Pilgrim's Rest, Mpumalanga

Pilgrim's Rest

Pilgrim's Rest in 1998
Pilgrim's Rest
Pilgrim's Rest
Pilgrim's Rest

 Pilgrim's Rest shown within Mpumalanga

Coordinates: 24°54′28″S 30°45′24″E / 24.90778°S 30.75667°E / -24.90778; 30.75667Coordinates: 24°54′28″S 30°45′24″E / 24.90778°S 30.75667°E / -24.90778; 30.75667
Country South Africa
Province Mpumalanga
District Ehlanzeni
Municipality Thaba Chweu
  Total 25.40 km2 (9.81 sq mi)
Population (2011)[1]
  Total 1,721
  Density 68/km2 (180/sq mi)
Racial makeup (2011)[1]
  Black African 93.4%
  Coloured 1.5%
  White 4.8%
  Other 0.3%
First languages (2011)[1]
  Northern Sotho 50.4%
  Sotho 15.3%
  Swazi 13.5%
  Tsonga 5.9%
  Other 14.8%
PO box 1290
Area code 013

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 kilometres (3.1 mi) 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.[2] 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.[2] After it was officially declared a gold field in September 1873, the town suddenly grew to 1,500 inhabitants searching for alluvial gold.

Mining companies

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.).[2]

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.[2] In 1911 the 2,000 kW Belvedere power station (at 24°39′18″S 30°50′12″E / 24.65500°S 30.83667°E / -24.65500; 30.83667 (Belvedere power station)) 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.[3] Pilgrim's Rest was southern Africa's second town with street electricity, the first being Kimberley, also a mining town.[2]

Boer war

Pilgrim’s Rest was the location of an emergency mint during the Second Boer War. This mint struck the famous and extremely rare Veld Pond.


The Robber's Grave

At the graveyard, every single grave was laid facing in the same direction, except for the traditional Robber’s Grave which is laid perpendicular to the rest, not facing the rising sun, and emblazoned simply with a cross and the large type words of "Robbers Grave". One legend attributes it to a robber who was shot when he was caught stealing a tent from another miner, while other legends would have it that he instead stole a wheelbarrow, or that the thief died after being lynched.

The most detailed account attributes the grave to a fortune hunter, one Walter Scott, who committed suicide.[4] Scott would have shot his friend Roy Spencer, son of a well to do English banker, after they returned drunk form a party. Scott suspected Spencer of stealing his purse of gold. Scott pursued Spencer and shot him near the church, the site of the present grave yard, whereafter Spencer was secretly buried. The sobered up Scott found his purse in his tent, and committed suicide when he realised what he had done. Scott was then buried in an unmarked grave next to that of his friend, Spencer.

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.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Main Place Pilgrim's Rest". Census 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "History". Pilgrim's Rest. pilgrims-rest.co.za. Retrieved 24 December 2013.
  3. Viljoen, Buks (17 March 2011). "Sakesektor moet help met krag". Beeld. Retrieved 24 December 2013.
  4. tourism marketer (3 September 2013). "The Robber's Grave in Pilgrim's Rest". Pilgrim's Rest, Mpumalanga, South Africa. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
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