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The Straits Trading Company Brief History And The Building In Ipoh
This photograph shows the three-storey Straits Trading Company (STC) building, at Station Road, Ipoh, erected in 1907.
The Straits Trading Company (STC) was established in 1886 by two partners, James Sword of Glasgow, Scotland and Hermann Muhlinghaus an entrepreneur from Wiesbaden, Germany. The partnership was formed to set up a tin smelting business in Malaya to meet the obvious demand for a large and efficient smelting business to replace all the small, inefficient smelters in use at that time. The partnership evolved successfully to become one of the largest tin smelters in the world. To raise capital for expanding the business, The Straits Trading Company Limited was incorporated in Singapore on 8 November 1887 with an initial capital of S$150,000. Their first smelting shed was in Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan), previously owned by the Shanghai Tin Mining Company.
The first major task of the new company was to erect an efficient smelter on Pulau Brani, an island located off the southern coast of Singapore, near Keppel Harbour, to replace the less than efficient and previously unprofitable plant at Telok Anson. With Pulau Brani translating to “Island of the Brave” this was indeed a brave approach as the island had no fresh water wells and an old ship, the Fantee had to be used as a water tank, after its superstructure and internal fittings had been removed. In addition several old buildings belonging to the Tanjong Pagar dock Compant had to be adapted. Nonetheless in 1890, the first 3-ton reverbatory furnace began smelting. An office in Singapore was opened the same year and by 1895 the furnace capacity had risen dramatically to twelve 4.5-ton furnaces with a smelting capability of 14,000 tons per year; only one third of the Malay States tin production at that time.
Meanwhile, in parallel with the expansion down south under James Sword, Hermann Muhlinghaus, recognizing the wealth of tin in the Kinta Valley, had moved North to Perak and after obtaining a permit to export ore, set himself up in their first branch office in Gopeng in 1889. It was the only European house of business in Gopeng, and it was said that they possessed the finest trading premises in the town. He followed this up in 1890 with a branch in Batu Gajah under Mr Archibald Kennedy (see below) and in 1891, one in Lahat (Mr O Orthlepp, manager). Then in 1892 Orthlepp moved to the rapidly expanding town of Ipoh which as the heart of the Kinta Valley, became the centre of the company’s activities in Perak.
The exact date of the construction of the building in the photograph above is rectrdr as 1907 in in the 1908 book, ‘Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya’ At that time it is also recorded “ … the Ipoh staff comprises twelve Europeans and numerous Chinese clerks and assistants."
Ipoh Remembered adds:
"I can go a little further: the building was finally occupied by Straits Trading in late 1907, after the book was written but before it was published (April, 1908).
By "late 1907" I mean some time in December."
Not long after the move to Ipoh, another office was set up in Sungei Siput under Mr P McCaull, the company’s agent who it was said, “… enjoys the distinction of being the only European in the township.” Similarly a Kampar office was set up, "the only European firm in the town".
In June 1911, the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank rented a space in the STC building, before shifted to its own (current) premises in 1931.
STC continued to go from strength to strength and by 1912 Malaya produced more than half the World’s tin of which STC smelted two thirds.
Ipoh Remembered also offers the following:
"Might be worth adding that practically his first customer, and certainly his biggest, wasEu Kong (Eu Tong Sen's father).
Of course, Eu Kong died the very next year[*], but his widow, a formidable woman, took over and ran things without a break.
[*] Some authorities say Eu Kong died in 1891 but they are mistaken."
And regarding Archibald Kennedy
"You might be interested to know that, after spending a few years in Batu Gajah, and then a few more years in Penang, Archibald Kennedy eventually returned to Glasgow and died there in 1896 (he was only in his late 40s)."