is the cemetery.
We could wish that some other spot might be selected for our races than that prettiest but most melancholy of all, the Happy Valley.
It tells too sad a tale, and is teeming with too mournful memories to make it a fit place for amusement.
But the name Happy Valley might be given to the area before the Cemetery was opened.
Perhaps so called because it was considered the most fertile and prettiest place on the north coast of the island.
1841-06-19 Another friend of mine, Wilson, Adjutant of 18th Regiment, has just died of remittent fever soon arriving from Canton,
1841-06-20 Poor Wilson was buried in ‘Happy Valley‘ near Commander Brodie.
Michael Levien quoted the above in Page 89《NAVEL SURGEON: The Voyages of Dr. Edward H. Cree, Royal Navy, as Related in His Private Journal’s. 1837-1856 》.
Dr. Cree had also made a water-colour sketch of the funeral of Brodie which is shown on p. 90 in the same book.
Both the graves of Brodie and Wilson are still lying in the Hong Kong Cemetery.
“There is only one spot in the whole of the island that has a tree on it. it is called Happy Valley, and is certainly a pretty spot.
The rest of the island is one barren rock and perfectly devoid of all vegetation.”
This is written in the book《’Oh for the Joys of England’,Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society》.
The choice of Happy Valley as the site of the cemeteries can be blamed on the mosquito.
However, it was at first intended to be the principal business center of Hong Kong.
Rev. James Legge recalled his first sight of Happy Valley:
“There were to be seen only fields of rice and sweet potatoes. At the south end of it was the village Wong-nei-chung [Yellow Mud Creek] just as at the present day, and on the heights above it were rising two or three foreign houses, with an imposing one on the east side of the valley, built by a Mr Mercer of Jardine, Matheson and Co’s house. All these proved homes of fever or death, and were soon abandoned. “
And so in the words of Major-General d’Aguilar:
“Happy Valley was as suddenly deserted as it was inhabited. Crumbling ruins overgrown with moss and weeds attested on every side to the vain labor of man when he contends with nature. And the Happy Valley restored to its primeval stillness has been converted into a cemetery.”
There was a valuable documentation of Lieutenant Collinson’s panoramic sketch, with “Upper Bungalow in Happy Valley and New Grave Yard” marked with doted lines.
In a letter to 《Friend of China – April》 from Sexton F Drake shows the lack of respect paid to the European dead.
He wrote that he had ‘long been desirous to suppress an evil’ and filed this to the newspaper:
“On the morning of Friday last, when performing my usual duties in the Burying Ground, I unexpectedly discovered that the feet of horses had left many impressions on that part of the ground where it is scarcely possible for an animal to expand a limb without resting on a grave!”
The path between the Cemetery and the racecourse was narrow.
Men out exercising on horseback in the early mornings had no compunction about taking their horses into the Cemetery grounds and over the graves when they wanted to pass the slower members of the fraternity.
As late as the mid-1860s, it was reported that until then the colonial chaplain was in the habit of turning in his ponies to graze there.
One soldier living in Hong Kong recorded in his diary that:
“I attended several of the races, but I always considered the Race Course was in the wrong place, as the Sight of the Grave Yard generally dampened my Spirits and took all Pleasure away at these Races.”
‘Happy Valley‘ might owe its name to the presence of the cemetery gardens and their image as peaceful and quiet sanctuaries.
It is rather than later attempts at black humor by fun-seeking race-goers uncomfortable about having a cemetery at their backs.
Despite the name, the juxtaposition of racetrack and cemeteries was considered by many to be a bad idea.
Anyway, neither the racecourse nor the cemeteries could not be moved.
Cemeteries were there even before the racecourse, and they remained there.
As the memory of the first terrible years of colonization faded, Cemeteries slowly became less spectral.
Happy Valley is the location of six cemeteries. From south to north, they are:
– The Jewish Cemetery
– The Hindu Cemetery
– The Parsee Cemetery
– Hong Kong Cemetery
– St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery
– The Muslim Cemetery
Related to racing, graves in Happy Valley Cemeteries upon the most senior of which were such LegCo members as Sir Paul Chater [11B-10-1-1] and Phineas Ryrie JP [23/8/6], both were Chairmen of HKJC.
Phineas Ryrie‘s wife and daughter were buried there also.
Acknowledgement to HKJC Racing Registry for offering record data.