Pilgrims Rest - Pilgrims Rest history - Pilgrims Rest information

 

The history of Pilgrims Rest in Mpumalanga South Africa and information on Pilgrims Rest Diggers and the 1873 gold rush

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PILGRIMS REST IN EVICTION CRISIS

There has been significant bad political handling of this historical town, in inept and seemingly unbelievably stupid and maybe even corrupt decisions by equally seemingly incompetent government bodies that are now threatening the future of historic Pilgrims Rest by evictions.
Click on the Pilgrims Rest crisis link below for "Up to date" information.

 

FOR THE LATEST COURT VICTORY NEWS


FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE PILGRIMS REST EVICTION CRISIS

FOR FASCINATING OLD PHOTOS OF PILGRIMS REST

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE CHARACTERS OF THE GOLD RUSH

PILGRIMS REST
Compiled and written by Louis-John Havemann

I have used among others the authors A.P.Cartwright and T.V.Bulpin's writings in no small measure to compile this summary
Any further information and images would be gratefully received
and recorded with credits:
email lj-tours@iafrica.com

GOLD”.  There is an almost reverent ring to the word and it has lured people through the ages to risk their lives and endure unbelievable hardships, in some of the most inhospitable places on earth, in search of this precious commodity.

Evidence of mine diggings at Pilgrim's Rest goes back to ancient times when unknown people worked the gold bearing quartz reefs for this precious metal.
Signs of early mining activity can be found in the north and eastern parts of South Africa as well as Zimbabwe.

A number of insignificant gold deposits were discovered in the northern parts of South Africa between 1840 and 1870.

The first discovery of gold in the Transvaal which led to the first gold rush in South Africa, took place in 1873 when payable gold was discovered on the farm Geelhoutboom belonging to Tom McLahlan, near the town of Sabie in Mpumalanga.
This discovery saved the Boer Republic of the Transvaal (ZAR. Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek) from bankruptcy.

I am attaching the photo I have, although I am not sure where it came from. I obtained it from my late uncle, Geoff McLachlan, who would have been fascinated by the photo. He was the last surviving grandson of Tom when he died in 2005. There is a distinct resemblance to my father, Dr Frank McLachlan, who died in 1985. I have done extensive research into Tom's descendents, and have a almost complete family tree, although his origin in Scotland is still a mystery.

TOM McLAHLAN

President Burgers, who visited the site, named the camp "Mac Mac" and declared the area the New Caledonia Gold Fields.

This photo is from Grant McLahlan who contacted me and kindly gave permission to use this photo, he wrote;

" I was fascinated to find on your website a photo of Tom McLachlan, who was my Great-grandfather. I have only one photo, and it clearly is the same person." CLICK HERE FOR MORE

The Pilgrims Rest gold rush was situated in one of the most beautiful and healthy settings of any gold rush in history. How did it happen?

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON SOME CHARACTERS CLICK HERE

 

 

The year was 1873 and we need to focus on a certain prospector who was responsible for starting the rush to Pilgrims Rest.  These old prospectors, or “Diggers”, were by the nature of their occupation, strong resolute men, who stoically bore all sorts of hardships in pursuit of that, at the time, illusive metal.
This prospector, Alec Patterson, was a taciturn eccentric loner and as a result of his habit of pushing his worldly possessions around the mountains in a wheelbarrow, earned the nickname “Wheelbarrow Patterson”, or “Wheelbarrow Alec”.
Not much is known about this man, it was thought that he came from Kimberley, but nobody knows how he got to Mac Mac, or when he acquired the wheelbarrow.
You the visitor should pause awhile and look again carefully at this rugged terrain, while trying to imagine what it must have been like pushing a heavily laden wheelbarrow up and down and around these mountains!!.
There are some stories that he acquired his wheelbarrow after being kicked by his donkey and also that he pushed the wheelbarrow all the way from the Cape. I cannot substantiate the truth of these stories.

Wheelbarrow Patterson sets off to find the first gold at Pilgrims Rest Mpumalanga

This picture of Wheelbarrow Patterson is by courtesy of P.W.Wheeler and Roy Taylor
in the book by A.P.Cartwright "Valley of Gold"

The diggings at Mac Mac were to Patterson’s mind, too overcrowded, so one day with a last wash, he packed up his sluice box and equipment and with a terse,
“I’m off”, headed for the hills.
Alec Patterson looked from the heights down onto the Blyde River Valley, there was a small stream running down the mountain in a westerly direction to join the Blyde at the bottom of the valley.
There were peach trees growing on the banks of the Blyde, which indicated that other people had passed by here quite some time before and had left the peach pips to germinate and grow. They were thought to have been long ago hunters from Lydenburg,or Voortrekkers but nobody knows for certain. These peach trees are mentioned so often, that there has to be a significance attached to these exotic, non indigenous, fruit trees growing in this setting.
They did provide for an anecdote that will later in this history be told.
Somewhere in the middle of the stream’s course Patterson found the telltale  “colour” or “tailing” of gold in his old prospector’s pan. Being by nature a secretive man he did not whisper a word to anyone and set about working his find without interruption.

It was’t long before another digger, named William Trafford, entered the valley and also discovered gold in the stream.
Trafford, who had been trudging up and down the mountains, in sun and rain and wind for months on end, with nothing to show for his efforts, is credited with naming the place Pilgrim’s Rest.
He is reputed to have stated that his pilgrimage was over and he had now reached the end of his search and so “This Pilgrim has come to rest”. Thus it was that the camp became known as Pilgrims Rest and the stream as Pilgrims Creek.
Another story says that on finding gold in his pan, he shouted aloud, “This pilgrim is at rest” and the answering echo came back “Pilgrims at rest…. rest”.
Trafford did not keep quiet about his find and sometime in September of 1873 he registered his claim at the Mac Mac office of the Gold Commissioner, Major W. Macdonald, an American. A claim was usually 150 x 150 Cape feet.

An early photo of Pilgrims Rest where gold was first discovered in 1873 by Wheel barrow Patterson

This is an early photo of Pilgrims Rest

Word spread like wildfire and soon a flood of diggers shook Wheelbarrow Patterson out of his customary calm.
Within a very short space of time over 200 diggers were spread out all over the stream.
This first rush was much localized, but when word had spread to Delagoa Bay, Kimberley, right down to Cape Town that this was the El Dorado everyone was waiting for, a “high tide” flood of diggers converged on Pilgrims Rest.
Bear in mind that towards the end of 1873, there were said to be nearly 1000 diggers at the Mac Mac diggings.

By the 3rd January 1874, Pilgrims Rest was such a hub of activity with Mac Mac falling into comparative insignificance, that Major MacDonald, the Gold Commissioner, moved his office to Pilgrims Rest in order to better control this gold field with it's lively and rowdy element of diggers.

1874 was a boom year for Pilgrims Rest, with excellent daily finds of gold and the Mac Mac fields being deserted. Men of all nationalities were arriving in ever increasing numbers to cash in on the rush and by the end of 1873 there were some 1,500 diggers working 4,000 claims in and around Pilgrim's Rest.
On a proclaimed gold field, no digging was permitted between sunset and sunrise or on Sundays.
The valley was rich in gold with large finds being made at places like Breakneck Gully, Brown's Hill, Golden Point, Peach Tree Creek, Poverty Creek, and Starvation Gully.
It has been estimated that during the first seven years of mining in the Pilgrim's Rest area, R2-million worth of gold was mined .
Although this gold rush did not compare in size and scale to the gold rushes of Australia or California it did cause great excitement in South Africa.

Not only Diggers but professional tradesmen, storekeepers, canteen owners, rogues, sinners and saints, members of the fairer sex, even parsons arrived to contribute to the life of the gold rush town of Pilgrims Rest.

By 1874/75 Pilgrim's Rest had become the social and commercial centre for the gold rush diggings which consisted of 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 which brought victory to the Boers after the battle of Majuba in 1881, the Volksraad (Transvaal Government) granted 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. This caused much unrest amongst the Diggers but the days of the small miner had to give way to big business.
Benjamin then consolidated all his claims and formed the Transvaal Gold Exploration Company. In 1895, this company amalgamated with other smaller companies, to form the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates.

What a compilation of stories has been left behind to allow us to remember those wild exciting heydays of Pilgims Rest

After nearly 100 years, gold mining at Pilgrims Rest ceased in 1972, but there is conjecture that mining will be opened up again.

 

Some of the Characters of Pilgrims Rest and the gold rush

When history and a story such as the Pilgrims Rest gold rush is narrated, there have to be references to people and characters who contributed to the making and telling of the tale.
I doubt that a more cosmopolitan assembly of people, sharing such diverse skills and talents, encompassing such a broad spectrum of human strengths and weaknesses, emotions and wills has ever been assembled in such a remote and beautiful setting as the Pilgrims Rest gold rush.

How do I identify and number these people? Let me try to allow you, the reader, to learn about these colourful players and their contribution to Pilgrims Rest's history.
Of necessity I have to try and deal with them "One by One" .

                                                                                     Click on a name below for more details

Alec Patterson

William Trafford

M.Mockett The Bosun

William Scully

Elizabeth Russell

President Thomas Burgers

Tommy Dennison      

 

COINS & MEDALS FROM PILGRIMS REST

 

THE BURGERS POND

President Burgers had a great desire to introduce indigenous coinage into the ZAR and it was he who had the first ZAR coins minted.

He purchased some Pilgrims Rest gold and shipped it to Mr J J Pratt, the ZAR's Consul General in England, in order to have the coins made.
He also sent Pratt, his portrait together with sketches of the ZAR's coat of arms.

The dies were made by Mr L C Wyon, of the British Royal Mint and the coins were struck by the firm of R Heaton & Sons of Birmingham.
Mr Pratt had to hurry the minting process of the coins so that they would be ready by the 5th of June, 1874. This was when President Burger's wife was to return to the Tranvaal after a stay in London.
He received a batch of 695 pound coins on the 25th of July, 1874 and a further batch of 142 in September of 1874.
The original minting die from batch of 695, broke, so the second batch of 142 coins were struck after another die was made.
On the second batch of 142 coins, the President's beard appeared to be much thicker and coarser as it is impossible to ever make an exact duplicate of an original die.
This has resulted to the first batch being referred to as the 'Fine Beard' coins and the second batch the 'Coarse Beard' mintings.
Thus there are two very distinct and different issues of Burgers Pounds.

Fine Beard Burgers Pond - mintage 695 pieces

Fine Beard Burgers Pond - mintage 695 pieces
The beard shows one thick front point, then two longer and thinner points followed by three shorter points.
The front of the beard is wavy. The burr on the edge of the obverse of the coin shows a double ring. The impression of the effigy is very sharp.

The lower neck hair is less pronounced than in the coarse beard variety.

Images by courtesy of:-
The South African Coin Corporation
Click on their website for more www.sacoin.co.za/coin_topic2.html

Coarse Beard Burgers Pond - mintage 142 pieces

Coarse Beard Burgers Pond - mintage 142 pieces
The beard shows four thick points, the front pair being shorter than the back. The beard is heavier and flatter in curvature.
The burr is on the edge of the reverse. In addition the 8 in the date 1874 on some pieces appears to be a double 8.

The lower neck hair is more pronounced than in the fine beard variety and can still be clearly identified in pieces VF or lower.

Images by courtesy of:-
The South African Coin Corporation
Click on their website for more www.sacoin.co.za/coin_topic2.html

With great pride President Burgers presented 50 of his gold coins at a meeting of the Volksraad.
It came as a great shock to him to receive the appalled and indignant reaction that greeted the first ZAR coinage.

Instead of congratulations and admiration, the wrath of some members of the Raad must have come as a most unpleasant surprise.The feeling was that he was incredibly egotistical and almost dictatorial to have used the government's money to produce a coin with his own face on it. Pandemonium, argument and hot debate followed but the end result was that The ZAR now had it's own indigenous coinage.

After the dust settled the members of the Volksraad were each paid one Burgers Pound for that day's session. A Pound also handed to Burgers as thanks to him for introducing an indigenous coin to the Boer Republic.

 

THE VELD POND

The Veldpond hand made by the Boer forces at Pilgrims Rest during the Boer War.

Images by courtesy of:-
The South African Coin Corporation

The Veldpond is one our most beautiful coins.The big difference between the Veldpond and other coins is that the Veldponde were hand-made.
Each one's shape varies from concave to convex and every coin is unique and individual.

I have been contacted by Dr. Rentia Landman and advised of the inaccuracy and false information regarding the history of the making of the Veldponde at Pilgrims Rest during the Anglo Boer War.
This false information was initiated by P.J.Kloppers himself and his has been the accepted story of the Veldpond for over one hundred years.
This wrong information was never contested until Dr. Rentia Landman recently conducted further extensive research into the matter and has discovered
numerous facts that totally disprove P.J.Klopper's claims.
Dr. Landman very kindly gave her permission to link to her extremely interesting website - www.veldpond.co.za - in order for interested readers to be able to access the true facts of the Pilgrims Rest Veldpond story. I strongly urge you to visit her website.

The Veldpond hand made by the Boer forces at Pilgrims Rest during the Boer War.

Images by courtesy of:-
The South African Coin Corporation

 

Her findings reveal that the true head of the team was in fact Field Cornet AGE Pienaar and not Kloppers as he made himself out to be.
Kloppers was only appointed as head of the "Munt te Velde" three weeks before peace was declared and that was after medals had already been issued to various people in recognition for their work done on the Veldpond.
Klopper's claim that he made the gold malleable by using mercury is also discredited. Michael Cooney,a master gold essayer was a member of the team and he in fact appears to have been the only person with enough expertise to have worked the gold. William George Reid a trained blacksmith actually made the dies.
This falsified version of the history of the Veldpond belies the fact that each of the five members of the team was a specialist in his own field and that the honour should not be conferred on one person only. The five members were 1. The Leader:- Andries Gustav Erlank Pienaar,
2. Essayer:- Michael Joseph Cooney, 3. Designer:- Philippus Johannes Kloppers, 4. Blacksmith/Mechanic:- William George Reid, and lastly
5. Gold Smelter:- Dick Graham

 

The above information is by courtesy of Dr. Rentia Landman from her website www.veldpond.co.za

 
General Ben Viljoen in the middle Capt Herklaas Malan on his left and Capt. Blyghout on his right

Gen. Ben Viljoen (centre)
Note the "Hairy Burger" left foreground. Click photo to enlarge

During September, 1901, General Ben Viljoen established his headquarters at Pilgrims' Rest.
This was the base of the Boer forces under his control. They comprised the Lydenburg commando of about 400 men under commandant David Schoeman and a force of 500 Johannesburg burgers under the general's brother, Commandant W. Viljoen.
The photo on the left including the "Hairy Burger" is from the SADF archives in Pretoria.

This mining town , deep in the mountains, was almost untouched by the war. About 40 families still lived there.



The "Staats Munt te Velde" theThe "Staats Munt te Velde" the
"State Mint in the Field"
From L-R, Mr.P.J.Kloppers (with Hammer), unknown blackman, W.Reid (holding press),
Veldkornet A. Pienaar and
Dick Graham (with crucible)

Here the battered Boer warriors could build shelters with material from the mine.

Women of the town made clothes for the Boers from curtains and the linen ceilings of their houses. Food supplies could be bought from the black people in the area. But, for that the war commissioner Willy Barter, needed money.
While spying on the British forces, in the mountains, Michael J Cooney, an Irish born American, saw the gold amalgam at the deserted mines.
He shared this information with his Irish compatriot Willy Barter.

Hand engraved dies for the "Veldpond"

Various members of Viljoen’s Johannesburg commando were craftsmen who worked on the goldmines before the war. The skills to purify the gold and cast ingots were therefore available. Issuing gold ingots as a first step towards making gold coins was an idea already expressed by Jules Perrin in 1874 when he tried to convince President Burgers that the ZAR government should establish its own State Mint, using the alluvial gold from Pilgrim’s Rest.
The gold ingots cast by Viljoen’s people were not acceptable to the black people. They wanted real money as currency. The plan to make gold coins took root, but unfortunately, at this stage, General Viljoen was captured by the British and sent to St Helena as a prisoner of war. on 25 January 1902.
Within a week, in February 1902, the ZAR Government gave permission for minting gold pounds.

Medals made of the veldponde

With this, the Mint on the Field (Munt te Velde) came into existence.
The most important machines that were needed for minting coins, were a metal lathe on which the dies could be turned, a mill to roll out the gold, a punch machine with which gold discs could be cut and a press to imprint the marks on the gold discs.
The production of Veldpond and the Veldpond Medals in the workshop of TGME at Pilgrim’s Rest was a remarkable achievement. It speaks of specialized knowledge, skill and creativity.
Every member of the team who was involved should be recognized. It is therefore regrettable that one member of the team, namely PJ Kloppers claimed all the honour for himself at the expense of the other members. The distorted history of the Veldpond needs to be rectified.

 

An article on the Veldpond in the Star newspaper on Saturday the 17th of September, 1927,was written by a man who was able to personally interview Mr Kloppers. Remember that this information was not entirely true. I include this link purely for interest's sake
To read this historical document Click Here; http://www.sacoin.co.za/coin_topic6.html

 

THE BURGERS CROSS

President Burgers in 1874 had three of these crosses struck out of Pilgrims Rest gold and presented them to three ladies.
I had heard and read reports that there was a third cross made, but I could not substantiate the validity of the third cross, nor to whom it was given.
I am now grateful to Mr. Arthur Radburn of "South African Orders, Decorations & Medals A-Z" for the information on the third recipient.

The first cross was given to Mrs Tom ( Emma) Maclachlan (Her husband owned the farm Geelhoutboom where gold was found and the Mac Mac fields started. She was given the medal in recognition for her sterling work in nursing men at the diggings who were suffering from malaria and blackwater fever.

The second medal was presented to her ward Miss Maria Espach, later to become Mrs. D. Austin, for her work in nursing men who had been wounded during the Sekhukhune war.

The third medal was presented to Catharina van Rees, for composing the ZAR national
anthem "Kent gij dat volk".

Mrs D.Austin

 

The medals to both Mrs MacLahlan and Austin were accompanied by a letter from the president dated 25 August 1874 saying,
"My Dear Madam,
In handing you over the accompanying "Burgers Cross" as a token of sincere respect and acknowledgment on behalf of myself and the public of the Goldfields for your kind and devoted services rendered to those who were in distress, I feel that I express the feelings of all when I say:
May God reward you for your noble self denial!
Trusting that you may be spared many years to enjoy the fruits of a noble work ably performed.
I remain my dear Madam your obd servant.
Thos. Burgers, State President S.A. Republic"

Further information from Mr. Arthur Radurn on the Burgers Cross which I find very informative and is not freely available, is the fact that there are also at least two uses of the Burgers Cross in local heraldry: 
1.) In the coat of arms of the (now defunct?) Transvaal Department of Public Works in Pilgrim's Rest.
2.) In the coat of arms (shoulder flash) of 7 SA Infantry Battalion, which is/was based in the area.

The value of these medals lies not only in their rarity but also in the amount of gold they contain.
These photos are by courtesy of Terry Hack from the book Pilgrims Rest a Pictorial History (Transvaal Provincial Administration library & museum service)

If anybody has a better photo or can obtain a better photo, please let me have it, with credit to you, because I believe this one does not do justice to this outstanding medal.

 

I was contacted by Ms Sally Shaw with further interesting information.
Her father Mr. Victor Burger, who is a descendant of the late President Francois Burgers,was commissioned, by Rand Mine Properties, in 1973 to use the last of the gold left over from the last production run at Pilgrims Rest to make a copy of the Burgers Cross as well as 60 miniatures.
The full sized replica was made from an original Burgers Cross, housed in the Museum of Man in Pretoria. It was made of 14 carat gold and weighed 30 - 40 grammes. The size did not correspond to the weight and it was then discovered that the original crosses were hollow.

Mr Victor Burger holding up his miniture Burgers Cross, made from the last gold mined at Pilgrims Rest

CLICK ON PHOTO TO ENLARGE MINIATURE CROSS

The miniatures each weighed
7 grammes and all 60 were presented to various dignitaries and employees of Rand Mine Properties at the time of closure of the Pilgrims Rest Mine. He made jewellry as a hobby and was approached by someone at RMP, asking if he would be interested in the project.
Six pairs of cufflinks were also made from this left over gold and it was decided to make a replica of the original veld pond minted during the Boer War. The back of the cufflink is blank so as not to be confused with the genuine veldpond and they were made from the original dies that the original veldponde were struck from .

Cufflinks made from the press and dies that were used to mint the original veld ponde at Pilgrims Rest during the Anglo Boer War

Mr. Victor Burger kindly agreed to meet me and let me photograph his miniature Burgers Cross and veldpond cufflinks.


     

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