The History Of The First Hydropower Plant In Raub, Pahang and Asia

Copy of the 19 January 1898 drawing of the 40 Head Battery supplied by Thompsons of Castlemaine to the RAGM Co. shipped to Raub Malaya in 1898 and erected by late 1899. The original drawing on silk paper can be seen in the Maldon Vintage Machinery Museum, Victoria. This battery was first run by steam but later by a 50 HP electric motor when the hydro electricity plant was completed and the power switched on in early July 1900.

The first hydropower plant in the world is the Edison hydroelectric power plant, began operating September 30, 1882, in Appleton, Wisconsin, with an output of about 12.5 kilowatts.

8 years later in Pahang, and the first in Malaya perhaps the first in Asia, The Sungai Sempam hydropower plant in Raub was completed and switched on.

It was as early as 1893 that William Bibby the manager of Raub Gold Mine began talking about electrification of the mine by hydro power. He would encounter much resistance from the Brisbane board who were wary of the ‘new technology’ despite it being already in use in South African mines and in America when he put the proposal to the board for the first time in 1895.

The hydro power station on the Sungei Sempam is the only structure surviving from William Bibby’s time and is therefore of much historical importance. It provided 300 BHP (224 kw) by two phase 5000 volt bare copper cables strung on 12 inch square 18 foot wooden posts to the gold mine at Raub. Work commenced in September 1897 and was mostly completed two years later, most of the delay was caused by transportation problems of the heavy machinery.

They built a 8 mile road to the site from the Government Cart Track that ran between Kuala Kubu and Raub, a dam and a flume and pipe track, the power line and track of nearly 7 miles through mountainous terrain, the power station and a bungalow for the electrical site engineer. At the same time they were erecting a 40 head battery and converting from steam all the machinery to run by electrical power and running a gold mine to continue to produce gold.

It was in all a remarkable achievement by a group of local workers supervised by miners who also had a mine to run and produce gold. There was no record found as to when power was switched on but it must have been in early July 1900.

The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser 17 July 1900 RAUB

The Malay Mail says:- A special telegram from Raub announces that the electric installation is now complete and is working satisfactorily. This may be regarded as the coping stone in the making of the Raub mines. It is sad to think that the late William Bibby did not live to see the completion of the great work to which he so ungrudgingly devoted the remaining years of his life. But his faithful and staunch lieutenant, whose work in the past may have been somewhat overshadowed by the personality of the master mind, has the satisfaction both of seeing the work brought to a successful issue and of knowing that his dead friend’s as aspirations have been fulfilled to the letter.

Raub as an investment is now about as safe as the Bank of England. Raub has made Pahang from the European mining point of view. Wild-cat schemes and vast concessions might have ruined the country, but one solid, substantial. Dividend-paying gold mine, nursed and worked with infinite care, stamps the State for all time with a genuine mining hall-mark.


Victor Bibby said…
Some accreditation for the use of my words and drawing would have been polite! But thank you anyway for the recognition of my work on this. A book on the life of William Bibby should be published next year and covers his life from arriving in Australia in 1859 to his death in Kuala Lumpur in 1900.

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