Train Over The Trouble Water


A nullah or nulla (Urdu: نلہ‎ or “nallah” in Punjabi) is stream, or watercourse, a steep narrow valley, or an open channel.




In Hong Kong, a nullah is typically a concrete-lined channel designed to allow rapid run off of storm water from high ground, to prevent flooding of urbanised coastal areas.
In front of the Racecourse enclosure ran a large open nullah and a few others smaller streams across the infield.
All of them in the wet seasons frequently overflowed and spewed sand and mud over the course.





Those nullahs, as with so much else in Hongkong, their draining of the Happy Valley was not properly done.
The most difficult nullah ran beside the home straight of the course and in front of the grandstand, always with water.
Whenever there were heavy rains the nullah flooded, spewing sand and mud over much of the course.


Sir John Bowring’s first year as Governor, one of his accomplishments was his attention to train the nullahs.


Bowring Canal, which was a wide water drainage outlet (”nullah”in local jargon), was constructed.
It was named after Hong Kong‘s previous governor, Sir John Bowring’s Bowrington town district among Wanchai, Causeway Bay and Ngo Keng.
At the time, it was 600 feet long and 90 feet wide.





The private matshed Stands lining the final straight, and the nullah, which was not nearly large enough, and spewed sand and mud all over the course whenever there were heavy rains again.
The Hongkong Derby with a clear view of the nullah was captured in the finish of a race in “olden times”,
The image shown the Village at the entrance to the straight, and the open nullah front of the grandstand enclosure.


The weather for the Race Fund’s last meeting was dreadful, due to the nullah trouble.


For the HKJC’s first Annual Race Meeting it was ghastly.
There was incessant rain for a week before the meeting.
The nullah flooded as never before.
At one stage the entire racecourse was under water, and in the process it was covered by thousands of tons of mud, sand, and forest debris, rendering it totally unusable.





1904-06-03 Thursday’s Meeting of Sanitary Board proposed the nullah passing through Wongneichong Village be trained.
The nullah running by the west side of the racecourse, and after dividing into two branches, run through Wongneichong Village.
It had to be trained as a general sanitary measure and preventative measures against mosquitoes.
Large number of houses and mat-sheds drained into that nullah.
A population of about 2,000 persons, including Europeans, resided in the neighborhood.
The number of Europeans and others visiting the Windsor Gardens at night and by day was very considerable.
1904-07-15, the government replied that there were other nullahs more important and had to be dealt with first.


In that decade there were many destructive typhoons and heavy rains, with frequent flooding and much damage to the course.
“The drainage difficulties that occurred last summer were unprecedented, and this is attributed largely to the building operations on Stubbs Road, loose earth being washed down the hillside and choking up the Cemetery nullah, which runs into the Racecourse nullah near the Judge’s box.”
1923-08-18, this in turn blocked up the Racecourse nullah, and the wall at the Village gave way during the typhoon, practically all the water from Wongneichong Valley being then discharged across the course.
1923-10-30, a veritable deluge occurred on the night, about 16 inches of rain falling in 24 hours.
1923-12-12, at the half-yearly meeting of members the acting Clerk of the Course gave the report as above.


A striking feature of one of these inundations was a steam-roller which a river of mud swept down from Village Road to the race-track.
Some years later, because the centre of the course, being low, became a lake with every downpour.
A new covered nullah was constructed right across the course to carry off storm water; and it was effective.


There were again torrential rains, the floods covering the course deeply with sand and mud.


The work of widening the nullah at Happy Valley was commenced in the early season of that year.


1928-01-14, a damage report pointed out that the work of widening the nullah at Happy Valley made the golf greens suffered near the Stable Bend.


Ponies were exposed every morning in going to the track-work from San Kwong Road Stable “along a narrow road with trams, motorcars, lorries and other traffic”.
HK Tramways suggested that a wooden bridge be built over the nullah at the top of the straight, with a short ramp to the course, to eliminate the necessity for taking the ponies along the tram tracks.


Mr W. H. S. Davis,had additional reason to find fault with the course.
He was riding a Waler, ROOIFLY, and as the field entered the straight his mount bored out badly.
The big nullah was contained by a high grassy bank, with no rail along its bend ridge.
ROOIFLY jumped the bank and landed in the nullah.
Miraculously neither rider nor horse was injured, but a special ramp had to be built to get the animal out.
ROOIFLY was at that time owned by “Mr Rojon”, this being the stable name of Rose and John Newill Com..
Newill was the Harbour Master.


When the food shortage became acute, trainer Ng Chi-lam, still a mafoo at that time, slaughtered a few sick and dead ponies by the nullah to help villagers easing the starvation and famine.


the Big Nullah was covered for the remainder of its length along the straight, providing a walled ramp whereby the ponies entered the course.
In that year also the club concluded negotiations with the Government for permission to make a ‘horse path’ from the course to the stables.
This involved covering the Big Nullah again, from the Public Stand to the tram terminus, and building a ramp upon it, to connect with a ramp running up Po Shin Street, then along Shan Kwong Road to the Stable..





1967-02-04, a newspaper made a comment:
The open section of Wongneichong nullah in Happy Valley covered gained two benefits.
Firstly was to eliminate the obnoxious smell from the channel during the dry weather.
Secondly, covering about 600 feet between old Sport Road and the Police Recreation Club provided parking spaces for about 54 cars.


Part of the Hong Kong racing history was related to the Happy Valley nullah and Bowrington Canal.
In later years Bowrington Canal was gradually narrowed.
After lots of ‘disasters’ mentioned as above, at last, the drainage was being comparatively well ‘trained’,





1861, the landmark Bowrington Bridge across the Bowrington Canal, was known as Ngo Keng Kiu (鵝頸橋, lit. goose neck bridge) .
1846, a watercolor depicted the bridge crowded with race-goers along the trackway across the old Sport Road was not the same bridge as the one in the 1915, a black and white photo, which depicted the bridge carrying the Hong Kong Tramways line across the Bowrington Ngo Keng waterway.

not the bridge on the old Sports Road for the Racecourse.





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Acknowledgment to Hong Kong Racing Museum for relevant content.





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