DREDGING UP THE PAST
For a trip down memory lane to Malaysia’s tin-mining past, nothing beats a visit to TT No.5, one of only three dredges left in the country.
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 that thrived in Malaysia.
Tin mining is one of Malaysia’s oldest and most successful industries. In the 1600s, this industry started 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 the country, and this one at Chenderoh, near Tanjong Tualang, Perak, has been preserved. In Feb 2008, it was opened to the public for tours.
The dredge looks like a colossal metal monster sitting in a pond, maybe a relative of the dinosaur. It looks too big to possibly move, but these massive dredges once devoured swamp and jungle as they searched hungrily for tin deposits.
Steven Ng, 56, the man responsible for renovating this giant, is a director of Osborne & Chappel, the company that gave the dredge, TT No. 5, a RM100,000 face lift. Osborne & Chappel was started by British engineers in Malaya in the 1890s and was at the forefront of the alluvial mining industry in Malaysia.
TT5 was built in 1938 by W.F. Payne and Sons (UK), and modified in 1960.
Nordin our guide opened a hatch in the wall and revealed the buckets on the ladder, which once took them to the top of the dredge. It looked like something from a bizarre fairground ride.
Each bucket was huge, made of manganese steel and the edges were reinforced to endure the damage done when scooping up the earth containing 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 31m.
At the front end we could see the buckets where they came out of the water before beginning the long ascent to the top of the dredge. We also clambered up to the upper levels to get an overall picture of how the dredge worked.
The dredge was built using steel girders, many of which came from Britain and have the manufacturers’ names stamped on them, such as Shelton, Skinningrove, and Appleby-Frobingham.
The dredge weighs 4,500 tonnes. It was moved by means of a 1.5km long cable, worked from the control area.
If the cable was released on the right side, the dredge moved left.
At the top of the dredge, we got a bird’s 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 is surrounded by paths and embankments. Fish have been stocked in the neighbouring ponds, which hopefully will 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 all the way to the very top. Further on, we got to look down on the jigs. Leaving the buckets, the excavated material was broken up by jets of high-pressure water as it fell on to the revolving or oscillating screens.
Large stones and rubble were retained by these screens, while the tin bearing material passed to the jigs. These were vibrating trays, where water was forced up from below, pulsing up in a wave, so the heavy tin sank and the lighter hematite floated off. From this primary separating plant, the tin went down to the palong below and into a big container ready for transportation.
The waste went out via a disposal chute at the tail end of the dredge and was subsequently dumped on the banks. These tailings were bulky as excavating just one cubic metre of new ground produced 20 cubic metres of waste material, as the new ground was compact, but the waste was separated and full of water.
Nordin informed us that the dredge operated 24 hours a day, with three 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. 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.
We could see that the bucket band was fitted in 1974. Nordin showed us how the buckets were fixed to the band, and we could see the giant hammer used for removing the pins, which held the buckets in place. There are squat toilets on the dredge at the back end, which open directly to the pond. After our tour of 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 operated in Perak, with a record of 105 working in 1929 in the whole of the peninsula. This particular dredge stopped work around 1983 after more than 40 years of service.
Ng’s goal is to preserve the dredge. More money is needed to repair the two pumps. He also wants to set up a palong and to turn the area into a living museum, with people dressed in traditional clothes, including women dressed as dualang 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 what was once one of Malaysia’s most important industries.
TT5 is open from 8:30am to 7pm daily, including weekends and public holidays. A RM10 entrance fee is charged for a walkabout on deck level while the grand tour is priced at RM15 and includes a guided one-hour tour on the upper levels and a video presentation.
TT No. 5 5th Mile
Jalan Tanjong Tualang,
31000 Batu Gajah
© Liz Price