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The early years of Sungai Lembing

STAGE III Field survey

5.2 Introduction to the Case Studies

5.2.2 Introduction to Sungai Lembing, Pahang The early years of Sungai Lembing

Dubbed the El Dorado of the East, it was in Sungai Lembing town that a special British settlement existed in Kenau River Valley (Ong, 2014). While there is some consensus that the town was named after a Lim Beng settlements, which was named so by the Lim Beng (or Lim Ah San) a Chinese figure who developed the settlement, scholars have also suggested that the name Sungai Lembing comes from the word „lembing‟ (spear), a weapon used in hunting (Kuantan Municipal Council, 2013). The weapon believed to be used by the indigenous people in the forest who allegedly threw a spear at a deer. In an effort to save itself, the deer have jumped into the river and disappeared along the spear sticking in its body. And at the beginning of the 18th century, a group of tin miners arrived in that area has found a reliable spear belonging to the hunter in the old days.

Since then, the area was named Sungai Lembing.

Figure 5.8: View of Sungai Lembing town in the 1890s Source: Kuantan Municipal Council (n.d.)


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Mining activities had created the town more than 100 years ago, and it was once commercialized on a big scale and enriched the nation‟s economy thus making Sungai Lembing renowned throughout the world. The early history of tin mining activity is detected in a Chinese historian who recorded the export of tin from Kelantan and Pahang to China in the mid 13th century. More recently, however, it was believed that a Cambodian named Wan Muhammad, known locally as „Tok Tangguk‟ who first came to mine tin in 1868 (Museum of Sungai Lembing, n.d.). He had expertise in work of tin mining yet the demand for his services waned after the arrival of Chinese miners in the late 18th century.

As a tin-mining settlement, Sungai Lembing‟s days of glory sparked in 1906 when a British Company, known Pahang Consolidated Company Limited (PCCL) operated what soon became the world‟s largest lode mine for tin (Kuantan Municipal Council 2013; Museum of Sungai Lembing, n.d.). The town in fact boasted itself as having the second richest tin deposit in the world and the biggest, longest and deepest underground tin mine in the world. Its shafts and subterranean tunnels reached depths of between 450 meters to 650 meters, reputedly the deepest in South East Asia. Mining work in Sungai Lembing conducted through three master mines known as Mine Willinks, Myah and Gakak. The former however is the biggest and most important among other mines in Sungai Lembing.

In its heyday as a tin mining town, Sungai Lembing also enjoyed a vast array of amenities including hospitals, shops, a police station, residential areas, and a good transportation system. An English primary and secondary schools as well as a Chinese primary school were also built by the company in 1948 to accommodate about 2,000 students in the area. In the late 1950s to the early 1980s, this small town has more than 40 rows of shophouses. The town became the most important commercial and business center in Pahang where businesses of every kind of mushroomed and prospered.


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Figure 5.9: The Sungai Lembing tin mill in the 1940s Source: Kuantan Municipal Council (n.d.)

Nevertheless, it had its share of misfortune too. Fire ravaged a number of its shop houses in 1921, floods hit the town in 1926 (Figure 5.10), the recession taken place in 1930, the Japanese occupied the town in 1941 to 1945, and it was besieged during the communist insurgency in the 1950s (Kuantan Municipal Council, 2013). This entire situation has resulted in significant losses to the PCCL. It required enormous financial resources to rebuild the town after each mishap and calamity. The fatal blow to the town came in 1985 when the tin price in the world market nose-dived and in consequences, Sungai Lembing town was abandoned and most of the town folks left for greener pastures.

The closure of the tin mine in 1986 altered the face and environment of Sungai Lembing, changing it from a busy town into a sleepy and deserted settlement. At one time known as the most modern town of its time, all that is left in Sungai Lembing is nostalgia and memories of its prosperous yesteryears for the miners who used to mine here. Most of the inhabitants here work in the agricultural and logging sectors. This


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situation led to a large majority of town‟s dwellers to migrate for their livelihood. Table 5.3 summarizes the chronology of the development of Sungai Lembing town.

Figure 5.10: Great flood in 1926 Source: Kuantan Municipal Council (n.d.)

Table 5.3: Chronology of development of Sungai Lembing town (Adapted from Museum of Sungai Lembing, n.d.)

Year Event

13th century

Mining activities were first detected in the state of Pahang

1868 A Cambodian named Wan Muhammad or „Tok Tangguk‟ discovered mineral deposit in Sungai Lembing town

1886 Establishment of the Pahang Mining Company Limited in London marks the domination of mining industry by Europeans

1887 - 1906 Mining concession at Sungai Lembing was leased to the Pahang Corporation Limited or PCL (formerly known as the Pahang Mining Company Limited)

6th July 1906

The Pahang Consolidated Company Limited (PCCL) took over the concessions and mining rights in Sungai Lembing from the loss-making Pahang Corporation

1915 - 1926 The tin mining industry in the town experienced a stunning growth During the time, the town has its share of misfortune too:

1921 – Fire ravaged a number of shophouses in the town

1926 – A serious flood occur where almost the entire town was flooded


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Table 5.3, continued

Year Event

1930 Tin has experienced a declining demand due to economic recession yet recovered for several years later

8th Dec


Japanese invader attacking Sungai Lembing town

1942 - 1945 Japanese occupation of Malaya had forced the PCCL to cease its operations.

Mining activities had to be stopped and all the mining pits were inundated to deter the Japanese from destroying them

1945 - 1949 Rehabilitation of the mining area, including repairing the bungalows, roads, petrol tank and factory

1950 The town was besieged during the communist insurgency and once again, the PCCL forced to stop mining activities

1955 The area was declared as safer place and mining activities were carried out as usual

1957 Independence of Malaya augured well for the mining industry in the town 1968 The concession expired. The company has applied new concessions and

mining rights granted for 21 years

1985 Economic recession and the price of tin fell drastically

1986 The tin mine was officially closed down and turned Sungai Lembing from a busy town into a sleepy and deserted settlement