Brief History of Pilgrim’s Rest

Gold had been discovered in the region of the eastern Transvaal Republic, now Mpumalanga, in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, with the small gold field at Geelhoutboom  and the Caledonian Gold Fields – located close to where the town of Sabie is today.

Fleeing from the squalid, over-crowded gold fields, a digger named Alec Paterson, struck out on his own pushing all his worldly belongings in a wheelbarrow. Becoming known as ‘Wheelbarrow Paterson,’ he was a loner who kept to himself. But a trip to the trading post situated on the road to Delagoa Bay revealed his secret. Paterson purchased food and mining equipment and paid in gold. Suspicious of the source of his gold, men at the trading post secretly followed Paterson to his claim. They also set up claims on the creek.

Fearing that his gold could be confiscated by officials one of the original men from the trading post, William Trafford, registered his claim with the Gold Commissioner at the New Caledonian Field on 22 September 1873. News quickly spread, and diggers hot footed it over the mountains to try their luck.

Legend has it that a comment was passed among those already there: ’here comes another pilgrim to his rest’. The moniker stuck, and the Pilgrims Rest Gold Field was established. Within a few short months, diggers were arriving from all over the world. Soon 1500 people were working 4000 claims. The Pilgrims Rest Gold Rush was in full swing.

An exceptionally rich gold field, it started off as an alluvial field (in the rivers and creeks of the area) but evolved into an underground operation when the diggers found the seams of gold that were in the creeks  had been washed down the mountains by erosion over the millennia. Soon hundreds of adits were being dug all over the surrounding mountains, and the small informal village of Pilgrims Rest was now a boom town.

Originally consisting of Upper Camp, Lower Camp, and Middle Camp the town grew around the three areas identified as the best prospects for the discovery of gold. This evolved into Up Town and Downtown we know today.

The permanent structures in the village were replacements for the original tents and shacks the early diggers used. Most were imported from the United Kingdom around 1880 – 1900. These corrugated iron structures were packaged in ‘flat pack’ crates and delivered to Delagoa Bay. From there they had to be transported by ox wagon.

The buildings were erected in a line with a road passing in front of them, this became Main Street over time. Mona Cottage is on Main Street on Up Town and is situated between the Pilgrims & Sabie News Museum and the Old Print House.

Today the whole town is a living museum where the villagers live and work in the restored, historically correct buildings. Tourists and visitors are invited to step back in time to the era of the early gold rush. There are seven museums in the Pilgrims Area that depict life from 1873 to 1950., Each museum portrays an era and lifestyle of the people who lived here.

The House Museum in Uptown reflects the life of the town doctor and his family from around the turn of the last century. Central Garage has displays of vintage carriages and cars. Pilgrims & Sabie News is dedicated to the early newspapers printed in the village. And Dredzen is a depiction of the Village General Store. In Downtown there is a museum dedicated to the history of the Sekhukhune people and the wars fought by them. The old Diggings open-air museum is 800m out of town on the Graskop Road and Alanglade House Museum is also out of town towards Vaalhoek.

You will find QR codes displayed on every building in the village linked to our App which will give you more information on the town and the buildings.

Museum tickets can be purchased from the Information Centre, opposite the Royal Hotel in Uptown, and guided tours are available.

Contact Brummer Tours @ or 0825221958. Booking is essential.