Information provided by Hans Bornman from his unpublished book, Lowveld Tour Guide:
Town, 15 km north-west of Graskop and 45 km north of Sabie. It was laid out as a digger’s camp on the farm Ponies Krantz in 1873. The name is attributed to William Trafford, who believed that his wandering days in search of gold had ended, and named the place Pilgrim’s Rest. It is important to know that Pilgrim’s Rest has two sections, namely the UP town and DOWN town. Because there are only a few buildings between these two parts, it often happens that tourists wrongly assume that Pilgrim’s Rest consists only of the first part, namely the UP town section.
Alexander (Wheelbarrow) Patterson trundled his wheelbarrow containing his possessions to a stream down a valley in 1873. There he prospected and found gold. Unbeknown to him, he had discovered the richest alluvial gold deposit of that time, in Southern Africa. He kept this find to himself. He was joined by another prospector, William Trafford, who seeing a golden future exclaimed that here the pilgrim would come to rest. As to Alex (Wheelbarrow) Patterson, well he seems to have disappeared from the scene. The writer of an article published in The Press Annual of 1895 ‘……… assisted to bury poor Alexander in 1884 in Delagoa Bay, and a few old hands fixed up the funeral expenses’.
In the early part of 1873, the Lydenburg Fields began to attract attention owing to the discovery of gold around Spitskop by Messrs. Button, McLachlan and others. Although that well-known German explorer, Karl Mauch, had discovered gold years before. One of the highest peaks on the surrounding mountains is known as Mauch’s Berg.
From Spitzkop, prospectors went out and Macmac was located and named by President Burgers after three Macs – Thomas McLachlan, the pioneer prospector, Walter McDonald, the gold commissioner and Bob McFie, the storekeeper. Walter McDonald, the first gold commissioner, was actually an American who in later years became the mayor of Uitenhage, Cape. Although McLachlan and McFie had Scottish names, it would appear that they also came from other parts of the globe.
Pilgrim’s Rest lured fortune seekers from all over the world and the secluded valley became a hive of activity. Gold in the creek pointed to a source higher up in the hills. Companies were formed for capital to mine and the diggers started drifting to new discoveries. Transvaal Gold Mining Estates Limited acquired the mining rights, operated successfully for many years and also owned the town. Eventually the gold petered out and the mine was closed in 1972.
In 1974 the Transvaal Provincial Administration acquired the town of Pilgrim’s Rest, and restored the buildings to depict the period 1880 – 1915.
The historical Royal Hotel with its bar, which used to be a Roman Catholic Church in Lourenco Marques, is still a popular venue. Considerable trade in prefabricated iron and wooden houses occurred during the 1870’s, and the church was bought for the sole purpose of supplying the diggers with a place to quench their thirst.
St Mary’s Anglican Church
The St Mary’s Anglican Church in Pilgrim’s Rest is the second oldest church building in the town. It was built in 1884 by a lay preacher on the gold fields, Frank Dowling, and some helpers.
In 1886 the Reverend Roberts succeeded him. He remembers the building as follows: ‘The Church Mr Dowling had left was as it still is, rather a rough building of undressed stone and iron-roofing; unceiled. It had a nicely furnished alter and a chancel, a decent American organ and rough home-made benches.’
Through the years several structural changes were made to the church, such as the verandah and the stone wall which was rough-casted.
Many of the miners’ cottages are still there. Alanglade the mine manager’s residence is a beautiful double storey building.
The old post office, stables, reduction works, etc. are nearly all restored to the original state.
Joubert Bridge built in 1896, was declared a national monument in August 1968. The railway line crossing the road near the bridge was electrified. It not only brought in ore from the outlying mines to the reduction works, but transported the children to and from school. Notice the graceful Victorian lampposts that are alongside the railway line.
Old Graveyard in the Up town section reveals much of the hardship experienced by the miners as a result of mining accidents, malaria and other tragedies. According to the dates on the grave-stones, some families were almost wiped out within a very short period. The cemetery, at the top of a steep hill behind the Methodist Church, came into being quite unplanned. The story of its origin is linked to the very interesting history of a specific grave. This grave, known as the Robbers Grave, lies at right angles to the others in the cemetery. An unknown digger committed the worst form of crime which occurred amongst the diggers; he stole mining equipment. He was banished from town, with the warning that he would be killed if he ever showed up again. A few days later he was spotted on the hill behind the Methodist Church. He was shot and buried right where he fell. To brand him as a thief, he was buried in a north-south position. Shortly after this incident, two other people died and were buried there, thus establishing the Pilgrim’s Rest cemetery.
Charles Chaitow, who owned the barber and tobacconist shops, rests in the Jewish section of the cemetery. He came from Russia in 1908, initially without the faintest idea of how to practise the art of hair-cutting, or to speak English or Afrikaans. However, he soon acquired these skills, and today the name Chaitow still reminds of an era of charm and romance. His son, Max, was a well known attorney in Pietersburg until the 1970’s before immigrating to Britain where he died in the 1980’s.
During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the town was taken over by the Boers and the Mint was moved from Pretoria to Pilgrim’s Rest. The gold ‘Veldpond’ was minted here, and the so-called Government Printing Works in the Field printed banknotes on pages of school exercise books and cash-register books.
There are guided tours to the reduction works, gold panning demonstrations at the diggings, horse riding and wine tasting. There are also demonstrations at handicraft shops. Old fashioned personal photographs can be taken. Visit the town museums, Robber’s Grave as wel as the golf course.