Pilgrim's Rest, Mpumalanga
Pilgrim's Rest in 1998
|• Total||25.40 km2 (9.81 sq mi)|
|• Density||68/km2 (180/sq mi)|
|Racial makeup (2011)|
|• Black African||93.4%|
|First languages (2011)|
|• Northern Sotho||50.4%|
Pilgrim’s Rest (Afrikaans: Pelgrimsrus) is a small town in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa which is protected as a provincial heritage site. It was the second of the Transvaal gold fields, attracting a rush of prospectors in 1873, soon after the MacMac diggings started some 5 km away. Alluvial panning eventually gave way to deeper ore mining. In the 1970s the town, not greatly changed, became a tourist destination.
The alluvial gold was discovered by prospector Alec Patterson. He panned Pilgrim's Creek, as it became known, when the nearby MacMac diggings became too crowded. He kept his find a secret, but a gold rush resulted when fellow prospector William Trafford registered his claim with the Gold Commissioner at MacMac. After it was officially declared a gold field in September 1873, the town suddenly grew to 1,500 inhabitants searching for alluvial gold.
In the 1880s the alluvial gold dwindled and prospectors were attracted to Barberton's newly discovered gold deposits. Towards the end of the 19th century claims were bought up and underground mining started by the company known as TGME. The better-funded mining companies started mining the deeper gold-bearing ore. By 1895 several small mining companies amalgamated to form the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (T.G.M.E.).
As the volumes of gold ore increased, the engineers constructed small, local hydro-electric plants to generate electricity for the electric tramway, and the ore crushers at the reduction works, built in 1897. In 1911 the 2,000 kW Belvedere power station (at ) was completed on the Blyde River, some 30 km to the east. It supplied hydro-electric power to Pilgrim's Rest and adjacent communities up to 1992. Pilgrim's Rest was southern Africa's second town with street electricity, the first being Kimberley, also a mining town.
At the graveyard, every single grave was laid facing in the same direction, except for the famous Robber’s Grave which is laid perpendicular to the rest, emblazoned simply with a cross and the large type words of "Robbers Grave". It is said that his grave was laid out that way, so that could not see the rising sun.
One report states that it is the grave of a robber who was shot stealing a tent from one of the miners. A tent represented a "home", so was the most valuable of any individuals belongings. Stealing this tent was a most grievous crime and the punishment was meted out in the extreme. Another report states that the robber instead stole a wheelbarrow.
Recent times and tourism
Mining was closed down in 1971 and the village was sold to the government as a national museum. Transvaal Gold Minings Estates, currently part of the listed Simmers and Jack, started gold mining again in 1998. The town's original architecture remains largely unchanged since then, because the town was declared a National Monument. It became a provincial heritage site in 1986. On May 15, 2004, the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in the Cultural category.
- Coins of the South African pound
- Mabin, A.S. & Pirie, G.H. The township question at Pilgrims Rest, 1894–1922. South African Historical Journal, 17 (1985), 64–83.
- Pirie, G.H. Public administration in Pilgrims Rest, 1915–1969. Contree, 20 (1986), 27–32.
- Jock of the Bushveld
- Media related to Pilgrim's Rest at Wikimedia Commons
- Pilgrim's Rest Reduction Works Industrial Heritage Site - UNESCO World Heritage Centre
- Pilgrims Rest Website