The Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge

Tin Dredge at Tanjung Tualang

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.

A line of bucket scoops

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.

The ultimate meccano set. Some fine British engineering.

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.

View from the front.

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.

Former tin mine now attracts birdlife. That's a goose farm on the far bank.

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.

Waste disposal chutes.

14 thoughts on “The Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge”

  1. I remember seeing these behemoths when I was growing up in Malaysia. Nostalgic – certainly the made in England bit.

  2. Just visited the dredge in Tg Tualang on 24/4/13. It’s a pity the dredge has not by now being promoted as a tourist destination for I find it rather interesting. Quite a masterpiece it is.

  3. i am planning to go tomorrow. is it still around? I was trying to call the number but couldn’t get through

  4. No-one being allowed into the dredge because of work (maintenance or other) going on, seems to be a standard excuse with this dredge. I visited in 2015 and again last month and both times I was told sorry, you can’t go in, same old excuse. During my latest visit a tour bus arrived and about 40 visitors were prompty ushered in, so I asked and was told, oh, a government official tour. Huh!

    I should have joined them and tagged along…

    The site seems to be operated half-heartedly (to be fair the admission fee is very low and staff were friendly and helpful with the limited information they knew).

    Getting out to Batu Gajah and beyond to the dredge is an expedition in itself and one has to go by car. Which may explain the limited interest in it. That, or maybe only retired tin mining engineers ever bother to visit.

    Whatever, I didn’t get inside and only got to walk around it and of course take pictures. Take a wide-angle lens with you, it’s a mammoth of a thing.

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