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The Gold Rush   


There was a great explosion in the trading and exploring activity in the area after 1860. Alexander Merensky (1862), Carl Mauch and St Vincent Erskine (1868), Paul Jebe (1868-9), James Frederik Elton (1871) and Emil Wilhelm Cohen (1873) all mounted expeditions. Dicke writes in his book The Bush Speaks that "along a route established the traders fortified depots where always some of them were to be found as there was much traffic on such a route. At the depots the traders rested their caravans and deposited their merchandise and their goods bartered. From their depots their retail peddlers went out in all directions amongst the people with whom they wanted to barter". Around this time a postal service seems to have been established between Albasini's Goedewensch and Delagoa Bay at the recommendation of Friderich Jeppe. Albasini reported to Jeppe that it took about fifteen days for a runner to deliver the post.

The Mail arrives at Pilgrims Rest, 1870s.

Merensky, Mauch and Erskine were pioneers in the field of local map making. Cohen produced an excellent route map from Lydenburg to Delagoa Bay. Mauch, Merensky, Jeppe, Forsman (with the help of Thomas Baines), Brooks and Hammar produced the first comprehensive map of the Zuid Afrikaanische Republiek (published by Justus Perthes, Gotha, 1868), and this was further improved upon by Merensky in 1870 and again by Jeppe in 1877. None of the maps had much detail about the Central Lowveld; the region was simply too hostile for anyone to stay long enough to make itemised maps.

Dickinsonís Hotel and Trading Store, Leydsdorp, 1890.

In 1868 Mauch found gold north of the Olifants River; when prospector Edward Butten (who worked for P.C. Sutherland, hence the name of the mountain range), confirmed this in 1869 it heralded the beginning of a new era. The first prospectors arrived in the 1880s - the gold rush had begun. The Sutherland and Murchison Ranges became hives of activity. Initial work concentrated on inspecting the prehistoric sites and digging them deeper. Soon heavier equipment was needed, and roads were built to provide rapid transport by ox wagon.

Miners and prospectors were attracted to the area from all around the world, hoping to strike lucky. A high fatality rate (principally due to malaria) did not prevent people flocking to the Klein Letaba, Selati, Haenertsburg, Thabina, Leydsdorp, Freestate Camp, Klein-Spelonken and Birthday. Leydsdorp soon became the business centre of the region with the establishment of a hotel, many bars, trading stores of all descriptions, a bakery, butchery, a blacksmith, a police station, a gaol and a post office. A Government building was erected in 1891 and in 1893 a hospital was built. In 1891, the first newspaper for the Lowveld was printed, the Leydsdorp Leader. Coaches drawn by mules and zebras provided the transport to Lydenberg, Pietersberg and beyond.

Zeederberg Company span of zebras used on the Pietersberg-Leydsdorp route, 1881.

The Gold Rush did not, however, last long. By the turn of the century, and hastened by the advent of the Anglo-Boer War, the Rush had ground to a halt. For the first time a map with all the gold fields and transport routes was produced, drawn up by a Swiss missionary, Henri Berthoud who spent eight years travelling extensively in the region from 1891. This was published in 1903 in Bern. The legacy of the Gold Rush lives on in the historic town of Pilgrims Rest.