Located in the Mpumalanga region of South Africa, Pilgrim’s Rest is a small town with a very colorful and exciting history. In 1873 the town and surrounding area was densely populated with prospectors all hoping to make their fortunes in the second of the Transvaal gold fields. It was estimated that in the beginning of 1874 there were some 1500 prospectors working around 4000 claims. As so often happens when an influx of potential customers increases the population of a town, no matter how temporarily, businesses appear overnight to take advantage of the boom, charging outrageous prices that the many hopefuls will pay in order to get the items they need to keep working their claims and survive another week or two.
The 1870 gold rush was not the first time the area had been the site of digging. Evidence of mining of the quartz reefs in ancient times were revealed during the most recent efforts to retrieve the gold buried within the soil of the town and surrounding area, as well as other parts of South Africa. Though who the ancient miners were is unknown it has been established that the region of Mpumalanga was part of a transit corridor that moved gold from South Africa to Arabia, India and Phoenicia.
Sadly, for the most part, the gold that was found was alluvial (gold dust) and did not reap the fortune that many were working hard to make. Occasionally a nugget of gold was discovered and though these were few and far between the largest recorded nugget weight a substantial 214 ounces. Stories were spread that alleged nuggets found were as heavy as 25 lbs but are unconfirmed.
By the 1880’s most of the prospectors had moved on to pursue their dreams of discovering a fortune in gold elsewhere, and the mining companies moved in with their modern equipment that could dig down deeper for the gold and extract it much quicker than any mere man could. As demand for the gold rose it became obvious to the mining companies that the only way they could increase production effectively was to use electricity, and so two small hydro-electric power stations were built. Soon these became unable to provide the amount of electricity needed so the 2000kW Belvedere station was built in 1911.
The Pilgrim’s Rest mines had their most productive years in 1913/14, with an estimated 112000 ounces being mined each year. While that amount seems small in comparison to what could be mined today it was significant for the time, given the equipment and knowledge available, and is a testament to the ingenuity and determination of the mining companies to extract as much gold as they possibly could.
During the Second Boer War (11 October 1899 - 31 May 1902) the town of Pilgrim’s Rest was the location of a mint that was erected under emergency circumstances and the gold mined was used to make what is now the famous and rare Veld Pond coins. Anyone who is in possession or acquires one has the good fortune to not only have a valuable coin but also an integral part of South Africa’s gold mining history.
Today the town is a tourist location that takes visitors back in time to the days of the gold rush in the 1870’s. When it first became a tourist attraction in 1970 it was changed very little from its heyday and is now a protected historical site. In 1986 the town was declared a National Monument and since then a concerted effort has been made by curators, historians, architects and other interested parties to ensure the integrity of its history is preserved at all times.
It is said that there is still gold in the ground which is exciting for visitors to contemplate as they stand on the very site where 150 years earlier men, women and children were frantically digging and panning for the elusive solid nuggets that would make them instantly rich beyond their wildest dreams. The scars of the frantic digging for gold by many prospectors are still obvious despite the passage of time, and are just a part of what makes the town unique and interesting.
South Africa is a country steeped in history, beauty and romance. When visiting the stunning Mpumalanga region either on honeymoon or as a couple seeking a romantic getaway for two there are numerous splendid hotels.
The marriage of two people is something to be celebrated regardless of the culture, and in South Africa it is no different. There are many wonderful wedding traditions and symbols.
Things to See
The Mpumalanga region of South Africa is a playground for those who love to explore, go on adventures and soak up the beautiful scenery and wildlife this amazing country has to offer.
Arts & Crafts
Cheryl produced botanical illustrations for a Field Guide sponsored by Total and compiled by the Botany Department of the University of the North West. For several years she gave art classes and continued to paint.