Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/245

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
233
TIN AND ITS NATIVE LAND.

TIN AND ITS NATIVE LAND.
By M. BRAU DE SAINT POL LIAS.

TIN, which, every one knows, but which few, except men of science and metallurgists, are acquainted with, is one of the most precious and most interesting metals. After gold and silver, it is intrinsically the most precious of those in use. It is nearly of the same color and almost as bright as silver, but has less resistance and is less valuable. When warmed by friction, it has a pronounced odor and taste. When it is bent, the derangement of the crystals of which its mass is formed causes it, without any fracture taking place, to emit a peculiar sound which metallurgists call its cry, and by means of which an expert can nearly determine its degree of purity. The places where tin is produced are few, scattered sparsely over the surface of the globe; and it disguises itself under the form of a blackish mineral which, to the profane eye, gives no sign of the treasure that is within it.

.One of the richest as well as most ancient tin mining districts is in the Malay Peninsula, the Golden Chersonesus of the ancients. The name of the province, Pérak, signifies silver; but it is peculiarly the province of tin. A few years ago we visited the mines there, ascending the Larrout River in a Chinese junk to Telok-Kartang, where a warm reception awaited us from the English colonial authorities. Thence we went, in a country wagon, and afoot after it had broken down, through a country where tigers are not rare, to Thaïping, the principal town in the district. We found lodging in the house of the assistant resident on the top of the Boukit Bandéra, which appeared to our eyes at the moment a veritable castle of the fairy tales. Opening the window in the morning, we could look from our elevated position upon the country of tin, which lay in nearly its full extent before us. Large mounds of white earth and water-holes of strange form, breaking up the surface at different points around the kampang, marked where mines had been worked or were still in working. Chinese coolies were climbing up and down the notched tree-trunks which served as ladders to the open pits, bearing on their shoulders bamboos, at each end of which hung the baskets in which the mineral was carried. Hydraulic wheels, which were nothing but primitive wooden Archimedes' screws, or norias with inclined buckets, were turning with harsh creakings, lifting the water out of the bottom of the excavations. Animation prevailed over the whole plain, in which were to be seen by turns arid spots of mineral refuse, or exuberant tropical vegetation. Farther on the country grew hilly, and the view was at last shut off by a semicircle of high mountains, in which are found the true mines, in quartz