I had read that close to the town of Batu Gajah in Perak there is a surviving tin dredge, a colossal industrial relic from the days when Malaysia was the world’s largest tin producer. I drove there recently to take a look.
A tin dredge is like a floating factory. This one, named Tanjung Tualang Dredge No. 5, or TT5, weighs 4,500 tons and is supported by a pontoon of 75 meters in length, 35 meters in width and 3 meters in depth. It was built in England in 1938 by F.W.Payne & Son which, at that time, was a major design engineering company in bucketline dredges.
Tin dredges work by scooping up bucket loads of tin-bearing soil at the front end, which then passes through an oscillating drum and a system of jigs and screens to extract the tin, before spewing out the waste material at the rear end through a number of chutes.
This dredge was built for the Southern Malayan Tin Dredging Ltd, a company formed in 1926 which operated a further 5 dredges in the Batu Gajah and Tanjung Tualang area. TT5 was in operation for 44 years until 1982 by which time the Malaysian tin industry was in rapid decline due to a combination of exhausted tin deposits, low tin prices and high operating costs.
Since 1982 the dredge has fallen on hard times. All the other dredges in the area were disposed of long ago and this last remaining example was in danger of being of being sold off for its high scrap metal value until heritage-loving individuals launched a “Save the Dredge” campaign. The dredge is currently owned by the Perak State Government so there is a chance it will be preserved. A visitor car park has been created (sadly mine was the only car in it) and there is a miniscule museum providing some information on tin mining and you have to pay a small fee to get up close. Workmen were doing some maintenance during my visit ( a good sign perhaps?) so I was unable to go inside the dredge.
All the tin mining and dredging activity which took place for over a hundred years has left behind a pockmarked landscape running for hundreds of miles down the length of Peninsular Malaysia. But the scars have filled with water and cleaned up quite well and now serve new roles as fishing ponds, wetlands, water features for housing developments and so on.
The lady collecting the entrance fee said that this is the last tin dredge in existence in Malaysia. That may not be entirely accurate as I have heard there is another near Paya Indah, Dengkil, albeit a newer model, but that too might be sold off to Australia shortly.
If you are interested in seeing this important piece of Malaysia’s industrial heritage you had better visit Tanjung Tualang soon while you still can.