Catastrophe at the races, Hong Kong 1918

Our last post showed the fairly rudimentary Peking Race Club in 1891. The first of the important foreign race tracks in China was at Happy Valley in Hong Kong. This photographic postcard shows the scene just after 3 p.m. on the afternoon of 26 February 1918: the temporary mat-shed stands collapsed, and caught fire. At least 670 people died.

Derby Day fire, Happy Valley race track, Hong Kong, 1918, Bickers collection, bi-s010.

The official inquiry concluded that elementary safety and fire precautions had never been taken, and discovered that mat-sheds were not in fact covered by the building ordinances then in force.

More on the tragedy can be found here (pt1) and here (pt2) on Roy Eric Xavier’s Far East Currents blog, which explores the history of the Macanese. The query on this print — ‘how + when?’ – was scribbled by Shanghai-born Noel Kent, sometime member of the Shanghai Race Club and Shanghai Paper Hunt Club.

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