A missing pet elephant led to the discovery of rich tin deposits

THE history of tin mining in Perak will not be complete without mentioning Larut, the pet elephant of the state’s historical figure Long Jaafar (1790-1857).

Larut had gone missing for several days before its worried master sent his men to look for him.

They not only found Larut, but also discovered rich tin deposits in the area.

The clue — Larut’s body was covered with mud and tin ore!

And that is how Larut in Taiping got its name, said former tin miner Tan Sri Hew See Tong.

And Larut definitely had earned itself a place in Hew’s RM2mil museum — Kinta Tin Mining (Gravel Pump) Museum — in Bandar Baru Kampar in Kampar.

Visitors will not miss the giant replica of Larut as they enter the building.

A brainchild of Hew, the museum will officially open at the end of the month.

The 81-year-old former Kampar MP said he had used his four decades of experience in the industry (1949-1989) to come up with the idea of a tin mining museum, the first of its kind in the country.

“It took me almost three years to complete it,” he said of the 3,000sq m museum which sits on a 0.9ha plot of land.

He said a few friends in the industry together with him had spent time doing research and collecting the artifacts.

The museum cost about RM2mil, excluding the land value.

The museum is indeed a good place for locals or foreigners alike who are interested to know more about tin mining in the country.

Hew said he had decided to focus on the gravel pump mining because it was what he had done.

The other methods of tin mining are underground mining and dredging, he added.

Anyway, setting foot into the museum is like walking back in time.

I found the place fascinating when I visited it recently; with Hew explaining to me on how the tin industry had evolved over the centuries.

Visitors will be greeted with replicas of dulang washers hard at work in a man-made lake and heavy machinery like gravel pumps upon their arrival.

There are more replicas of workers, mining activities, towkays and related literature inside the museum.

“Many among the younger generation in particular may not have seen a tin mine perhaps,” he said.

For Hew, every happening in the industry, be it happy or sad, is of significance to him.

For instance, he said he had chosen Oct 24 for the soft opening of the museum because it was exactly 27 years ago — Oct 24, 1985 — when the Indonesian tin market collapsed.

“The collapse also marked the beginning of the end of the tin mining industry in Malaysia,” he added.

Meanwhile, there are different versions of the very early days of the tin industry in the country.

Hew said some records had it that a Chinese by the name of Wong Tai Yen discovered tin and currencies made of tin, including those in the shape of small animals, on his arrival at the east coast in the 1300’s.

Labourers, he said, arrived in droves from China to work in tin mines in Malaya between 1860 and 1920.

Hew’s father, Hew Lan Seng, who arrived in Malaya in 1920, had worked with a tin ore dealer before he ventured into the tin mining business a decade later.

Junior Hew was born in China in 1931 and together with his mother Chin Kwee Yu joined his father in Malaya when he was just three years old.

As the only son, Hew said he had to help his father in the tin mining business when he turned 18 because the latter was in poor health then.

His father passed away in 1960 at the age of 60 years, he added.

The Hew family had mines in Perak and Selangor until 1989.

Hew said he had decided to set up the museum to keep the history of the tin mining industry alive.

“This is also a way to remember and pay respect to our forefathers for their sacrifices and contributions.

“The history of the country will be very different if there was no tin mining,” he said, adding that Ipoh is a town literally built by tin.

But the legacy of tin mining did not end with the collapse of the tin market though.

Hew went into property development after that; and his housing-cum-commercial project, Bandar Baru Kampar, sits on former mining land.

Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman are also in Bandar Baru Kampar and the student population is about 18,000 currently.

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