Scott Balson's trip to South Africa -
7th September 2006 - Pilgrim's Rest

Perth : Johannesburg : Pretoria : Pietersburg : Pilgrim's Rest : Ladysmith : Champagne Castle : Estcourt : Durban : Ixopo
Kokstad : Port Elizabeth : Plettenburg Bay : Cape Town : Victoria West : Griquatown : Mafikeng : Johannesburg : Perth

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Woke at 5am this morning - my body is now in tune with S African time!

Today I had my first Amstel beer in over 20 years. In the picture on the right you can see me about to enjoy a glass - in those day an Amstel was about one rand - today it is ZAR12.50!

After breakfast went for a walk around the town. I discovered some amazing treasures at the Pilgrims Rest Post Office. The items are in a glass cabinet in the public area and include rare pre-1900 bank notes and a previously unknown "Pilgrim's Rest One Shilling Coin" which bears the slogan - "European Hotel, Pilgrim's Rest" on one side and "W Stein" on the other. I now have this very rare coin in my own private collection..  

The collection at Pilgrims Rest is on loan to the town by the First National Bank - formerly Barclays Bank - formerly the National Bank (1884). I walked across the road to the First National Bank and met Marietjie who lives in Graskop but comes to the Pilgrim's Rest agency (like I used to do in Natal) on Mondays and Thursdays. She was quite sad because the bank after serving the historic town of Pilgrim's Rest since 1884 is closing on 20th September. In fact this her fourth last visit. 


Pilgrims Rest

You can "smell" the history

in Pilgrim's Rest

Sunrise over the diggings

The scarred landscape from old
pre-1900 diggings

The pub in Pilgrim's Rest

The Post Office with the
unexpected treasures

Rare bank notes and

Pilgrim's Rest coin on display in the local Post Office

The PO - just one bottle of water!

The First National Bank closing
its doors after over 120 years

The Royal Hotel

Marietjie with the scales used by
the bank to weigh the gold

Unique C-001 original ten pond
note from De Nationale Bank

Original cheque for 30,000 pond
signed by Paul Kruger

The Bank Museum at Pilgrim's

The rare ten pond "te veld" note

Gold Mine letter

Bank closing sign

Old diggings opposite the town

Joubert stone arch bridge - 1896

After a chat I went to the historic site of the Veld Pond. The site can be reached by driving "downstream" to the Lydenberg end of Pilgrim's Rest then taking the road to the left that leads to the caravan park - this road is just before the historic bridge seen above. The remains of the Reduction Works buildings of 1902 are about 1 kilometer down a tarred road and now in a very sad state of repair. I was astonished to hear that in the 1980s the machinery from which the the Veld Pond mint was made during the closing stages of the Boer War in 1902 was sold for scrap.... and so ended the tours they used to hold of this extraordinary historical site.


The historic area where the Veldpond was minted in 1901

I could almost smell the history as i walked near the site although electric wire and razor wire now prevented any access to the historic buildings now falling apart and overgrown by tall veld grass.

The remains of a solitary brick building, perhaps the assayer's office, lay outside the barriers. The remains of a raised track ran nearby alongside a hill which overlooked the old engineering works in which Pienaar and Cooney skillfully crafted their basic mint and gold coin - an extraordinary achievement. The newer TGME engineering and reduction works now sat alongside the original buildings - this newer company also appears to no longer be in operation.

I was, once again, saddened by the way in which white and black in this country was letting a significant piece of history simply crumble into the dust.  

You can "smell" the history

in Pilgrim's Rest

The remains of the brick house

The remains of the brick house

The raised rail foundation

Looking down on the works

It was somewhere here Pienaar

had his unique mint - I think in the location pinpointed above.

The ruins again

Old wash basins lie in disrepair

The ruins again

Looks like the old pump house

Looking through its window

No longer in use

The old and new mine bldgs

The old mine dumps

In the afternoon I went exploring and discovered the "Robbers Grave" which has the headstone pointing to the east so that the robber will never go to heaven. The Lord will come from the west (sunrise) and all those who look on his face will be saved. The robber's got no chance. All the other headstones in the cemetery point to the south. Fable has it that if you got caught stealing three times you were banished from the settlement which meant instant death because of the warlike natives. This robber came back thinking he would no get shot but was.


Pilgrims Rest in 1901 showing the historic hotel I stayed in

At 2pm I was the only guest on a tour of 900sqm Alanglade House which was too small for the noble-like Mine Manager , Richard Alan Barry, of the 1920s. Mr Barry, his wife and seven children (many of which died) lived a life of luxury with servants covering every facet of their lives. The house was still filled with the family's belongings from the early 1900s and very interesting. I was shown around this large home by Jon Pringle.

An hour later I was panning for gold with a few ladies touring from France. The tour guide Niven, a Pilgrim's Rest local, is a world-class gold panner; he came third in the world championships last year! He is a really nice bloke who shared my interest in history and revealed a gem he discovered through Google Earth... as you will see below.

Plaque laid in 1979

Grave of Stein - tokens above

The graveyard - robber's grave at
back points east

The poor Robber's Grave

Sanders killed in 1878 after a
skirmish with "kafirs"

Pilgrim's Rest had one of the
Free Mason's first temples 

View of Pilgrim's Rest from the
graveyard

Alanglade House - cost just
eight thousand pounds to build

A 1930 fridge - still works.

Jon Pringle in the kitchen

The staircase to private quarters

One of Barry's original books

Rudimentary living for the

men who panned here

This was the stream that caused
the gold rush in 1872

The top of the hill - rich in gold
which feeds the stream

Girls panning for gold

And finding a few grains!

Panning gold c1893

I found a few too

Now this is what exploring is all about. Before leaving for South Africa I had used Google Earth to uncover an old historic fort not visible from ground level. The fort was built by the gold diggers in 1877 as a defence against the hostile Sekhukhune native tribe was somewhere near Pilgrim's Rest but no-one could ever pin point it. One night playing with Google Earth I discovered the outline of the foundations. The spot is right opposite "Downtown Pilgrim's Rest" at about the same height as the graveyard.

Image right: Google Earth reveals the location of the fort!

Using my Google Earth scan I went exploring and was delighted to find the shell of the historic fort - all the stones have been removed and used in other buildings over the years. The fort measures 40 meters north - south (down the slope); 22 meters east to west (across the hill) and has a turret nearest the river measuring 20 meters in diameter.    

An excellent history of Pilgrims Rest can be found at this link.

The Uptown entry road looks

onto this hill over the gold bearing

river - here lies the fort.

Fort pinpointed (click image)

The ridge right is an old wall

The turret wall can be clearly seen

The tree sits in the old wall

The wall at the top

Standing in the middle of the fort

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