How did Hong Kong's Happy Valley get its name? Blame black humour, illicit drugs or murderous mosquitoes
Theories differ on the origin of the moniker but despite a dark past the Hong Kong icon is known around the world as the home for rugby and horse racing
Happy Valley is the cauldron famous around the world for rugby and horse racing. It was here in 1976 that the first Hong Kong Sevens was held at the Hong Kong Football Club, this week the club is the venue of the Tens.
There are as many places in the world called Happy Valley as there are Hong Kong Sevens teams this weekend – 24 in total. And the world’s “Happy Valleys” seem to be parallel to the rugby nations with places in Wales, Kenya and the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Many are military bases.
But how did Hong Kong’s Happy Valley get its name?
There are almost as many theories as to why Happy Valley was named as there are as to why the Aussies are booed at the Sevens every year. Thanks to Steve Smith, we just added another one.
Rugby fan Peter Johnson says it was named due to “the presence of a cemetery, the first in Hong Kong”. The cemetery was actually five: Catholic, colonial, Muslim, Parsee and Jewish. There are theories that the British sense of humour was at play, calling the area so associated with death its name.
Simon Wilson says he heard it was called Happy Valley after “a whole slew of deaths from malaria and it was given the name Happy Valley to combat its fearsome reputation”.
Happy Valley was originally known as Wong Nai Chung Valley, due to the wong nai chung (yellow mud stream), which flowed into the valley’s basin.
It was a swampy marshland, rife with mosquitoes and used to grow rice. In the early days of the territory, it was one of the first places to be populated, in the erroneous belief that not being on the sea it would be healthier.
After rainfall it became infested with mosquitoes and many died of fever. (To this day, the mosquito is the animal responsible for the most deaths worldwide.)
Sevens fan Geoff Reid offers an entirely different theory: “Records show that back in the 1800s there was a patch of wild cannabis growing near where Blue Pool Road ends.
Some local farmers started drying the leaves and smoking it. Their mood changed and was noted as ‘happy’, and from then on the area was known as Happy Valley. I’ve heard this theory from old China Hands, too.”
Jason Wordie, local historian and Post columnist, suggests it could be a combination of factors: “The best and most plausible explanation for the English name Happy Valley comes from mordant British Army humour; the presence of the cemetery there from 1845, and the high disease rate in early Hong Kong, in particular among the garrison, gave rise to the name for the place as “The Happy Valley – the place you go when you’re dead”, which then stuck.
“I have seen no other explanation that makes any sense, certainly nothing comparing purported ‘goings-on’ there to the Happy Valley of the same name in Kenya, which in any case was a good 80 years or so after the name Happy Valley was first used in Hong Kong.
The area’s dark past continued into the last century when fire in the stands of the race track claimed 600 lives in 1918.
That’s long forgotten during rugby week, though, and the Sevens is sure to put the “happy” back in to Happy Valley.