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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Guided graveyard tour brings city's history back to life
Most of us probably wouldn't think of spending a day off looking at graves, but a local historian turned Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley into a history museum Sunday, attracting dozens of visitors who came to learn about their city by visiting the dead.
Wendy Leung
Hong Kong Standard
Monday, October 17, 2005

Most of us probably wouldn't think of spending a day off looking at graves, but a local historian turned Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley into a history museum Sunday, attracting dozens of visitors who came to learn about their city by visiting the dead.

"Cemeteries and history are closely related and different cemeteries can tell you different stories," said Joseph Ting, the chief curator of Hong Kong Museum of History, who organized the tour.

Long known as the Colonial Cemetery, the burial ground - opened by the British in 1844 - overlooks Happy Valley Race Track and was the final resting place for generations of Hong Kong expatriates and prominent Chinese Christians.

Throughout the three-hour walking tour of the lush green hillside cemetery, Ting told stories about the departed notables and their impact on Hong Kong in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Pausing, he pointed to a monument engraved: "Daniel Richard Caldwell. Died in 1872."

"He started working as a court interpreter because he was of mixed race and was able to speak many languages," including Malay, Portuguese, Cantonese and English, Ting explained.

Caldwell became an important figure at a time when corruption and illegality were facts of life in Hong Kong.

He eventually became chief secretary.

"He had many friends who were pirates, and that allowed him to do many illegal things," Ting explained. "But he was so talented that the government couldn't fire him."

Ting then turned to the tomb of Karl Friederick, a German who died in 1851. "This guy was one of the first Lutheran missionaries to China. He was also the interpreter at a meeting of the Chinese and British during the Opium Wars," Ting explained.

Nearby lies chief colonial surgeon William Morrison, who died after catching a fever and is buried in a large tomb under an imposing cross.

Fever is a cemetery theme, a disease that killed off many Europeans who could not cope with the heat and humidity of Hong Kong in the days before antibiotics and air-conditioning.

Happy Valley, Ting says, is a suitable place for a graveyard, given its early history as a swamp and breeding ground for mosquitoes long before it was a venue for horse racing.

Sir Kai Ho Kai, one of the most prominent Hong Kong Chinese of the 19th century, and for whom Kai Tak airport was named, is also buried here.

"Ho Kai was the one of the earliest Chinese legislators and was more than a thinker," Ting said. "He was Dr Sun Yat-sen's teacher, and an advocate of a constitutional monarchy in China."

Nearby is an unmarked monument with no names, its top shorn off. It is the grave of Yang Chu-yun,

an important turn-of-the-century revolutionary and the first chairman of the Revive China Society, associated with Sun Yat-sen. "He was killed by Ching Dynasty officials," Ting said.

Cutting the top off the monument, Ting explained, was a way to show that a person's life had been cut short.

Beneath a white marble grave lies one of the most famous names in Hong Kong - Catchick Paul Chater, a wealthy Armenian trader, for whom Chater Garden is named and whose first name and last name both grace local streets.

A major landowner, Chater was an early and successful advocate of harbor reclamation, a legislator and an executive councillor.

Ting next points to the grave of another famous Eurasian. "Ho Tung was the richest land investor in Hong Kong before World War I and identified himself as a Chinese. He wore a Chinese long gown everyday," said Ting.

Ho married two mixed-race wives. "One was Margaret Mak, a devout Christian, who is buried next to Ho," explained Ting. The "other" wife, a Buddhist, is buried in Pok Fu Lam.

The 40 participants of the walking tour consisted of professionals, retired employees, tour guides, teachers and the plain curious.

"We never heard these stories in school," said Michael Chan, who was attending the history lesson with his girl friend Kay Lee, who chimed in: "I didn't know that graves could tell me that much about historical figures."

Another participant, who was reluctant to give her name, said graves are one of her favorite subjects. "I visit graves whenever I get the chance," she said.

"I have visited graves in Macau, London and Paris. But I didn't know that Hong Kong had a colonial cemetery like this."

The tour, advertised on the Hong Kong Museum of History Web site, drew so much interest that many who had wanted to join had to be turned away. Another tour is planned for December 18.

Information is available at: http:/ /

18,487 Posts
What's interesting about some HK cemeteries is that some are buried standing up instead of lying down. They put the coffin on a vertical position.

But I don't wanna even go to a cemetery. I still wanna live :)

397 Posts
WANCH said:
They do but usually 5 to 10 stories high. But compared to those in Brazil which are 30 floors :)

30 floors??? are there any pics???

18,487 Posts
Cremation is now the most common method since HK has lack of space for cemeteries. In fact, alot of cemeteries in HK are on hillslopes just like the one near Pok Fu Lam and the one across the Happy Valley Racetrack.

129,428 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Grave concerns
Hong Kong Cemetery is a reminder of the city's rich and dangerous past, but controls are needed to protect the site and its flora and fauna
23 March 2006
South China Morning Post

For most of us, our only encounter with the Hong Kong Cemetery usually lasts no more than 10 seconds. The site, part of a complex of four cemeteries, greets passengers every time they enter or leave the Aberdeen Tunnel in Happy Valley. Apart from some finely carved marble tombstones and granite memorials, there does not seem to be much that makes it stand out to passers-by.

But for three years, Kenneth Nicolson has conducted dozens of research visits to the cemetery, getting to know the location of graves of the famous people buried there. With the intriguing findings he has made, the Scottish landscape architect now believes the site warrants a higher degree of appreciation and protection than it enjoys.

Nicolson says the cemetery not only provides a setting for the oldest colonial building in town, but also sustains a web of valuable plant and animal species. Above all, it showcases an important piece of our colonial history, when early settlers died in large numbers from a range of diseases as the territory became a home for British and other foreigners from various corners of the world.

The cemetery, built in 1845, was modelled on its counterpart constructed in Paris 41 years earlier, Pere Lachaise. The design of the latter started a trend across Europe, where a cemetery was no longer only a ground for burying the deceased but also a garden with lawns, tree-lined paths, fountains and beautifully carved monuments for memorial, medication, inspiration and recreation. One of the best examples, according to the architect, was in his home town, the Glasgow Necropolis.

In the years after British occupation of Hong Kong in 1841, up to 100 members of the military were dying in the worst times, from diseases such as malaria and dysentery, said Nicolson. The small cemeteries that had already been established in Wan Chai district were overrun by urban growth. The current site in Happy Valley, sufficiently remote from the new development and with suitable soil for graves, was chosen for building the cemetery, then called the Colonial Cemetery.

In the early 20th century, the ornamental cemetery inspired a group of mainland immigrants to establish a permanent Chinese cemetery in Aberdeen, breaking their tradition of returning the remains of the dead to the village of their birth. "This was the first time that Chinese migrants called Hong Kong home. They came here, started a business, and obviously succeeded. They did not want to return to the mainland," said Nicolson, an architect who runs his own practice.

But an interest in the cemetery, which became the subject of his case study for a doctoral thesis for the Architectural Conservation Programme (ACP) at the University of Hong Kong, did not merely stem from his concern for its long overlooked heritage value. The architect hoped his research could demonstrate why the integration of built heritage and natural heritage conservation was urgently needed in Hong Kong - and how it could be achieved.

"Being a landscape architect, I was a bit frustrated that the government didn't look at the context of the building. They've lost quite a few landscape resources over the years," said Nicolson, who is also a part-time assistant professor at the university, offering the elective "cultural landscape" under the ACP.

The concept of cultural landscape was endorsed in 1972's World Heritage Convention to acknowledge the importance of a dynamic interaction between the natural and man-made elements of the landscape. Any country that signs up to the convention is expected to carry out a city-wide survey of all the natural and built heritage resources and offer them the necessary protection.

Nicolson said Hong Kong became a signatory in 1984 under British colonial rule and China followed suit a year later. This means that the city has an administrative - though not legal - requirement to carry out the survey. But to his surprise, he found that the definition of cultural landscape and the different categories of cultural landscapes as defined in the convention did not appear in any of Hong Kong's conservation legislation, not to mention any survey or statutory protection for cultural landscapes.

"I have searched every piece of legislation. Believe me, the term was not there," he said. "When I spoke to people in the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department [AFCD], the Antiquities and Monuments Office [AMO], and the Environmental Protection Department, nobody was aware of this aspect."

What the problem implies is that in some instances, a historic building is saved but its setting is lost as there is no policy or legislation protecting its surrounding landscape.

Nicolson said the lack of awareness of the significance of cultural landscapes is also reflected in the attitude of policymakers. "The departments responsible for conservation are not integrating their work," said Nicolson. The past three years have seen both the AFCD and AMO bringing out review papers on natural heritage and built heritage policies respectively. "Neither of the papers mentioned cultural landscapes. In fact, neither of the departments mentioned the other," he said.

Tiger Balm Garden was the architect's favourite example of the consequences of segregating natural and man-made heritage resource policies. The garden, designed by flamboyant billionaire Aw Boon Haw in 1935 to advertise Tiger Balm products, provided public open space and aimed to educate local Chinese about their cultural identity through depicting characters from traditional folklore and religious moral lessons.

It was demolished by Cheung Kong in 2002 to make way for a high-rise residential development. Only Aw's residence, Haw Par Mansion, remains today. The problem was that the entire site was zoned residential - even though the garden should have been categorised as open space, said Nicolson.

"A developer would have a hard time, or a harder time, going to the Town Planning Board to ask for permission to redevelop a public open space into a private residential development," he said. "It's a loophole that no one had spotted. Everyone rushed during the last minute to try to negotiate with Cheung Kong to say, Oh, hang on, please don't knock everything down'. The compromise was to get the house, but lose the garden."

Trying to locate a site that has a rich blend of built and natural heritage resources and that is vulnerable to the same sort of loss as Tiger Balm Garden, the Hong Kong Cemetery "jumped off the page", said Nicolson. The cemetery was zoned "OU" - meaning other uses, with the subheading "cemetery".

"OU is not real protection. Theoretically, the same thing could happen again. The same loophole seems to be there," he said.

Borrowing the LANDMAP (Landscape Assessment and Decision Making Process) system introduced in Wales in 2001, Nicolson found that the cemetery could be established as an important piece of cultural landscape in Hong Kong. The system surveys cultural landscape resources by assessing their value in five aspects: earth science, biodiversity, visual and sensory, history and culture. The cemetery, in Nicolson's study, scored moderately in the first category and high in the other four.

The site is rich in ecological resources. In the late 19th century, staff from the Botanic Garden, which was then responsible for planting trees around Hong Kong, introduced many exotic plant species to the cemetery. These included six champion trees that remain today: the Norfolk Island pine, kassod tree, spider tree, lychee, frangipani, and mahogany.

With the help of ecologists from the Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden and the Hong Kong Lepidopterist Society, the architect identified 19 butterfly and 28 moth species in one visit to the cemetery. Among them, three butterfly and two moth species were considered to be "rare" in the city or "unexpected finds in the cemetery". He also found many fruit bats taking shelter in the trees.

The chapel at the cemetery entrance, built in 1845, is one of the oldest surviving colonial buildings in Hong Kong. But it had not been declared a monument, said Nicolson. And the fountain in the grounds was also one of the city's oldest public water features.

Originally meant for European Christians, the cemetery gradually turned into a burial ground for people of vast cultural and religious diversity. There are the three-bar crosses of the Russian Orthodox faith, plain square granite obelisks for non-Christian Japanese and even a timber cross marking a Polish grave. There are also the graves of billionaire philanthropist Sir Robert Hotung and Yeung Kui-wan, who was assassinated for his involvement in the Chinese revolutionary movement.

Many inscriptions recorded in detail the achievements of the dead, including one of a police constable who died at the age of 21 in 1915 after being attacked by a tiger while on duty.

The cemetery also has an excellent display of memorial designs from different periods, including box tombs, tablets, capstans, cherubs, Celtic crosses, and military and civilian monuments.

Because of limited space, a person has to be Christian and of a high social standing to secure a burial plot in advance today. "The last person who was buried here was a judge," said Nicolson.

Whereas each of the neighbouring cemeteries - the Muslim Cemetery, St Michael's Catholic Cemetery, and the Parsee Cemetery - had a distinctive religious group to take care of the graves, the Hong Kong Cemetery does not enjoy the same single sense of ownership, said Nicolson. The planting and memorials of the cemetery were in a state of neglect, with graves collapsed or overgrown by vegetation, and large columns and headstones leaning at dangerous angles, he said. A comprehensive and sensitive conservation approach for the landscape was needed, he said.

Conservation also covered the protection of the food chain. "Some species of moth eat lichen on headstones. You can imagine how you can mess things up if you clean off all the headstones," said the architect.

The fruit bats, which help spread seeds, are another good example. "One bat can eat up to 3,000 flying insects a night. If you take them away, mosquitoes will start to come out," he said.

Despite his call for more attention to the site, the architect stressed that he would not want to see it suddenly crowded with visitors and tour guides with their flags and loudspeakers.

"The beautiful thing about Hong Kong is that Chinese culture is highly respectful of ancestors. Unlike Pere Lachaise, which has some 2 million visitors a year and where things are broken, sprayed on, or littered, there is not a single incident of vandalism in the Hong Kong Cemetery," he said.

"There is unlikely to be great interest in the Chinese community to visit a cemetery where they don't have an ancestor buried. Ironically, that is one of the things that help conserve its condition."

129,428 Posts
Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Happy Valley cemetery yields lost secrets - and name's origin
19 May 2008
South China Morning Post

The name of Happy Valley may forever be associated with the racecourse that is its centrepiece, but the truth about how it originally got its name lies, literally, buried nearby.

Back in 1841 when British naval commander William Brodie became the first person interred in the Hong Kong Cemetery, the popular euphemism for a graveyard was "happy valley".

And the ship's doctor, when he recorded the burial, noted in his journal that "poor old Brodie" was buried in the new cemetery in "happy valley".

Thereafter, the expanse of swamp and rice fields, originally known in Chinese as Wong Nei Chung, after the brown stream that flowed through it, became Happy Valley.

The origin of the name then became lost - particularly after the racecourse opened in 1846 - and the Chinese population dubbed it Pau Ma Tei, or horse-racing place.

This is among numerous snippets of history collected by Joseph Ting Sun-pao, former chief curator of the Museum of History, in a study published in a booklet about prominent Hong Kong people buried in the cemetery.

Dr Ting said a British Royal Navy ship, the HMS Rattlesnake, sailed to China to take part in the first opium war in 1839 and stopped in Hong Kong in 1841.

Ship's doctor Edward Cree said in his journal that half of the troops on the boat had fallen ill in June that year, including Brodie.

"Soon afterwards he became comatose and the fine old sailor and good-hearted man breathed his last," Cree wrote in his journal on June 18, 1841. "Poor old Brodie was buried in the afternoon in the new cemetery in 'Happy Valley'," the journal says.

"Happy Valley could have been named after the cemetery - a place for 'eternal happiness'," Dr Ting said. "It has nothing to do with the racecourse."

The Hong Kong Cemetery was set up immediately after Britain occupied Hong Kong in 1841.

"At that time, the British still had to travel to Macau for horse racing," Dr Ting said.

Apart from William Brodie's grave, there are also 156 Chinese graves and 465 Japanese graves. Among them are revolutionary Yang Quyun, president of the revolutionary organisation Revive China Society (also known as Xing Zhong Hui) in the late Qing dynasty, and Sir Kai Ho Kai, teacher of Sun Yat-sen.

Memorials commemorating British soldiers who died in the first and second opium wars are also erected in the cemetery.

In a study of more recent gravestones, Dr Ting said he had found others of historic value: Chu Sien-ting, a member of the Revive China Society; John Chalmers, a prominent Protestant missionary in the late Qing dynasty; and Lee Kam Amoe, the first wife of Kwan King-leung - a classmate of Sun Yat-sen.

Sun was a witness at their wedding and the wedding certificate is preserved in the Sun Yat-sen Museum.

"To Chinese people, the cemetery has never been a nice place to visit," Dr Ting said, "But it is the place where you can read your own past; you don't have to read history books to learn Hong Kong's modern history."

Findings of his research on Hong Kong Cemetery were published as a booklet in March, with assistance from Wan Chai District Council and the non-profit making cultural organisation Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture.

129,428 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
History being lost through lack of care
19 May 2008
South China Morning Post

Gathering historical information from gravestones is a tough job because inscriptions are being lost through lack of care, historian Ting Sun-pao says.

His view is backed by gravestones restoration expert Paul Harrison, who warns that precious historical data will be lost forever if the gravestones are not cleaned and restored quickly

The government has been urged to take care of forgotten historic graves, but the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department says it can manage only the public areas of cemeteries as the graves are "private property".

"The grave of Sir Kai Ho Kai is wearing out and the words on the Cornwallis monument can hardly be read now," Dr Ting said, referring to the monument that commemorates the flagship HMS Cornwallis, which took part in the first opium war.

Dr Ting said inscriptions were being eroded by bacteria, posing a challenge for historians who study them.

He hoped the government would follow the example of the Jewish Cemetery at Happy Valley, which hired experts to clean and restore the memorial stones.

Mr Harrison, who helped restore the privately run Jewish Cemetery, said it was the government's duty to care for historic gravestones.

"The graves need minimum care," he said. "At least for those fallen apart, they should be reattached to make sure they are safe to visitors."

He said gravestones were damaged by rainwater that accumulated in the cracks. "Acid rain caused by air pollution is also chewing up the words and images on the marble."

Conservationists warned earlier this year that visitors could be killed by falling tombstones in Hong Kong Cemetery if the government did not restore and maintain them properly. They urged the government to follow the examples of Canada and Scotland, which have guidelines for proper restoration of tombstones and better management of cemeteries.
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