Brunei Coal Mines in 1883

Straits Times Weekly Issue (Singapore), 19 March 1883 Page 3
The Muara Coal Mines (Brunei)

A correspondent has favoured us with the following account of a visit he recently paid to the Muara Coal Mines in Brunei:-
"On the 13th March 1882, these mines were ceded to Mr. C by the Sultan of Brunei for 20 years. They had been surveyed and partly worked by the first Labuan Coal Mining Company. They extend about 30 square miles. Mr. C has full mining rights, no duties to pay, and the right to wood, &c. He is allowed to erect buildings, wharves, and piers, which he can remove at the expiry of the lease should it be desirable to do so.
   "On the morning of the 5th of this month, we left the s.s. Borneo, and embarked on board the steam launch of the Sultan of Brunei, which had been kindly lent us for the trip. We steamed away at a great pace, and were soon clear of the difficult and tortuous bar of the Brunei river, when we stood almost direct for Muara. Muara is situated N.W. of the entrance of the river. By 11.30 we had moored alonside the long wooden pier on which were numerous baskets full of coal ready for shipment; a tongkang was on the shore being made ready for a voyage to Labuan with coal. The Royalist had not ayet arrived.
   "On landing we were met by Mr D, the manager, a rather rough and ready sort of man, but one who appeared to know what he was about, and we started at once for the mines 1 1/2 miles distant. The commencement of the walk was rather heavy, through sandy soil, but as we advanced, we came to a slight ascent, and the ground became harder. We met some buffalo carts laden with coal toiling down to the shore. This is a slow mode of proceeding, but will soon be changed, as rails are now at Singapore and are to be sent immediately. Very slight traction power will then be necessary, and either buffaloes, horses, or steam can be used. Near the mines, a short line of rails is laid and trucks, each containing about 16 cwt,. are running. On arrival at the pit's mouth we descended a short ladder and were at once amongst the coal, which is good even at this short distance from the surface. Being provided with candles we explored the seams. Towards the hill was a fire which had been smouldering some months and the water from which, flowing towards us, was warm; we did not feel enough curiosity to penetrate far in that direction. On arriving at daylight we proceeded a little further and descended another and more worked mine, having coal seams branching in four directions. The sides and roof were in some parts propped with wood, but were in others simply hewn through the coal. Some of the passages were low and narrow, being barely sufficient for one man to pass at a time. It was very hot here, with a certain suffocating sort of feeling, and we were not sorry to regain the light and sun; the latter was however very powerful, but we considered ourselves bound to accept Mr. D's proposal to go to a certain ridge, which ran round the portion of the mines being worked, and gave a general view of the works, as well as of the low ground on the other side which is used as a paddy sawah.
   The labourers in the mines were Chinese and Brunei people; some of the latter were formerly working in the Labuan coal mines, and Mr. D. had great confidence in them and praised them much. The old hands can do much more work than the new ones, but coal cutting is not a very difficult art to acquire.
   Having seen everything, and being sufficiently hot, tired, and dusty, we returned to the steam launch and enjoyed exceedingly a B.& S.
   The output of coal has been much retarded lately owning to the Chinese new year, and the absurd marriage festivities at Brunei. Mr. C however is to get some Chinese coolies shortly, and is prepared to pay them so much for every ton of coal put on the pier. This with the railway would work excellently; the Chinese excel in piece work, and would earn double what they do on wages, so labout would be certain.
   As far as could be seen the supply of coal is almost unlimited. The first seam we explored was 22 feet thick, running parallel with the range of hills. The other was 16 feet thick at the thinnest part, and also ran in the same direction N. and S. north to the sea and south to Bukit Pisang 650 feet high. The present mode of working is economical, there being no necessity to go deep; the coal being excellent where it is being taken from, just a few feet below the surface.
   The engineers and stokers who have tried the coal speak very highly of it, and it is to be hoped the enterprising owner will meet the reward his energy deserves.


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