sign in a cave in Laos

21 September 2008

Tin dredge, Perak - Brunei Times

Historical tin dredge gets facelift to attract visitors

Dredging up the past: (Top to Bottom) The 4,500-tonne tin dredge at Tanjong Tualang, Perak. It was opened in February 2008 to the public for tours. During the heyday of the tin mining industry, Malaysia was one of the world's leading producers of tin. Picture: BT/Liz Price

Liz Price

Sunday, September 21, 2008

AS we approached the dredge, it looked like a colossal metal monster sitting in a pond, like a relative of a dinosaur. It looked too big to possibly move, but these massive dredges devoured swamp and jungle as they searched for tin deposits.

Tin mining is one of Malaysia's oldest and most successful industries. In the 1600s, this industry was beginning to thrive in Kedah, Perak and Selangor.

Over the centuries tin was extracted in huge quantities, from both open cast and deeper mines. Dredges were commonly used.

Today there are only about three old dredges left in Malaysia, and this one at Chenderoh, near Tanjong Tualang, Perak, has been preserved. In February 2008 it was opened to the public for tours.

Walking onto the tin dredge was like stepping back in time. The cavernous interior was strangely silent, but I am sure that when this dredge was in full operation the noise and vibration would have been almost unbearable. This huge metal monster is a relic of the past, a reminder of the once bustling tin mining industry which thrived in Malaysia.

The dredge, TT No 5, was given a US$30,000 ($42,819) face lift by the company Osborne and Chappel, and Steven Ng is the man responsible to renovating this giant.

Osborne & Chappel was started by British engineers in Malaya in the 1890s and developed the alluvial mining industry in Malaysia. TT5 was built in 1938 by WF Payne and Sons (UK), and modified 1960.

We walked onto the dredge and I realised just how big it is. The pontoon is 75m long and 20m wide and three storeys high.

It is essentially a floating factory where buckets on a chain scoop earth deep from the pond, these buckets are then transported up to an area high in the body of the dredge.

Our guide opened a hatch in the wall and revealed the buckets on the ladder which takes them to the top of the dredge. It looked like something from a bizarre fairground ride.

Each bucket is huge, made of manganese steel and the edges are reinforced to endure the damage done when scooping up the earth containing the tin.

There are 115 buckets on the ladder and each one can hold more than 600 litres. The maximum digging depth of this dredge was 31 metres. At the front end we could see the buckets where they come out of the water before beginning the long ascent to the top of the dredge. We were able to go up to the upper levels to get an overall picture of how the dredge worked. The dredge weighs 4,500 tonnes and was moved by means of a 1.5-kilometre long cable, worked from the control area.

At the top of the dredge, we had a literal birds' eye view over the surrounding ponds. I was surprised to see a few birds nesting in the dredge. There are three ponds in the vicinity and the one TT5 sits on has been surrounded by paths and earth embankments.

Fish have been stocked in the neighbouring ponds which will hopefully encourage more birds in the area.

From the front end of the dredge we walked along the narrow walkway on the roof and entered the next area where we had a close up view of the buckets as they ascended to the very top.

Further on we could look down on the jigs. Leaving the buckets the excavated material is broken up by jets of high pressure water as it falls on to the revolving or oscillating screens.

The large stones and rubble are retained by these screens and the tin bearing material passes to the jigs.

These are vibrating trays, and water is forced up from below, pulsing up in a wave, so the heavy tin sinks down and the lighter hematite floats off.

From this primary separating plant, the tin goes down to the palong below and into a big container ready for transportation.

The waste goes out via a disposal shute at the tail end of the dredge and is dumped on the banks. These tailings are bulky as excavating one cubic metre of new ground produces 20 cubic metres of waste material, as the new ground is compact, but the waste is separated and full of water.

The dredge operated 24 hours a day, there were 3 shifts of about 17 men. An area near the jigs was designated as the eating area where the men had their food. A selection of tools is now exhibited here.

Back at deck level, we could see the many hoses above our heads which carried the tin from the jigs to the collecting areas and could get a better understanding of how the process worked.

We continued our tour around the back end of the dredge and had a look at the control area. On the wall here is a list of the major components of the dredge and the date they were installed and last serviced.

There are squat toilets on the dredge at the back end, which open directly to the pond.

After our tour on the dredge, we walked around the outside and then went to the small exhibition room. During the heyday of the tin mining industry, 40 dredges were operating in Perak, with a record of 105 working in 1929. This particular dredge stopped work around 1983 after more than 40 years of service.

Future plans will see the setting up of a living museum, with people dressed in traditional clothes, with women dressed as "dulang" washers. A video will also be shown on how this giant worked.

A visit to this dredge is an ideal way to get some understanding of one of Malaysia's most important industries.

The Brunei Times


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