Welcome to the story of Raub Gold

Copyright © Victor R. P. Bibby 2012 All rights reserved.

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An engineer by trade, Mr. Bibby served his time at the London and North Western Rail way Company’s works at Crewe, thence proceeding to Laird’s Works, at Birkenhead. Strong and hearty, and eager to get out of the calm, methodical ruts of home, Mr. Bibby, at the age of twenty-one, left for Australia to try his fortune there.


After twelve months of knocking aboutin Melbourne, mostly amongst machinery, he got his first appointment as a mine manager. This was in 1859, at Christies Reef Gold Mines, Castlemaine, Victoria. This was the commencement of a long and varied mining experience, gained from Queensland in the north, to Victoria in the south, from Cape Otway to Cape York. He had worked as a Hatter that is, he had worked on his own account; and he had been connected with some of the largest mines in Australia. The last mining he did was at Croydon, in the extreme north-west of Queensland. At the time he was offered the position at Raub, Mr. Bibby was a-man-about-town at Brisbane.


With Mr. Bibby’s entrance into the Straits begins the first chapter in the real history of the Raub Gold Mining venture. The syndicate-founded upon lie piled on lie was registered in Queensland, on the 12th November, 1889, as the Raub Australian Syndicate, Limited, and Mr. Bibby was invited to become the first manager. He accepted the position, and, after the barest possible lapse of time for preparation, he arrived in Singapore in the beginning of September 1889. He brought with him a staff of eight Europeans, and a considerable amount of machinery.

The agent in Singapore, seeing the machinery remarked, with justifiable misgiving. “You have brought a lot of machinery with you, but you will never get it to Raub.” “Then it will be a bad place to get to,”replied the indomitable Bibby; and, though introduced to a good many people who shared the same opinion as the agent, he was not discouraged. Sending two members of his staff by way of the Pahang River to ascertain what that route was like, Mr. Bibby set out via Selangor with the others. At that time, within a few miles of the Gap, as the pass from Upper Selangor into Pahang is called, but for the rest there was nothing but the native track. Everywhere was the impenetrable jungle, and Mr. Bibby saw that it would be utterly impossible to get heavy machinery into Raub by such a route. So little was the country known at that time that it was only with the greatest difficulty, and by paying ridiculously high rates, that Mr. Bibby and his followers were able to get men to carry their luggage, while they had all that they could do to get through at all. Beaten in one direction, Mr. Bibby decided to try the other. The river route remained to be attempted, and he sent a party down-stream to try and dispose of some of the snags with which it was blocked.


Here it may be well to recount Mr. Bibby’s first impressions of Raub, related to a representative of the Straits Times by the veteran manager in an after-dinner chat. It was at the end of that memorable month of September that Mr. Bibby reached Raub. There was absolutely nothing to be seen. Had I not had, he remarked, all these people with me under an engagement with the Company, I would have turned the next morning and gone straight back again. I was never more disappointed in a place in all my life. And yet there were all sorts of stories afloat in Australia as to the fabulous wealth of the place. One would have thought that there was nothing else to do but to back carts into the ore, and to get ounces and ounces to the ton. In Brisbane, the only trouble seemed to be as to how I was going to get all the gold to a place of safety. At a meeting of the syndicate, one of those present said to me: Mr. Bibby, the only difficulty seems to me to be how we are going to get all this vast amount of gold into a place of safety. Well, I said, my trouble has always been to get the gold; there need be no trouble about the safety of it. Well, as I told you just now, I was so disgusted with the place that I would have stayed not another day if I could have got away. But there were men to be considered, and I could not run away with any credit to myself. There was nothing for it but to remain and do the best I could.

Everything looked most disheartening at that time. In my first report, I wrote: I do not know where I can go to get a ton of stuff that will pay the cost of crushing it. As for the lodes that were payable, they were conspicuous by their absence. There was nothing but jungle and swamp, swamp and jungle; and the colour of gold was nowhere to be seen. All that could be seen in the direction of mining was the old Raub Hole. That was full of water. It had not been touched for years, and Rajah Impi had ruined himself in the attempt to work it. However, there was nothing else for it but to start and make an effort, and I never started in a place with less hope of being successful when I started here. Under these adverse circumstances, so well related by Mr. Bibby, the now prosperous mining operations at Raub commenced.


The difficulties of transport on the Semantan River were manifold, and they were heightened by the fact that Mr. Bibby was boycotted by the Orang Kayah Pahlawan of Semantan, a powerful Malay Chief, who afterwards headed what was called the Pahang Rising. The Chief wanted chukeia sort of royalty on every transaction between Mr. Bibby and the natives. Mr. Bibby, quite ignorant of the means by which these chiefs raised their revenue, flatly refused to pay. He would see the Orang Kayah in a particularly warm place first! This was a mistake, as Mr. Bibby was afterwards quite prepared to admit.

The fates continued to be cruel, for in 1891 came the great flood, which destroyed the whole of the Raub workings, and Mr. Bibby had to begin all over again. Then in December, 1892 came the Pahang Rising and for eight months Raub was in a state of siege. Mr. Bibby’s house was turned into a fort and was stockaded with huge timbers. The mining staff left their houses and joined Mr. Bibby in his stronghold, and every man slept with rifle and ammunition by his side. Afterwards Col. Walker, of the Perak Sikhs arrived, and controlled the arrangements for the defence of the place. Mr. Bibby used afterwards to laugh at the precautions they took. But it was no laughing matter then. It was believed at first that the rebellion was going to be general all over the State. The danger at Raub, as it was afterwards transpired, was more imaginary than real; but in the disturbed state of the country, it was impossible to get accurate information. For twelve months almost nothing was done, except to crush a little of the ore from the Western Lode.


Then in 1893, came the accidental stumbling on the enormously rich chute in the new Raub hole, and Mr. Bibby, having now plenty of money at his disposal, began to prospect in various portions of the concession. Eventually, he settled upon Bukit Koman as the principal place for development work, and the wonderful success of this mine is a fact known to everybody. From this time the property steadily developed.


For a long time Mr. Bibby had foreseen serious difficulties arising from the enormous consumption of wood for motive power, and he began to consider the possibility of substituting water power and electricity in place of costly timber consuming steam engine. In 1896, Mr. Bibby formulated his ideas on the subject, and after consideration by the company the scheme was accepted. One of the main reason for his visit to England and the United States was to ascertain the best methods and the most effective machinery for carrying the scheme into execution. Briefly the scheme (which is now in course of execution) is to generate electricity by means of the Sempan River, which is about seven miles from Raub in a south-westerly direction, and from thence to transmit the electricity to Raub by cable over rough, mountainous country. This scheme originated in the brain of Mr. Bibby; unfortunately he has not lived to see it brought to completion.

Mr. Bibby has several sons (engaged in mining in the Malay Peninsula) and three daughters, of whom one was very recently married at Colombo to Surgeon Colonel Lane, whom she met in Singapore. Another is married to a mining man in the Malay Peninsula; and a third is unmarried.


Straits Times 3rd May 1900  


We better could have spared a better man

At midnight of yesterday, or as today began the soul of William Bibby left the body in which it had struggled and fought for sixty-three adventurous years. The wasted and wizened body of William Bibby then remained in the General Hospital at Kuala Lumpur, and will be brought to Singapore by the steamer Hye Leong due here on Saturday. The remains will be buried as early on Saturday as the arrival of the steamer permits, amidst the signs of love, and observance, and in the presence of troops of friends.

William Bibby was a man! He had all the good qualities, and many of the defects, of the best type of dour adventurer. Of canny Northumbrian birth, welded and hammered in the engine shops of the north, he was the type that we get from northern England and lowland Scotland, the men who are contractors, ironmasters, and engineers- men such as Carnegie of Pittsburg, and Arroll of Glasgow. It is in the north-country that you get these men; and we have had them in the engine-shops of Singapore, where some of them made much money and very recently went home. We build equally good men north of the Forth and Clyde and south of the tees and of Barrow; but they not the same men. The type to be had between the lines we have given is a different type from what you will find anywhere else.

William Bibby was not a man of pious life, nor always as self controlled as at his age he should have been. But he was ever a man of straight and resolute purpose, fighting his way to the one end of good work well done. He was not always straight in the things he said to attain his end. He said things to achieve his immediate purpose; like Cecil Rhodes. But his ultimate purpose in Malaya was always the same. He worked for Raub as some other men work for love and fame, for wife and family; he worked fiercely and jealously: for he loved Raub. He loved little else. His wife, the faithful and honoured companion of his adventurous years, had died in recent times. She was his rock and his defence and when she died both health and conduct suffered. Bibby leaves grown up children, for whom he was careful, and for whom he accumulated money, not merely in Raub shares but also in real estate. But his later love was Raub. His love was the legitimate pride of work. He believed he stood to Raub as God stood to the newly made world. And (says the last verse of the First Chapter of the First Book of Moses) God saw everything that He had made and, behold, it was very good. And in the evening and the morning were the sixth day And William Bibby thought he was the god who had made Raub; and since he was not a god but only a mortal man, he died. William Bibby was a man full of error, as judged by the standard of bishop, or priest, or presbyter. We must hope for his future happiness partly in the spirit of a great self-built shipowner of Kipling’s poetry who said: ”They will judge me by my work.” Bibby’s work was chiefly Raub. Yet his soul has even an apter claim voiced by a poet greater than Kipling. We preach the funeral eulogium and apologia of Bibby. We preach them more truly than any priest will care to do. The Soul of Bibby, having pointed to Raub, to the Beatified Spirit of an Honoured and Happy Wife, to children sought to be set on the useful path, to all this warrk can add :-

Thou knowest Thou didst make me

With passions wild and strong:

Thou surely wilt forgive me

If they sometimes led me wrong.

If the Church of England permits, as does the Church of Rome, that men shall offer prayers for the dead, the Soul of William Bibby deserves and need such prayers; and we beg that it shall get them. If there be gratitude, and that particular religious belief, in the minds of some men that we know, they must clamour at the Throne for the soul of William Bibby.


Mr. Bibby, born further north, was brought up in Liverpool. At sixty, a statesman is a mere juvenile, and Mr. Bibby, in spite of many years of hard work was, up to the time of his seizure by illness, as vigorous, as energetic, and as enthusiastic as ever he was.