sign in a cave in Laos

23 August 2008

Sg. Lembing tin mine museum - Star

(These photos were stolen and published with the article on]

THE STAR Lifestyle
Saturday, June 28, 2003

Sg. Lembing’s golden years of ore

The Sg. Lembing tin mine, among the world’s largest and deepest, once earned Pahang the name ‘El-Dorado of the East’. LIZ PRICE pays a visit to the museum that records its history.

IMAGINE going to work each day, stepping into a cage big enough to hold half a dozen men and plummeting to the bowels of the earth.

This was how the miners of Sg. Lembing tin mine reached their workplace each day. They would then spend six hours underground, extracting the tin ore from the main lode. At the end of their shift, the lift would transport them back to the surface and daylight and fresh air. For those six hours of subterranean work, they were paid $40-$44 in 1950.

The Sg. Lembing tin mine in Pahang was reputed to be among the world’s largest and deepest. The total tunnel length is 322km, with a depth of between 610m and 700m. Tok Tangguk, who was possibly from Cambodia, was an outstanding figure in the history and opening of the mine.

Mining began in the 19th century in 1868 when Sultan Ahmad signed a concession with Baba Ah Sam. From 1891, the Pahang Consolidated Company Limited, (PCCL), which was under British control, had a 77-year lease to mine the area. It is a reminder of the lengths the British would go to to make some money from the remote areas. PCCL managed the mine from 1906 until its liquidation in 1986 when world tin prices collapsed.

Up to 1942 the mine employed 1,350 personnel, of whom half worked underground. Today the old buildings and surface workings lie rusting and silent, and there is little to show of this once bustling place.

However, a new museum has been set up to re-live the glorious days of Sg. Lembing as Pahang’s richest manufacturer of tin. Its objective is to publicise the history and exhibit relics from the mine.

The museum is housed in a refurbished bungalow, once home to the mine’s general manager. The almost century-old building is perched on a small hill with stunning views of the hills which surround Sg. Lembing.

The Pahang state government renovated the bungalow, about 40km northwest of Kuantan, and collected artifacts to place in the museum. The original facade of the building was preserved, despite the difficulty in getting custom-made wood panelling and other necessary materials.

Let's play cricket

Sg. Lembing is said to get its name because during the rainy season the water surface looks like spear-points flowing in the river. The river in those days was probably much deeper, as today much silt has accumulated. The town is now likened to a ghost town, but was rich and famous during its heyday as the main producer of tin in Pahang. It was known as the El-Dorado of the East.

The town straddles the river, and the main street on the right bank is split by an avenue of majestic trees. At the end, an old wooden building overlooks the padang where games of cricket and other social activities were held. PCCL was responsible for the care of the township, providing the roads, electricity, schools and healthcare. Old photos in the museum depict cricket matches and people cycling across the field.

Pit mining was not common in Malaysia as it was both dangerous and costly. But in Sg. Lembing there was sufficient tin to justify the costs. There were two main mines. Myah Mine is 700m deep, and Tabeto Mine 488m. The mines were dug on many levels, with about 30m of rock between the tunnels. Miners dug into the rock face and broke the stones using iron hammers. The lumps of ore would be put into railway carts, which were taken up to the surface by lift.

For lighting the men used carbide lights, until they were replaced in later years by personal electric lights. The battery pack was worn around the waist and connected by a cable to the headpiece mounted on the helmet. These lamps are still used by miners around the world today.

The museum is on two floors and has a fine display of artifacts. The artifacts are arranged according to historical chronology and events. Visitors can see how the ore was extracted and brought to the surface. It was then filtered and sent to the smelter. Interesting items include a drilling machine, railway track, safety helmet and lamps as well as communication equipment.

Upstairs, there is a display of gems, minerals and rocks, with explanations on the geology. There are mining memoirs, and a room laid out as was used by visiting VIPs in those days, as well as the general manager’s bedroom and bathroom.

A few panels highlight individuals closely connected to Sg. Lembing mining such as Sultan Abu Bakar, Tok Janggut and W.W. Abel. Outside the building are a few more items of mining equipment, as well as a Mini Mox car which was used by the managers.

The museum officially opens in June, when it is expected to have underground tours for visitors. The visits will be restricted to areas close to the surface as today all the deeper levels are now flooded.

Other tourist spots

Apart from Sg. Lembing’s museum, there are other nearby attractions as the area is endowed with mountains, waterfalls, and rivers. It is worth climbing Bukit Panorama, especially to see the glorious sunrise over the surrounding green hill slopes. Many visitors come here just to do this, especially at weekends, and liven up the otherwise dead town. However logging activities are having a detrimental effect on the eastern hills of Sg. Lembing.

Some 16km from Sg. Lembing is Gunung Tapis Nature Park, where one can camp, fish, and shoot the rapids. Gunung Tapis itself is 1,512m high. On the way to Sg. Lembing is Gua Charas, a temple cave that is a popular tourist destination. Sungai Pandan Waterfall, 29km from Kuantan, is easily accessible from the road and is a nice place for a picnic. W

The museum opens Tuesdays to Sundays 9am-5pm; Fridays, 9am-noon, 2pm-5pm. Closed Mondays. Admission is free.
Muzium Sungai Lembing
26200 Kuantan, Pahang.
Tel: (09) 541 2377/8
Fax: (09) 541 2377

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