a Short History
YEARS 1845 - 1877
Journey back in time to the thrilling gold rush era of the 1870s in what was then the Transvaal province. At a location 5 km away from the future town, a remarkable discovery of payable gold sparked the birth of Pilgrim’s Rest. One man, Alec ‘wheelbarrow’ Patterson, sought his fortune beyond the crowded diggings. With his trusty wheelbarrow, he ventured into the surrounding hills, ultimately striking it rich in a small stream now known as Pilgrims Creek. Keeping his find a secret, Patterson toiled away until William Trafford stumbled upon gold nearby, forever altering the course of history. News of the golden treasure spread far and wide, drawing people from across the globe to the burgeoning site.
In 1873, the site was officially designated a gold field, and approximately 1,500 diggers were busy working 4,000 claims in and around the creek. As the population swelled, more permanent structures were erected, heralding the official opening of the town for business.
Pilgrim’s Rest boasted the discovery of notable large nuggets, including the renowned Breda nugget, weighing an impressive 6 kg. However, by 1880, the alluvial gold deposits began to dwindle, prompting most diggers to seek new sites in the region. This paved the way for mining companies that employed machinery to explore deeper in their pursuit of gold. Recognizing the need for electricity to handle the growing workload of crushing the increasingly abundant gold ore, plans were set in motion to construct a hydro plant in the breathtaking Blyde River Canyon. In 1911, Pilgrim’s Rest became the second town in South Africa to enjoy the marvel of electric power.
Over time, as gold deposits gradually diminished, mining companies started to withdraw, and Pilgrim’s Rest faced the prospect of becoming a ghost town. The land was deemed no longer of value to the mining industry, prompting its sale to the local government. Eventually, in 1986, Pilgrim’s Rest was rightfully declared a national monument.
Today, the town remains a remarkable reflection of its early days. The enduring charm of the past is embodied in the preserved old buildings, while the renowned Royal Hotel continues to extend a warm welcome to visitors from around the world. The historic Church Pub still serves exquisite South African beer, allowing visitors to savor the flavors of the bygone era. Although the dusty roads and horse-drawn highwaymen have faded into history, the legendary allure and old-world charm of Pilgrim’s Rest continue to captivate all who visit.