Happy Valley – Etymology



Pleasure Garden, Wong Nai Chung Valley; Happy Valley, Horse Racing Ground


People always ask whether Happy Valley is so called because of the Racecourse or because of the Cemeteries.

A place where every prospect pleased surely had its own title to an auspicious name.




The area now known as Happy Valley was formerly known as Wong Nai Chung Valley.

Wong Nai Chung referred to is a river collecting waters from the Wong Nai Chung Gap and surrounding area.

Accordingly, Wong is yellow, Nai is mud, Chung is a Creek.






Happy Valley‘ was originated in the novel The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinial written by Dr Samuel Johnson.

The story describes the life of Prince Rasselas, son of the King of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia), who lives in the ‘Happy Valley‘ .

It was an idyllic valley protected by impregnable fortifications from the hardships, miseries and evils of the outside world.






There was a saying that, ‘Happy Valley‘ was commonly used in Britain as a euphemism for cemeteries, but such claim has not been substantiated.



There was a saying that after an unofficial landing, British Army set a military camp in the area of the valley.

However, the camp was later closed due to the increasing number of soldiers succumbing to malaria.

The cause of malaria was unknown at the time and the soldiers apparently suffered a then-unknown fever.



Journals and a watercolor by Dr. Edward Cree provide the first record of ‘Happy Valley‘ .

1841-06-18 Dr. Cree wrote in his journal that the body of Captain William Brodie of HMS Rattlesnake was buried that afternoon in the new cemetery in Happy Valley.

From the watercolor drawn by Dr. Cree, one sees the funeral cortège of William Brodie moving slowly into a valley.

The geographical features surrounded by hill resembled Happy Valley.

Two days later, Dr. Cree wrote in his journal that another British soldier, Wilson was buried next to Brodie.

This confirms that the cemetery in Happy Valley was set up immediately after the founding of Hong Kong.

Happy Valley, might acquire its name from cemetery and not from the race course which has always been erroneously assumed.



Hong Kong Club was established, its members and some early settlers had suggested Happy Valley to be used as a business center,

but the idea was shelved due to the valley’s marshy environment, which was causing fatal diseases.

The death rate in the valley area and Victoria City was high in the early colonial days.

Shortly, the valley became a burial ground for even more of the dead.



The annual death rate among European troops in Hong Kong was 22 percent and among Indian troops even higher.

When the 55th Regiment returned to Hong Kong in January, it suffered badly from outbreaks of fever. It is recorded that:

“scarcely anyone escaped the fever and the mortality was so great that, at the end of the year, (1843) out of a total strength of thirteen officers and five hundred and fifteen men, four officers and two hundred and thirty-eight men had succumbed to the epidemic. “



The banning of rice cultivation in Happy Valley and the subsequent compulsory purchase of their land deprived the Chinese of Wong Nai Chung of their livelihood, making them beggars in their own land.

Captain Richard Collinson of HMS Plover wrote home to his father that:

‘the government apparently doesn’t care about the Chinese at all’.

1844-02-22, Captain Richard Collinson, in a letter to home wrote:

“Our city of Victoria … has been built almost in a day. If you leave it for a month, where you left a rock, you find a drawing room furnished in the height of Indian luxury … and a road where there was twenty feet of water.”



Collinson’s map of Hong Kong showing the Happy Valley and Grave Yard, now the Hong Kong Cemetery, before the racetrack was built.

It was drawn by Lieutenant Thomas Bernard Collinson of the Royal Engineers.

He was in Hong Kong to survey the area and produce a map of the island, and fortunately for us he also included several panoramic sketches.



The British felt that the valley terrain was ideal for horse-racing, and thus cleared the paddy fields and developed the Racecourse.

Though without much agriculture after the banning, the creek nourished the rice paddies until the construction.





The racecourse has always been laid out pretty much as now.

Some still could be found in the old sketches that have been preserved from those pre-camera years.

A London Illustrated News drawing 1858-05-15, entitled: “The Road” shows clearly in the foreground the Monument.

Another picture, from about the same viewpoint, depicting a race in progress, includes a few tombstones close to the grandstand, which help to fix the compass points.

Until 1960s, that Obelisks still stood at the Morrison Hill junction.





The Tram terminus was originally a mere dead-end near the present public entrance to the course.

1904, Terminus Track from A to B singled was marked until 1928, drawn in a Tram map.

1908, It was extended to go around the racecourse as Trams route Number 5.

1922 Tram service was extended to the Race Course in Happy Valley.

1928 The route served the “Happy Retreat” Pleasure Garden—which became the Yeung Wo Hospital.

1930s to 1950s its Chinese name had been “Happy Retreat” Pleasure Garden.

1950s to now, its Chinese name has been “Happy Valley” racing ground.


Maps in Hong Kong could be divided to two categories concerning Happy Valley and Wong Nai Chung.

1840s to 1950s descriptions named as: Wong Nai Chung Valley

1950s to now, descriptions named as: Happy Valley


Some people claimed that Happy Valley in Hong Kong was named due to a Cemetery also named as Happy Valley in United Kingdom.
4 locations relate to ‘Happy Valley’ in UK:
Coulsdon, Stockport and Bollington in England; Orkney in Scotland.
But none of them linked to any Cemetery!




Happy Valleys in the world – Wikipedia

Happy Valleys in United Kingdom – Wikipedia

Happy Valley Park – Wikipedia

Happy Valley Reserve in Stockport – Wikipedia

Happy Valley Bollington – Wikipedia

Happy Valley Garden in Scotland – Wikipedia



Acknowledgement to HKJC Racing Registry for offering record data.





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