The history of the Pilgrim’s Rest gold fields dates back to ancient times when unknown miners worked the quartz reefs for gold. Evidence of their diggins can still be found throughout northern and eastern South Africa and Zimbabwe. A number of insignificant gold deposits were discovered in the northern parts of South Africa between 1840 and 1870.

The first gold rush in South Africa took place in 1873 when payable gold was discovered on the farm Geelhoutboom near the town of Sabie on the Mpumalanga escarpment. President Burgers, who visited the site, named the camp “Mac Mac” and declared the area the New Caledonia Gold Fields. One of the Mac Mac diggers, Alec “Wheelbarrow” Patterson, left the immediate area to prospect further afield. Patterson found rich gold deposits in the Pilgrim’s Creek. He was able to keep his find a secret for just a short time before a second prospector, William Trafford, also found gold in the same creek.

News of a rich strike triggered the first major gold rush in South Africa. Pilgrim’s Rest was declared a gold field on 22 September 1873. The Gold Commissioner also moved his office to Pilgrim’s Rest and by the end of 1873 there were some 1500 diggers working 4000 claims in and around Pilgrim’s Rest. The valley was rich in gold with large finds also being made at Starvation Gully, Peach Tree Creek, Brown’s Hill, Poverty Creek, Golden Point and Breakneck Gully.

During the first decade mining activities centred mainly on the recovering of alluvial gold. Gold was recovered from the streams and the banks of the river and creeks by means of sluice-boxes and cradles. It is estimated that R2 million worth of gold was retrieved during the first seven years of alluvial mining in the Pilgrim’s Rest valley.

Pilgrim’s Rest was the social and commercial centre of the diggins, which comprised of the Upper, Middle and Lower Camps. By 1896 many of the tents had been replaced by more permanent buildings. The scale of the Pilgrim’s Rest gold fields cannot be compared with that of Australia or California, but it did produce a large amount of gold and for some time caused much excitement in South Africa.

After the Transvaal War of Independence (1880-1881) the reinstated government of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) instituted a policy of granting concessions to individuals and companies in an effort to stimulate industries. In 1881 David Benjamin, a London financier, obtained the mining rights to Pilgrim’s Rest and the surrounding area. Benjamin compensated the remaining diggers for their claims which he then consolidated with the formation of the Transvaal Gold Exploration Company. In 1895, this company, along with other smaller companies, amalgamated to form the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates (TGME).

The resident minister of the St. Mary’s Anglican Church at the time, wrote: “Soon all will be organised and everyone managed”.

The histories of the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates and Pilgrim’s Rest are inseparably linked. Both shared the fluctuating fortunes of the mines. An average of 300 000 tons of ore per annum was mined in the period1930 – 1950. In the fifties ore production fell to an average of 50 000 tons per year. In times of affluence there were up to 16 general dealers in the village. However there were also hard times when the mining company had to contend with sub quality ore, unstable ground, a scarcity of labour and periodic floods. In 1972 the Beta mine ceased operations as the last operational mine in Pilgrim’s Rest.

The village, however, has survived to become a Provincial Heritage Site, National Icon and living museum.

Entry Fees

Village Walk (5 town museum)Alanglade House MuseumDiggings Site Museum
Adult: R30.00
Child: R15
(A village walk that offers an expirience of the whole main street, which offers old buildings and 5 museums)
Adult: R30.00
Child: R15.00
Adult: R30.00
Child: R15.00

Guided Tours: Book one hour in advance is required.

Our Museums


Paul P Ahlers had the Central Garage erected on the present site in 1924.


Dredzen Shop Museum is representative of a typical general dealer of the period 1930-1950.


The Pilgrim's Rest Museum (PRM) endeavored to preserve as many aspects of the cultural heritage.


Alanglade was built in 1915 by the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates Ltd as the general mine manager's residence.


Victorian House Museum is an example of the wood and corrugated iron architecture.


It is appropriate that there should be a diggins museum at Pilgrim’s Rest, where the first major gold rush in South Africa took place in 1873.


The origin of the Pilgrim's Rest historic cemetery is closely connected to the legend of the Robber's Grave.


The first locally printed newspaper circulated on the Pilgrim’s Rest gold fields was the Gold News of January 1874.