How the Tin Mining Company S.E.K. Developed Kampar Town



How the Tin Mining Company S.E.K. Developed Kampar Town(锡矿公司与金宝发展)

Written by Lim Chia Pei

Edited by SM Ang


KAMPAR, 14 August 2012: Renowned historian Mr. Chye Kooi Loong, 84, was in UTAR (IDK6, Perak Campus) recently to speak to us on How the Tin Mining Company S.E.K. Developed Kampar Town. The auditorium where the talk was held in was packed with students, eager to know what he had to say about Kampar town's history and the role played by the French tin mining company Societe Anonyme Des Etains De Kinta (S.E.K.) in the town's development.


Mr. Chye, born and bred here in Kampar, is also a retired Anglo Chinese School Kampar teacher. Moreover, he has been awarded 'Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire' (MBE) for his contributions in writing about the history of British soldiers' gallant bravery during World War Two and their services to Malaya.


In his talk, Mr. Chye said that S.E.K. was the first French (i.e. European) tin mining company in Perak. The company S.E.K., established in 1883 and operated until it was sold to the Perak state government and Chin Pek Suo Company in 1977, had provided employment to many locals, including his own father who had worked as an accountant there for 35 years.


Looking back, he told us how tin mining became important in Perak. It was in the early 1800s when engineers from France, Britain, Australia, and Canada came to Perak to investigate the possibility of setting up businesses to mine tin. This was in accordance with Perak Resident, Sir Hugh Low's encouragement of foreign investment in tin mining activities in the state. In 1880, a visit of the Kinta Valley in Perak by Brot De Staint-Paul-Lias and Errington de la Croix proved to be an important milestone for Malaya's tin mining industry. The following year, de la Croix wrote in his report that 'There is no doubt that the whole region lying west of Gunung Bujang Melaka will prove to be one of the richest fields in the whole state.'


According to Mr. Chye, de la Croix's observation was very accurate and prophetic. That earmarked area which de la Croix had described included Kampar and it became one of the world's greatest mining towns. Moreover, it was also capable of keeping 25,000 miners employed for 100 years.


"Nobody believes it, this fantastic story," he said.


Mr. Chye also recounted how S.E.K. was first established. It started out as Societe Des Miner d'Etain de Perak (SMEP) and the company had started mining tin in Gopeng (Klian Lallang) and Lahat. Then, later, in 1885, it also mined tin in Kuala Dipang. Finally, in 1886, S.E.K. was formed after absorbing SMEP.


According to Mr. Chye, S.E.K. had also built the first hydro-electric power station in Perak on Sungai Rawang in 1906. It was situated just south of Kampar town and had supplied power to the mines in Kampar and Temoh. He also reminded us that it is important to find out more information about the establishment of this first hydro-electric power station.


S.E.K. had also signed an agreement with the Perak state government to move the Kampar Railway Station, padang (i.e. field) and hospital areas in Kampar when it found that there were rich tin fields in these places.


Mr. Chye recalled that when S.E.K. finally gave up its 94 years of tin mining activities in Kampar and its surrounding areas in 1977, the company had already contributed employment and fortunes to the local people. "Many of us studied here; all of our existence were centred on the company S.E.K.," he said.


"Some have made success in Australia, Canada and U.S.A" "I was very surprised during my many trips to U.K. to find that many of the professors in the British universities were former members of ACS Kampar," he added.


Before Mr. Chye ended his talk, he mentioned that it is very unfortunate for Malaysia that there are so few people who record the history of their own town. He said that if young people want to learn to do so, they should begin by researching the Chinese guilds.


After the talk, Mr. Chye took questions from the audience.


He mentioned that the Europeans destroyed all their tin mining equipment before they fled the country when the Japanese arrived in Malaya during World War Two. Moreover, the remaining properties were confiscated by the Japanese after they had successfully occupied Malaya. After the war ended, S.E.K. had to replace its lost properties with the help of the British government.


According to Mr. Chye, S.E.K. entered its booming period during the Korean War when the demand for tin ore increased. At that time, which is during the 1950s, the company had employed 15,000 workers.


Mr. Chye smiled when he mentioned the warlike Hakkas during those times. Most of the Chinese involved in tin mining activities in S.E.K. was Hakkas. He said that one of the reasons why there was conflict and fights among them was because the Hakkas had the habit of "snatching women or wives" from others. He said that the number of Chinese women in Kampar was limited then and the local Malay women did not want to marry the tin miners, perhaps due to cultural or religious reasons. Therefore, there was much competition for women amongst the male tin miners. The audience, which consisted of mostly young people, was very much captivated by this story because it is something very unusual for them.


Finally, at the end of the session, Mr. Chye and his wife were invited to take photo with the organizer, Dr Wong Wun Bin, Head of the Chinese Malaysian and Cultural Studies Unit, Centre for Chinese Studies Research, UTAR. Dr Wong had also earlier presented Mr. Chye with a token of appreciation in the form of a UTAR mug. The talk was chaired by Ms Ang Siew, the member of CCSR and Senior Lecturer of Faculty of Arts and Social Science, UTAR .



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