Tin Mining in Malaysia

Tin mining is one of the oldest industries in Malaya. The tin mining started since 1820s in Malaysia after the arrival of Chinese immigrants. The Chinese immigrants settled in Perak and started tin mines. Their leader was the famous Chung Ah Qwee. Their arrival contributed to the needed labour and hence the growth of the tin mining industry. By 1872, there were about 40,000 miners in Malaysia, mostly Cantonese and Hakka. In Selangor, tin mining started in 1824. There were about 10,000 Chinese in the state. Most of them were Hakka. Kuala Lumpur, like Selangor was similarly developed by the hardworking miners.

In 1857, 87 tin miners, mostly Chinese, came to the area where the rivers Klang and Gombah converge. The miners were searching for tin and found here a rich source of the metal. It is said that around 70% of the settlers died of malaria in the first months.

In 1862, Kuala Lumpur was a growing village. The place was named Kuala Lumpur which in Malay means “muddy estuary” The village grow rapidly and as all new mining settlements around the world it was a turbulent time. This first period was filled with conflicts and gang wars between local Chinese gangs and sometimes Malay gangs about mining rights and control of drinking water. Among the Chinese tongs were in these days wars going on to control the brothels, gambling booths and opium trade in the settlement.

In 1869, the legendary Chinese Yap Ah Loy, also known as Yap Tet Loy or Yap Mao Lan became Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur and succeeded in just a few years to establish law and order in the town and became a sort of Mayor of K.L. until his death in 1885.

In 1880, Kuala Lumpur became a modern town when the British representative Frank Swettenham developed the first city plan and rich miners built colonial houses. One of the reasons that the town Yap Ah Loy could expand was that the price of tin raised dramatically.

By 1883, Malaysia had become the largest tin producer in the world. By the end of the 19th century, it was supplying about 55% of the world's tin.

In 1887, Kuala Lumpur became the capital of the state of Selangor one year after the railway to the harbour city Klang was opened.

In 1896, The Federated Malay States (FMS) is formed by uniting the Sultans of four states under one umbrella and KL was chosen as the capital of FMS because of its central position. The city became a classic centre of British colonialism.

Tin was the major pillars of the Malaysian economy. Tin occurs chiefly as alluvial deposits in the foothills of the Peninsular on the western side. The most important area is the Kinta Valley, which includes the towns of Ipoh, Gopeng, Kampar and Batu Gajah in the State of Perak. In fact, alluvial tin is mined in a belt of country stretching from Kedah into the Kinta Valley and along the foothills of Perak, Selangor and Johore. This part of the tin belt and includes the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, which is the centre of another rich tin-mining area.

The expansion of tin mining began in the 1870s, with the commencement of pit-working of tin laden sands in valleys all the way down the West Coast region of the Peninsular. In the Western Peninsular, chaotic political conditions involving war arose between organized Chinese miners, Malay sultans, minor rulers and villagers. This chaos was the formal precipitating cause of the British "forward movement" in the Peninsular, which culminated in the establishment of colonial control over the main tin mining Malay states in 1874. Stable political conditions then enabled a few large Chinese entrepreneurs to establish themselves much more securely, recruited labor more readily and imported pumping machinery to facilitate what was still essentially a manual industry, digging holes and extracting the ore by hand.

Growing industrial demand for tin, coupled with the discovery of large and rich tin deposits in Larut and Kinta in the state of Perak in the early 19th century led to the disputes among the Malay rulers, large scale immigration of Chinese labour which in turn gave rise to Chinese investment, British intervention and domination and finally, injection of foreign, mainly British capital and technology into the Peninsular.

The British later directed Sir Andrew Clarke to develop a communication system; hence state roads were constructed between the principal mining towns. The big step into a modern system of communication was taken in 1885 when a 12.8km stretch of railway line was laid from Taiping, which was the distribution centre for the Larut tin fields, and its port - Port Weld. The first trunk road in Peninsular Malaysia was routed through the main tin mining towns of Seremban, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Taiping. Thus, it can be seen that the pioneering work of developing Malaysia was carried out through tin mining. The main purpose of building the communication system was the transfer tin and other resources gathered from the states to ports, which will later be shipped back to the United Kingdom.

Tin which is the entrepot trade of the colony have been the source of the prosperity of its upper classes and the home investors and these ownerships is shared primarily between the British and the Chinese with the former holding the major share. Towards the end of the last century the British began breaking in on the monopoly of tin by the Chinese and the trend has been increasingly toward British control. Before the war, the British controlled only a quarter of the tin, but with the introduction of the colossal dredging machine after the war British production began to mount sharply until in 1929 which is more than half of the total.

By 1931 it has risen to 65% of the total. The hand-worked open-cast in Chinese mines were unable to compete with the British dredges. Under the spur of competition, the Chinese made a considerable advance in merchandising their mines, but there was a lack of capital for the installation of dredges. From 1928 to 1933, the workforce engaged in tin mining was cut from 119,550 to 51,980. This decline is due to the introduction of dredges. However, the workforce rose again to 64,183 in 1934.