Sunday, July 4, 2010

Those tin - rich mining days

I call it the 'big ship'. We stepped on and walked around this ' ship' at Tanjung Tualang. Interest was already aroused when we saw the dredge buckets at the Clearwater Sanctuary Resort where we stayed overnight to celebrate Father's Day. In fact, it has been nearly 20 years ago when a friend in the mining industry conducted a tour on a working dredge at Batang Berjuntai, Selangor. Only this time round, the dredge at Tanjung Tualang is just a tourist attraction and sadly, it is not in its prime condition anymore.

The tin mining industry was once a major contributor to the Malaysian economy. In the heyday of tin-mining in the mid 19th century, the state of Perak was one of the most active areas. Towns like Ipoh, Gopeng, Kampar and Batu Gajah have a rich history of tin -mining. Rich, extensive alluvial tin were found in these Kinta Valley towns and Larut. Coupled with spectacular demand from the industrialized countries and the arrival of indentured labour from China, the tin industry rapidly expanded to become the largest in the world.

As tin -mining industry developed, it was not without fierce local rivalries. There was much disorder among secret societies and other rival groups. Soon, it was clear that British intervention was necessary to settle matters for tin mining to prosper -roads , railways and ports were opened to facilitate the supply of tin to growing demands from the outside world.

The tin mining industry collapsed due to a variety of reasons viz. falling in tin prices, rising cost of production, substitutes like aluminium, plastic etc for tin, high taxes etc.

Eye-catching structure at the main entrance of the Clearwater Sanctuary Resort, Batu Gajah. The Resort is one example of former mining pools turned into recreational places.

A bucket dredge is essentially a chain of expensive buckets costing sterling pounds 100 in the 1920s. The buckets go up one ladder and down another. The lip of the bucket cuts into the ground as it begins its upward journey and carries a chunk of the ore-bearing ground up to the dredge, dropping it out into the works, as it turns over at the top of the ladder to begin the downward journey.

The dredge is usually floated in a paddock or an artifcial pool when it begins work. Then the dredge cuts away one wall of the pool and dumps the waste sand against the opposite wall. so that the pool and the dredge floating on it advance together. The bucket dredge works best in swampy land. source : Kinta Valley/ Pioneering Malaysia's Modern Technology by Khoo Salma Nasution& Abdur-Razaaq Lubis

Tribute to the glorious past

'Big ship' afloating in Tanjung Tualang

The 4,500 tonne giant, Dredge No.5 of Southern Malayan Tin Dredging, designed by Payne & Co., was built in 1938. It ceased operation in 1982. TT5 is at Chenderong near Tanjung Tualang.

Signs of the times - the dredge is listing and the pontoons need repairing- can this industrial heritage be saved?

Model of a tin-mining site

Book -keeping by Chinese labour

Weight in gold ... oops! sorry in tin!

Safety always

Those days of dulang washing - hard working woman miners

This is one method strongly associated with women miners. They swirl the tin-bearing ground with some water in their dulang to concentrate the ore which is then tipped into a pail.

The Chinese women wore long- sleeved samfus and trousers of black or indigo blue. On their heads they wore wide-brimmed hats. Under these they wore a triangular scarf, using another scarf to cover the back of their necks.The hats had a tassle on either side , the colour of which indicated if the wearer were married or still a maiden : source Kinta Valley/Pioneering Malaysia's Modern Development

Different methods of tin -mining in Malaysia - dredging, gravel pump, open cast, dulang

Gravel pump method involves spraying high -pressure jets of water on rocks containing tin-ore and breaking them up. The tin- mining material is then washed down a depression called a sump. A pump brings the material up a palong, a gently sloping wooden structure which separates tin from other materials. Wooden bars known as riffles across the palong trap the heavier tin ore, leaving the rest of the materials to be dumped as tailings.

Tin ore


  1. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane of Malaysia's history. You gave the background stories too and the pictures complete the interesting post.

  2. Nostalgia..... 8). Tanjung Tualang, one of those places my parents used to take me as a kid. Brings back memories of lotus flower and seeds, the mines and a vague recollection of the kapal korek.

  3. I can imagine how hard life was in those days!
    And again. Women were active and worked like men.
    I wonder why I feel that men today are much more lazier than women...I see them in Casa, 'all' cafeterias are full of men. Women are at home cleaning, cooking and occasionally going to hammam or hairdresser to gossip with their friends...

    Thanks for sharing your local history!


  4. Great info on the history of Malaysia. Good research done. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi
    Ocean Girl, it certainly is a walk down memory lane.

    AJ7, glad you have nice memories of the place. In the lakes at the Clearwater Sanctuary Resort, there's lots of lotus plants. Even saw the water monitor lizards swimming there.

    BLOGitse,when we think back on the days of our parents, those were hard times and they worked hard too.

    Indrani, getting on the dredge again made me want to tell a little of the story of tin -mining.It was also important as our children were with us and it was good to show them a tin dredge.

  6. Extremely interesting ~ and educational too!!!

  7. Excellent, excellent! Thank you for this post, Keats! I do so want to visit the tin dredge, ever since it was featured in the newspapers as a national heritage. And what an important part of our heritage it is! It was a staple in Lat's Kampung Boy series, no? Their kites being swallowed by the tin dredge. I vaguely remember seeing 'retired' tin dredges being taken apart for scrap/parts in my hometown of Rawang. Rawang's economy was built on tin and rubber, and there are lots of former mining pools over here in my neck of the woods. We have an entire residential area named "Rawang Tin".

  8. Informative, thanks for sharing. Dear Keats, I have a slideshow for you:) You are welcomed to visit me :)

  9. Hi Keats! Great post!! One of the hardest works in the world that of mining; and dangerous...

    Blogtrotter Two is showing some incredible rocks by the sea... Enjoy and have a great week!

  10. We have a lot of mines around here that are for silver and gold and tungsten.( most are not currently in use) I liked learning about this tin mine. Thanks!

  11. I learned so much from reading this post. Surprised to find out that women played a role in the tin mining industry as well. When the world economic crisis hit the U.S. auto industry, many towns that relied heavily on auto making became like ghost towns because there were no work.

  12. Fascinating information, and very educational! I didn't know women back then working in the mine either.

  13. Hi
    Helen, thanks for coming by. glad you enjoyed the info.

    ~Covert_Operations'78~, thanks so much! Definitely the times are a changing as these big machines will soon disappear for good. Yes, Lat sure takes us down memory lane so well. I do not know Rawang at all. You'll have to be my tour guide one of these days.

    babYpose, thanks for following my blog. Am glad your baby loves his gifts. meet up soon hopefully.

    Trotter, i agree.

    Rosey, I guess the mining has ceased 'coz supplies have run out or it is just too capital intensive.

    Rosebelle,thanks for coming by. yes, when hard times hit an industry, people's lives are severely affected.

    Icy BC, panning for tin was an important source of income for the Chinese dulang lady at a time when men could not find employment. women worked in open cast mines too raking the sluice boxes etc but mention is hardly made in mining literature as it is men who dominate the mining scene.

  14. A wealth of information, and presented in such an entertaining way. I love the structure in front of the sanctuary.

  15. Very interesting facts and images of those mining days. Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful weekend.

  16. Hi
    adrienne, the arty structure stands testimony to a great industry.

    Rosidah Abidin, thanks! Do send my regards to Amalia. Hope she is doing well.Have a great weekend too:)

  17. Keats, I am so glad to see this post. Wow, the memories came flowing in. Tg Tuallang is a place I used to visit often as a kid too. I remember we have to pass by this famous tin dredge before we reach the town. We would always look out for this structure, floating on the mining pond, like a ship. Now, it is just a sad reminder of the glory days of tin mining. I'm so sad to see the words, "Goodbye tin-mining".

  18. I agree all these comments.
    Very interesting post!

  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  20. Hi

    Autumn Belle, it's great to recall the good ol' days. Now our landscape has changed - the oil palms are taking over the rubber trees too.

    Amin, thanks!

  21. My father-in-law used to work on one of these until his retirement in the 1980s. He was a wireman so the "ship" depended on his presence a lot to ensure smooth running. Btw it ran non-stop, exploiting every bit of mother earth !

  22. Hi
    Thomas B C Chua, did you get to wander round the dredge or maybe played hide-and -seek there?? Can't imagine the carved out landscapes of open cast mining, dredging etc in the heyday. Now they are unrecognisable in the sense they are turned into recreational spots.

  23. Hi,

    Thks for the informative article.Very well written indeed.

    Is it suitable to organize a trip for a group of students to visit the dredge? Is there guided tour? Worth a visit for educational purpose? Need to get prior permission? Entrance fee?

    Also, how long does the journey to this place take from KL? What are the other nearby interesting sites to visit? We are just thinking of a day trip. Feasible?

    Thanks! BL


Great to have you popping in!