Teluk Anson: The Faded Gem of Lower Perak

loading Leaning Clock Tower (formerly Water Tower).

Teluk Anson is one of the few towns in Perak that owes its existence and prosperity to waterborne trade.1 It was initially a struggling village made up of attap huts, located at a horseshoe-shaped meander fronting a confluence of three rivers: Perak River, Manik River and Bidor River. The village was originally called Teluk Mak Intan and served as a landing and pick-up point for boats that sailed up and down the rivers. It was named after a Mandailing lady, who bathed in the river and lost her diamond hairpin.2

The Rise of Teluk Anson

Teluk Mak Intan began to develop after Sir Hugh Low, the resident of Perak, decided in 1877 to make the village the British headquarters for Lower Perak. The purpose was also to gain control of Perak River’s trading network by establishing government offices and infrastructure and, more importantly, encourage the Chinese residents of Durian Sebatang, a principal port of Lower Perak, to move to Teluk Mak Intan.3

The acting governor of the Straits Settlements, Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Anson, supported Low’s scheme and drew a plan for the proposed expansion of Teluk Mak Intan. When the new town was established, it was renamed “Teluk Anson” to acknowledge Anson’s contribution.

Four major streets, namely Denison, Market, Ah Cheong and Immigrant, were first laid out parallel to each other and in proximity to the newly built wharf and pontoon jetty. Denison Road, named after Noel Denison, the superintendent of Lower Perak, ran next to the harbour with direct access to the Perak River. It was in the vicinity of this road that the earliest British colonial institutions, such as the collector’s and magistrate’s office, courthouse, customs house and police station, were erected to control trade.

The major market of the town was located at Market Street. It was a gathering point for traders, merchants and vendors to sell their goods. Yue Woh & Co. at No.7 Market Street was the oldest and most important shop in the town, operating as a general store with several important agencies combined. It was established around 1888 by a Cantonese named Woo Choy Lam, who had arrived from China in 1874 and set up shop as a grocer. In 1892 he was appointed agent for the Straits Steamship Company and for Po On Insurance Company of Hong Kong.4

Located next to Market Street was Ah Cheong Street, which got its name from Leong Choon Chong, a Cantonese contractor and builder. He came from Penang and opened a construction company in Teluk Anson in the 1880s.5 When the British were laying out the town, Leong, more popularly known as Ah Cheong, was commissioned to build a water tower, court house, post office and municipal council. It was on this street that most of the Chinese social organisations were situated.

As its name suggests, Immigrant Road, lying at the northernmost part of the town, was the place where the British set up coolie lines to accommodate the Indian coolies.

In later years, eight more streets were laid to cut across the four major ones, from south to north. They were Anderson Road, Mahkota Road, Canal Road, Anson Road, Queen Street, King Street, Prince Street and Pauline Street.

Apart from these roads and streets, a railway line was also completed in 1893 to connect Teluk Anson town to Tapah Road, extending to Ipoh in 1895.6 The expansion of this road and railway system was an expression of the growth of the town’s increasing economic significance.

Population Growth and Economic Vigour

In 1901 Teluk Anson had 3,314 people, with 1,618 Chinese, 744 Malays, 679 Indians and 93 of other races.7 Ten years later, the population had increased to 6,927: the Chinese numbered then at 3,584, making up slightly more than half of the population, while the Malays and the Indians together made up the other half, at 1,786 and 1,417 respectively.8 By 1931, Teluk Anson’s population had doubled to 14,671. Sixteen years later, Teluk Anson, with a population of 23,055, superseded Kampar and became the third-largest town in Perak.9

Ah Cheong Street in Teluk Anson.

This vigorous growth in population was due to the dynamic trade and agricultural development in Teluk Anson and its surrounding areas. When port facilities and transport infrastructure were added, it quickly became a popular port of call and trading bazaar.

From 1909 to 1915, an average of 785 small steamers and 428 native crafts frequented Teluk Anson’s port annually.10 These vessels from near and far ferried passengers, foreign goods and local products to the town, and before sailing off, would pick up trade goods for markets further afield.

Among the local products, tin, rubber and coconut were very high in demand. Four-fifths of the tin exported from Perak went out via Teluk Anson, much of it being taken by steamer to Butterworth in Penang, to be smelted there.11

As global demand for natural rubber in the automobile industry increased, rubber planting became highly profitable and rubber plantations spread all over Perak. By 1908, the Lower Perak district had about 16,800 acres planted and by 1928 this had grown to 109,923 acres, or about 20% of the total in Perak.12 It became the second-largest rubber-planting district and its rubber output was mainly shipped via Teluk Anson to Penang and Singapore.

Steamer docked at Teluk Anson's port.

Coconut was another commercial crop extensively cultivated in Lower Perak. It was started with a few thousand acres at the end of nineteenth century and by 1930 it had expanded to 76,000 acres.13 Lower Perak emerged as the district that had the largest acreage of cultivation area for coconuts in Perak. The enterprise of this extensive coconut planting was to tap the local and overseas markets where the demand for coconut fruits, copra and coconut oil was increasing. After the First World War, for example, the margarine industry in Europe turned to the use of coconut oil on an extensive scale as the basic ingredient14 and greatly stimulated the unprecedented growth of the coconut-planting industry in Malaya. Most of the copra produced in Lower Perak, especially in Bagan Datoh, was exported via Teluk Anson to Singapore and Penang for coconut oil processing.

Apart from land, the rivers and sea close to Teluk Anson also yielded abundant marine products, especially fish. Thousands of pikuls of fresh fish were sent by train from Teluk Anson to Kinta to feed the rapidly growing population in the Kinta district – the largest tin mining area in Perak. From 1909 to 1916, an average of 17,749 pikuls of fresh fish were transported annually.15

Bustling trade and the dense and prosperous population of Teluk Anson necessitated the construction of public facilities such as a water reservoir, places of worship, schools and cinemas to satisfy community needs.

Water Tower

Market Street in Teluk Anson.

The “Leaning Clock Tower” in the centre of Teluk Anson town was originally used as a reservoir to supply water to its residents. It was a scheme that recommended the adoption of a seven-inch iron main, a water pump and 300-square-yard filter beds to draw water from a river at Changkat Jong for a supply of 100,000 gallons a day, capable of being increased to 150,000 gallons by the construction of an elevated service reservoir at Teluk Anson.16

The work was inaugurated early in 1893 by W. B. Dixon, the 1st Assistant Engineer of the Public Works Department, who laid the foundations of the water tower. It was built as a circular brick building, consisting of three stories, with a 50,000-gallon iron tank on the summit. The exterior of the tower was embellished with seven tiled eaves extending the entire circuit and giving the building the appearance of a Chinese pagoda. In the middle of the highest eave, a space was left for a chiming clock, six feet in diameter and costing over $2,000. The tower was estimated to weigh 2,000 tons.17

The pipes, through which water was conducted into the street hydrants and the various “waste-out” pipes (fountain dippers), were all fixed to the outside of the building. The hydrants were installed at street corners and could, with the aid of a hose, reach nearly all the buildings in town in the event of a fire. When the tank in the tower was full, the pressure exerted could project the water to a height of over 50 ft.18

Places of Worship

The Chinese were among the first settlers of Teluk Anson and they established two major temples in the town – Hock Soon Keong (福順宫) and Kwongtung Gumiu (廣東古廟) – for worshipping their deities brought from southern China. Hock Soon Keong, built by the Hokkiens, was first a small shrine located near the railway station which was later moved to the end of Denison Road where a new temple was erected in 1883.19 When the temple was restored in 1888 and 1895, the Hokkien towkays of Penang and Taiping, such as Khoo Tiong Poh, Cheah Tek Soon, Lee Cheng Chin and Ng Boo Bee, donated generously to the project. Cheng Chin, a tin mining magnate of Penang, contributed the largest donation to restore the temple in 1895.20

Kwongtung Gumiu was built by a group of Cantonese and Hakka towkays in 1889. Local Cantonese and Hakkas, as well as those from Gopeng and Penang, contributed to erecting the temple and assumed the positions of director and assistant directors in charge of the temple’s operations.21 The Cantonese towkays from Gopeng and Penang were Eu Kong, Ng Ah Thye and Chan Lai Kam. Eu Kong, a prominent tin miner and general trader in Gopeng, founded Yan Sang Medicine Shop, which later became the Eu Yan Sang Company that specialised in traditional Chinese medicine. The company, under the stewardship of his great-grandsons, currently runs 238 retail outlets around the world.22 Ah Thye and Lai Kam of Penang were revenue farmers, merchants and tin mining financiers. The Hakka towkays from Penang were Chung Keng Kwee and Foo Choo Choon – both of whom were big tin mine owners in Perak.

The Chettiars, who were also the early settlers of Teluk Anson, had their temple –Nagarathar Sri Thendayuthapani – erected in the town in 1899.23 The construction cost was defrayed from the fund chiefly raised by the Chettiar community through the efforts of S. T. Somasundram Chettiar and M. N. Muthukaruppan Chettiar, who were local money lenders. The Chettiars formed the most important Indian group of the town and they played a significant role in financing small-scale Chinese rubber planters.

Royal Theatre in Teluk Anson.

There were three major churches established in Teluk Anson. St. Anthony’s Church at Anderson Road (now Jalan Sekolah) was founded by Father Rene Michd Marie Fee, a French priest, in 1894.24 He was assigned by Bishop Gasnier to the mission among the Indians. In early 1922 the church was destroyed by fire, however, and a fund of between $60,000 and $70,000 had to be raised to rebuild a fine new church,25 which still stands on that site today.

With the growth of the European population, St. Luke’s Church at Anderson Road was established in 1910 or 1911. It was officially open after consecration was carried out by the Rt. Rev. Bishop of Singapore in April 1912.26

The Methodist Church located at Speedy Road was built in 1936, with a mixed Chinese-Indian following. The site for the church was donated by Mrs. A. Sabapathy, who purchased the land for $3,500.27 In April 1936 the Methodist Church was consecrated by Rev. M. Dodsworth of Penang.

Surau or smaller places of worship for the Malays already existed in various parts of the town. It was only at the turn of the third decade of the twentieth century that more elaborate mosques were built at Teluk Anson.28 The mosque for Indian-Muslims located at Ah Cheong Street came into existence probably in the late 1920s, while the opening of the mosque for Malays was officiated by the Sultan of Perak in August 1931.29

Schools

The diversity of the population in Teluk Anson was not only reflected in the different types of places of worship but also through the emergence of ethnic schools. Modern Malay schools were established earlier than modern English or other vernacular schools because the British administration was insistent that Malay children should be given the opportunity to learn their mother tongue as well as simple mathematics.30 The first Malay school was established in the town possibly in the late 1880s. It was followed by a large Malay girls’ school in 1906, situated between Prince Street and King Street. In 1938 a Malay boys’ school was built at Sungai Nibong Road.31

The Chinese schools were first located in Chinese temples and associations in the town. Hock Soon Keong housed a private school in the late 1900s, which was later moved to the shophouses at Market Street and renamed Poey Wah (培華) in 1913. The premises at the two sides of Kwongtung Gumiu served as the Wah Kiew (華僑) Private School, while the Chinese Youth Association established Chung Wah (中華) School in the Ko Kong Chow (古岡州) Association at Ah Cheong Street.32 On February 12, 1929, these three private schools amalgamated and became the San Min (三民) School, which has remained the leading Chinese School in Lower Perak.

Schools for the Indian community were only established after the British government introduced the Labour Law of 1912, which required that every estate housed a school. Most of the Indian schools were situated in the estates and there were only two in the town. One was established by the government and the other by a rich Indian merchant named Sithambaram Pillay, who contributed $100,000 towards the project.33

The Anglo-Tamil School was the first English school to be founded in Teluk Anson by the government in 1898. Later, it was passed over to the control of the Methodist Episcopal Mission. In order to put up a bigger and better building for the school, Rev. W. E. Horley met with leading Chinese residents at the Lower Perak Chinese Club and successfully solicited a substantial donation in 1904.34 The Chinese also responded to Horley’s appeal by sending their children to the school. Some years later, Chinese students outnumbered Indian students and the school was renamed the Anglo-Chinese School. In 1963 its name was changed again, this time to Horley Methodist School.35

Apart from building churches, the French missionaries were also keen to open schools. In 1919 Rev. Father Coppin of the French Society of Foreign Missionaries established St. Agnes’ School, a girls’ school. About six years later, it was taken over by the Sisters of the Holy Instant Jesus, Ipoh and its name was changed to the Convent.36

On February 2, 1931, Rev. Fr. Michel Bonamy, the parish priest of St. Anthony's Church, opened a school in a wooden shack adjoining the church building. It was later renamed after St. Anthony of Padua and had an initial enrolment of 11 students.37 After World War II, St. Anthony School, which was suffering from financial difficulties, was transferred to the La Salle Brothers.

Cinemas

The first cinema built in the town was the Royal Theatre (皇宫) at King Street in 1937. It was owned by Ong Keng Huat, proprietor of Keng Huat Film Co. based at 258 Penang Road, Penang.38 The cinema had a seating capacity of 750.

The second was the Diamond (鑚石), located in the New World Amusement Park and established in 1942. Rex (麗士), located on Pauline Street with a seating capacity of 720, was the third cinema, and was built in 1947.39 Most of the movies screened were in English.

A year later, Majestic Theatre (大華) was erected on Ah Cheong Street. It had a seating capacity of 582 and mainly screened Western and Cantonese movies.40 In 1954 Cathay (國泰), with a seating capacity of 516, was put up on Prince Road.

Having these five cinemas, Teluk Anson became not only a locus of entertainment for the town folk, but also a magnet for filmgoers coming from small neighbouring towns such as Bagan Datoh, Hutan Melintang, Langkap, Pelawan and Chui Chak.

The Decline of Teluk Anson

The emergence of Teluk Anson as the major administrative and socio-economic hub for Lower Perak was a gradual process. The place boasted a riverine port, a transportation system (roads and railway), commercial commodities and mercantile communities facilitating vibrant trade that generated interdependencies, collaborations, networks and links between ports and the hinterland. This is clearly revealed by the town’s inextricable socio-economic relationship to Penang, Singapore, Lower Perak and Kinta.

Be that as it may, the changing economic, geographic and strategic conditions of the 1980s eroded the importance of Teluk Anson. The global depression of the early 1980s reduced the demand for tin, and also depressed the rubber market. The fall in production of these two commodities diminished the importance of Teluk Anson’s railway and port as an exporting channel for Kinta and Lower Perak.

The decline in freight rail traffic led to the closure of Teluk Anson’s railway in 1989. The town’s port also became redundant as the riverbed grew shallower, and big tanker and cargo ships stopped sailing to the port. In the end, Teluk Anson was completely eclipsed by Port Klang (formerly Port Swenttenham), which was initially built to serve the state of Selangor, as it rose to become an international port.

The loss of economic dynamics prompted the exodus of youths and working adults. The population of the town suffered a drastic decrease from about 62,393 in 1991 to 41,200 in 2010.41 Many migrated to bigger cities like Ipoh, George Town, KL and Klang – and even Singapore – in search of better jobs.

This led to acute labour shortage, and in order to meet labour demands in the agricultural sector, especially in the palm oil industry, migrant workers from Indonesia and Bangladesh were recruited. (Since mid-1990s, palm oil plantations have been rapidly increasing in Lower Perak, becoming a hub for more than 10,000 smallholders.42)

There are also other commercial sectors, such as swiftlet farming, light manufacturing and fishery, which still thrive in Teluk Intan. Can these industries revitalise the town? If their growth is not supported by adequate connectivity to the national road and railway networks as well as regional shipping routes, regaining its socio-economic significance will be a tall order.

Dr Wong Yee Tuan is Fellow and Head of Penang Institute's History and Heritage Programme. He hails from Malim Nawar and has profound research interest in the history of Penang.

1Teluk Anson is known today as Teluk Intan. The name change took place during the town’s centenary in 1982.
2Khoo Kay Kim, Teluk Anson: 1882-1941: Port,Agriculture and Erosion, JMBRAS, Vol.68, No.2 (269), 1995, p.33.
3Khoo Kay Kim, Teluk Anson, p.35.
4Arnold Wright, and H. A. Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources, London: Lloyd's Greater Britain Publishing Company Limited, 1908, p.923.
5下霹雳年鑑Lower Perak Year Book, 1955, Chpt.14, p.2.
6Amarjit Kaur, Bridge and Barrier: Transport andCommunications in Colonial Malaya 1870-1957, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1985, p.27.
7Manual of Statistics Relating to the Federated Malay States 1911, p.100.
8Manual of Statistics, p.150.
9Lim Heng Kow, The Evolution of the Urban System in Malaya, Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Universiti Malaya, 1978, p. 68.
10Compiled from Perak Administration Report for the Year 1909 – 1915.
11Perak Administration Report for the year 1908, p.12.
12Perak Administration Report for the year 1908 and 1928.
13Perak Administration Report for the year 1930.
14Phillip Cerepak, Coconuts: Catalysts of Conflict, http://edgeeffects.net/coconuts-conflict/
15Compiled from Perak Administration Report for the year 1909 – 1916.
16Perak Pioneer and Native States Advertiser, 19 October 1895, p.3.
17Perak Pioneer and Native States Advertiser, 19 October 1895, p.4.
18Perak Pioneer and Native States Advertiser, 19 October 1895, p.5.
19下霹雳年鑑Lower Perak Year Book, 1955, Chpt.14, p.6. Also see S.T.U. 4/72(A), Hock Soon Keong Temple.
20A stone inscription of 1895 is available in the temple.
21Information is available on a wooden tablet hung at the entrance of the temple.
22http://www.euyansang.com.my/en_MY/retail-%26-distribution/eyscorporate4.html.
23Khoo Kay Kim, Teluk Anson, p.42.
24Church of St. Anthony (Online access: http://churchofstanthony.wixsite.com/sacti/about-us)
25The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 4 May 1922, p.286.
26The Straits Times, 1 May 1912, p.6.
27The Straits Times, 9 April 1936, p.16. Also see Minutes of the Malayan Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church 1922 (Online access:http://religiondocbox.com/Christianity/69738515-Minutes-of-the-malaysia-conference-of-the-methodist-episcopal-church-ntt.html)
28Khoo Kay Kim, Teluk Anson, p.43.
29The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 25 August 1931, p.10.
30Khoo Kay Kim, Teluk Anson, p.45.
31Khoo Kay Kim, Teluk Anson (Teluk Intan) 100 years, Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Muzium Malaysia, 1982, p.25.
32下霹雳年鑑Lower Perak Year Book, 1955, Chpt. 6, p.1.
33下霹雳年鑑Lower Perak Year Book, 1955, Chpt. 7, p.57.
34E.C.Hicks, History of English Schools in Perak, Ipoh: Perak Library, 1958, p.16.
35Khoo Kay Kim, Teluk Anson, p.45.
36E.C. Hicks, History of English Schools in Perak, p.47.
37https://wikivividly.com/wiki/St._Anthony%27s_School,_Teluk_Intan#cite_note-St-Anthony-Church-2.
38下霹雳年鑑Lower Perak Year Book, 1955, Chpt13, p.5. Also see The Nanyang Miscellany, Vol.1, No.3, p.1.
39下霹雳年鑑Lower Perak Year Book, 1995, Chpt13, p.5.
40Ibid.
41The Management of Secondary Cities in Southeast Asia, Nairobi: United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), 1996, p.114. Population Distribution by Local Authority Areas and Mukims, Population and Housing Census of Malaysia 2010, Department of Statistics, Malaysia, p.99.
42New Straits Times, 4 February, 2017 (Online Access).



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