The historical town of Pilgrim's Rest was declared a living museum in 1976 to preserve the history of gold mining in the Mpumalanga Lowveld. Knowledge of the gold fields dates back to ancient times when unknown miners worked the quartz reefs for gold. Evidence of their diggings can still be found throughout northern and eastern South Africa and Zimbabwe.
A number of insignificant gold deposits were discovered in the northern parts of South Africa between 1840 and 1870. The first, modest gold rush in South Africa took place in 1873 when payable gold was discovered on the farm Geelhoutboom near the town of Sabie on the Mpumalanga escarpment. President Burgers, who visited the site, named the camp "Mac Mac" and declared the area the New Caledonia Gold Fields due to the Scottish extraction of many of the prospectors.
One of the Mac Mac diggers, Alec "Wheelbarrow" Patterson, left the immediate area to prospect further afield. Soon after, he discovered rich gold deposits in Pilgrim's Creek, a tributary of the Blyde River, close to where the village of Pilgrim's Rest now stands. He was able to keep his secret for only a short time before a second prospector, William Trafford, discovered the same deposit of gold. The news of a rich strike triggered the first major gold rush in South Africa.
Pilgrim's Rest was declared a gold field on 22 September 1873. The Gold Commissioner moved his office to Pilgrim's Rest and by the end of 1873 there were some 1,500 diggers working 4,000 claims in and around Pilgrim's Rest. The valley was rich in gold with large finds also being made at Starvation Gully, Peach Tree Creek, Brown's Hill, Poverty Creek, Golden Point and Breakneck Gully. It is estimated that R2 million worth of gold was mined during the first seven years of mining in the Pilgrim's Rest valley. The scale of this gold field cannot be compared to those of Australia or California but nevertheless caused much excitement in South Africa.
FROM CAMP TO VILLAGE
By 1874/75 Pilgrim's Rest had become the social and commercial centre for the diggings then comprising the Upper, Middle and Lower Camps. By 1896 many of the tents had been replaced by more permanent buildings. After the First War of Independence (1880 - 1881) the Republican government instituted a policy of granting concessions to individuals and companies in an effort to stimulate economic and industrial growth. In 1881, David Benjamin, a London financier, obtained the mining rights to Pilgrim's Rest and the surrounding area. His first move was to compensate the remaining diggers for their claims which he then consolidated with the formation of the Transvaal Gold Exploration Company. In 1895, this company, along with other smaller companies, amalgamated to form the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates. Of this process of commercialisation, the resident minister of St. Mary's Anglican Church at the time, wrote "soon all will be organised and everyone managed".
The conservation of Pilgrim's Rest as a cultural and historic asset began in 1974 when the provincial government purchased the village. In 1986 the village of Pilgrim's Rest and the farm Ponieskrantz, on which the village is situated, was declared a National Monument. Today a dedicated group of historians and interest groups continue to work towards the further restoration of the village to increasingly provide a better insight into the history of the area. The village is divided into two distinct areas - Up-town and Down-town.
Courtesy of Jacana Media
The place to stay in Pilgrims Rest is the Royal Hotel, which you can book here.
The Pilgrim's Rest Information Office and the Ticket Office in the Up Town sector offer tourist information and guided tours to three museums: the Diggings, the Reduction Works and Allanglade House.
Unsolicited Car Washes are a Pilgrims Rest Special