I had a plan to visit this, and several other cemeteries, while I was in Hong Kong. In fact, I planned my entire trip around it. What I didn’t know is that somewhere in Nagasaki or Hagi, I picked up a bug, and by the time I arrived in Hong Kong I was suffering from a full-fledged cold in the middle of summer. It’s been a while since I’ve had a summer cold (in fact, I can’t even remember the last time I had one) so I was a bit unprepared for how much the heat and humidity (which I’m pretty used to, living here in Japan) sucked out whatever remained of my lagging energy. So, long story short, this is the only cemetery I got to visit during my 3-day visit. However, I’m not too disappointed, as I’m sure I’ll fly through Hong Kong again on one of many upcoming trips in the near future.
Fortuitously, the hotel I was staying at was just south of the cemetery. I would like to say I planned it that way, but I didn’t. That said, it made for a fairly easy* (*considering how weak I was) walk up the hill to the entrance of the cemetery. The walk to the cemetery is a bit of a tease, since you walk the length of it all the way to the entrance. Once there, you end up walking down winding paths to various “terraces” that house the graves. When I arrived there were a number of groundskeepers at work there, and depending on where I met them, either seemed amused or confused as to why I was in the cemetery.
This cemetery (also known as Happy Valley Cemetery), was established in 1845 to serve the colonial community. It’s divided into different sections, with the Protestants mostly on the hillside, and the older graves (and Catholics) near the bottom of the hill. It also contains Jewish, Hindu, Parsee, and Muslim cemetery sections, but I did not come across these. Actually, I did see what was possibly the Muslim (or Hindu) section of the cemetery on my walk to the entrance, but I was not able to find a way to access it.
In any event, the Protestant sections are divided into various groupings, such as those who served with the Hong Kong police, different regiments and/or wars/conflicts. In some cases, huge memorials (often in the shape of an obelisk) were dedicated to entire regiments. There seemed to be a large number of young men (18-21 years old) buried here in the cemetery, and I wonder how many of them died from disease, rather than battle. While there was some uniformity to the military graves, many were personalised with different sayings, making them quite interesting to read.
It’s quite clear to me as well that this cemetery also served the elites of Hong Kong – I think I’ve been to enough cemeteries to know that only the wealthy could afford custom made statues made of marble or other high quality stone. Grant it, since there is a large Protestant presence in the cemetery, most of the statues are of angels, but the quality and diversity of them is quite good.
The bottom of the cemetery lies right next to a major highway (and across from the Happy Valley racetrack) so it’s much less tranquil visiting the graves there than it is on the hillside. I have to say I felt a bit on display as all the people in their cars, stuck in traffic, felt like they had nothing better to do than to watch me as I made my way through the grounds.
Monuments: There’s a wide variety of monuments, from various military graves and monuments, to civilian graves that feature a variety of crosses, reliefs and statues. The Chinese (and Japanese?) sections are a bit north and up from the main section of the cemetery.
Grounds: The cemetery is on a hillside, but there are winding roads to get you to the various sections. However, to get to the various “terraces”, there are often stairs. They are not too taxing, but I did log over 50 staircases on my fitbit tracker that day. There are lots of beautiful trees and shaded areas here too.
Visitors: I was the only visitor here when I visited in the afternoon. There were a number of groundskeepers doing upkeep while I visited.
Photographer notes: Lots of interesting monuments to photograph, although there are a lot of trees, its fairly open so dappled light shouldn’t be an issue in most areas. Zoom lenses might be good if you want to get details of some of the larger or inaccessible monuments.
Cemetery: Hong Kong Cemetery (香港墳場), formerly Happy Valley Cemetery
Internments: A number of military internments from the Boxer Rebellion, WWI and WWII; Sir Robert Ho Tung, Sir Paul Chater, Sir Kai Ho, Karl Friedrich August Guztlaff, Henrietta Hall Shuck, and many others
Location:1J Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley. Bus 36 has a stop by the cemetery, but it’s also within walking distance from Wan Chai or Central stations.
Hours: April 1 – Sept 30, 07:00 – 19:00; October 1 – March 31, 07:00 – 18:00