Pilgrims Rest







Pilgrims Rest Accommodation
Pilgrims Rest Business
Pilgrims Rest Restaurants
Pilgrims Rest Characters
Pilgrims Rest Eviction Crisis
Pilgrims Rest History
Pilgrims Rest Photo Gallery



Compiled and written by Louis-John Havemann


I have used among others the authors A.P.Cartwright and T.V.Bulpin's writings in no small measure to compile this summary

Any further information and images would be gratefully received and recorded with credits:

Please email to lj-tours@iafrica.com


I have received a further requests for information and help which I attach hereunder.


Dear Louis-John, 
I wonder if you can help me with some information concerning a Pilgrims Rest War Hero.  His name is Douglas John Bell and he fought as a Royal Flying Corps (RAF) fighter pilot in 1916 to 1918 when he was killed in action in France. Douglas John Bell applied to join the Royal Flying Corps in early 1916 claiming that he was freed from the Imperial Light Horse to do so.  You can read about his exploits in France on Wikipedia and the SOUTH AFRICAN WAR GRAVES PROJECT  -   an excellent service they offer.  Bell was, obviously, a very brave man.  
 He has no known grave. 

As far as I can ascertain, he spent some time as a Mine Overseer in “The Rest Mine” at Pilgrims Rest and his mother is believed to have been living in the town during all or part of his period there.  Her name was Christina or Christine Williams.  She had divorced and remarried a Mr William Lewis Williams, classified as a “Railway Contractor”.  One wonders whether Mr Williams was involved in the local mine companies’ industrial railways for the mine workings. 
It appears that, if Douglas Bell worked in “The Rest” Mine, it would have been circa 1912 to 1914 or 1916.


I would be grateful if you could send me any information you have concerning this hero.  I am assisting a friend in her compilation of biographical facts concerning Douglas Bell including which schools he attended.
If any friends find anything from the ILH records I shall be most grateful to receive the findings.

Yours sincerely

A. L.  PRATT  (Mr)    alfieaud@btinternet.com



Hi Louis-John

I have enjoyed and got a lot of information from your website!

I am a curator on Geni.com and am interested in Pilgrims Rest from a genealogy perspective..

And have started a Pilgrims rest project to document the genealogy of the early settlers… please have a look


My own connection is through my GGreat Uncle Dick/Dirk Graham of Veldpond fame.

So if you have any info on the Grahams OR any family tree info on the early settlers that you are willing to share I would be most grateful!



Donovan Penaluna - Donovan's email address is don@diyden.net

I have received a request for help which I attach and if anyone could help, please contact me at; lj-tours@iafrica.com

Mr. Havemann - I came across your excellent website while looking for information on Pilgrims Rest. A granduncle of mine ran a business there in the early 1900s. I wonder if you know of any resources I might use to  find out more about him and his store. The family name was Benci and I believe he had two stores, possibly drygoods. Thank you for any help you can provide. John Crandall


Some of the Characters of Pilgrims Rest and the gold rush

When history and a story such as the Pilgrims Rest gold rush is narrated, there have to be references to people and characters who contributed to the making and telling of the tale.

I doubt that a more cosmopolitan assembly of people, sharing such diverse skills and talents, encompassing such a broad spectrum of human strengths and weaknesses, emotions and wills has ever been assembled in such a remote and beautiful setting as the Pilgrims Rest gold rush.

How do I identify and number these people? Let me try to allow you, the reader, to learn about these colourful players and their contribution to Pilgrims Rest's history.

Of necessity I have to try and deal with them "One by One" .

Click on a name below for more details

Alec Patterson

William Trafford

M.Mockett The Bosun

William Scully

Elizabeth Russell

President Thomas Burgers

Tommy Dennison Robbers Grave    


Alec "Wheebarrow" Patterson

Alec Patterson, was a taciturn eccentric loner and as a result of his habit of pushing his worldly possessions around the mountains in a wheelbarrow, earned the nickname “Wheelbarrow Patterson”, or “Wheelbarrow Alec”.
Not much is known about this man, it was thought that he came from Kimberley, but nobody knows how he got to Mac Mac, or when he acquired the wheelbarrow.
You the visitor should pause awhile and look again carefully at this rugged terrain, while trying to imagine what it must have been like pushing a heavily laden wheelbarrow up and down and around these mountains!!.

There are some stories that he acquired his wheelbarrow after being kicked by his donkey and also that he pushed the wheelbarrow all the way from the Cape.
I cannot substantiate the truth of theses stories.
The diggings at Mac Mac were to Patterson's mind, too overcrowded, so one day with a last wash, he packed up his sluice box and equipment and with a terse, "I'm off", headed for the hills.

This picture of Wheelbarrow Patterson is by courtesy of P.W.Wheeler and Roy Taylor
in the book by A.P.Cartwright "Valley of Gold"

Alec Patterson looked from the heights down onto the Blyde River Valley, there was a small stream running down the mountain in a westerly direction to join the Blyde at the bottom of the valley. There were peach trees growing on the banks of the Blyde, which indicated that other people had passed by here quite some time before and had left the peach pips to germinate and grow. They were thought to have been long ago hunters from Lydenburg,or Voortrekkers but nobody knows for certain.
Somewhere in the middle of the stream's course Patterson found the telltale"colour" or "tailing" of gold in his old prospector's pan. Being by nature a secretive man he did not whisper a word to anyone and set about working his find without interruption.
It is recorded that he ended up in the Kaap Valley.

Not much beyond what has been mentioned, is known about this Old Digger and any further information would be gratefully received.


William Trafford

William Trafford, entered the valley and also discovered gold in the stream.
Trafford, who had been trudging up and down the mountains, in sun and rain and wind for months on end, with nothing to show for his efforts, is credited with naming the place Pilgrim’s Rest.
He is reputed to have stated that his pilgrimage was over and he had now reached the end of his search and so “This Pilgrim has come to rest”. Thus it was that the camp became known as Pilgrims Rest and the stream as Pilgrims Creek.
Another story says that on finding gold in his pan, he shouted aloud, “This pilgrim is at rest” and the answering echo came back “Pilgrims at rest…. rest”.
Trafford did not keep quiet about his find and sometime in September of 1873 he registered his claim at the Mac Mac office of the Gold Commissioner.
It is mistakenly reported that Trafford was the first person to find gold at Pilgrims Rest, this is not so. I think it stems from the fact that he was the first person to register a claim.
Again Trafford, one of the first diggers in the Pilgrims Creek gold field, seems to fade into obscurity.


Matthias Mockett "The Bosun"

This man, with a sense of humour to match his apparent zest for life, is one of Pilgrims Rest and the Gold Rush eras most talked about characters. He spent over forty years of his life in the goldfields of the Eastern Transvaal.
The Bosun is described in the Diggers Journal of 1915 as follows;

"Matthias Mockett, otherwise the incomparable Bos'n, is one of the best representatives of the Fields.
Some of the plums of leader digging have fallen to his share and he has always been in the happy, healthy position of enjoying the plum, flicking away the stone and starting afresh. The Bos’n is as nearly an old tarpaulin as ever sailed the seas. He is now 82  years old, but his broad frame, clear complexion, blue eyes and a dense white beard show him good for many years to come while the voice that cultivated its stentorian  bellows in the Roaring Forties can still be heard over half of Graskop.”
He was born in the village of Firl in Sussex England and was sent off to sea at the tender age of 13.
His strong and forceful character soon saw him promoted through the ranks to Bosun.
He ascribed the fact that he remained unmarried, not because he was un attracted to feminine beauty, but to “Sheer chunk-headed luck on their part”.
He attributed the strength of his right arm to the exercise he got while drinking his profits.

There are some delightful stories of his career at sea and the first involves his attempt to catch a piglet.
Sea voyages in those years were long and in order to keep a fresh supply of food available, live animals and poultry were carried on board. A sow was brought aboard and during the voyage she farrowed, which caused the crew to think longingly of roast sucking pig. The Bosun succumbed to the temptation and during one of his night watches he put his hand in the pen to seize a little piglet. Instead of catching it by the snout he grabbed its back leg. There were deafening squeals which brought the Duty Officer on the scene to enquire what the disturbance was about.
The Bosun’s sense of humour and quick wit came to the fore. “It’s a crying shame Sir. Them careless stewards have put the litter in the duck’s pen and one o’ the poor little pigs has fallen off his perch”.
The officer apparently accepted this explanation but a casual mention of this incident the next morning, resulted in the Bosun having to further explain the perching habits of ducks and pigs.

When Mockett was still an able seaman on board an emigrant ship, there was an outbreak of measles on board resulting in the death of a child.
The captain gave the ship's Bosun orders to sew up the body and prepare it for burial the next day. The Bosun, being deaf, misunderstood the orders and heaved the body overboard.
The next day when the captain instructed the body to be prepared for the funeral service, he was horrified to hear what the Bosun had done.
Having cast slurs upon the Bosun’s ancestry he issued instructions for him, to do whatever was necessary to facilitate a funeral in order not to upset the parents.
The ever resourceful Matthias Mockett suggested carving a piece of  cork fender in the shape of a child’s body and weighting it with lead shot. This artwork was sewn up in a piece of sail and served most admirably as a stand in at the funeral. It was reported that the grateful captain rewarded the Bosun and Mockett with a generous issue of rum.

President Thomas Burgers of the Transvaal Republic decided to visit the New Caledonian Gold Fields in 1873 to see for himself how amenable this considerable group of foreigners were to the Republic's authority. He was well received by the Diggers and in fact it was him who on reading the licence roll of the Diggers exclaimed, "Why its all Macs (McLeod,Mclachlan MacDonald etc) and as a result the Gold Fields became known as the Mc Mc, later changed to Mac Mac Gold Fields.
He was given a grand banquet prepared by the Bosun. Legend has it that the President so enjoyed the Bosun's plum duff that he asked for a second helping with a generous helping of brandy sauce but on sampling his pastry needed a hammer and chisel.

The Diggers were hard drinkers and liquor flowed freely, much to the President's concern as he was also a parson. The Bosun tried to smooth things over by saying
" It weren't their fault, them mothers taught them to drink". This did not help so with a flash of brilliance the Bosun lent towards the president and quoted from the Bible. "Timothy 5:23. Drink no longer water but use a little wine, for thy stomachs sake and thine often infirmities". We are led to believe that this was sufficient to pacify the president.

The Bosun arrived at the Mac Mac diggings from Kimberley in the company of Ned Dwyers.
They had walked the 500 miles taking a month to cover the distance. The Bosun spoke highly of the hospitality they received from the Boer farmers along the road.

The Bosun was responsible for naming one of the canteens dispensing strong drink. It was owned by a certain Mr. Stent. and became known as "Stents Cathedral", because, in The Bosun's terms, there were so many bodies prostrated there in worship of the "Demon Rum".

The Bosun also recalls a further story involving the ever talked about peach trees. During the Peach Tree Creek Rush, he and a certain Captain Anderson set off down Kameel Creek in order to cross the river. When they got there they found the Blyde in full flood. After some distance the Captain,determined to cross the Blyde by swimming, stripped and left his clothes in the Bosun's care. He was swept away by the flood and the Bosun ran along the bank shouting instructions to him on where to get out. Captain Anderson eventually managed to clamber out on the other side of the river, but faced a problem because he could not take part in the rush in his birthday suit. The only option was for him to walk back upstream and try and swim back to the Bosun's side.
The Bosun describes how the Captain was marching along on the other side "Without a rig on", when he walked into a party of black damsels picking peaches.
They appeared to resent this naked intrusion and commenced pelting the Captain with ripe peaches. The Bosun describes how he saw the Captain running among the trees with "an occasional splash of pink upon his manly form".
The Captain finally managed to leap into the torrent and make it back to the other side.

The Bosun took part in the trek to Delagoa Bay under Major MacDonald to bring back arms donated to the Transvaal by the German government after the Franco-Prussian war.
This will be further described under William Scully. He states that Scully did not remember him because on this trip he was known as "Old Pipes".



William Charles Scully, born in Dublin, October 29,1855 was raised in Cashel, in County Tipperary

Of all the "Pilgrims" to grace the gold rush fields, I find Scully to be the most articulate and also sadly the most tragic, as far as reward for effort is concerned.

This delightful character appears as an idealistic romantic young man who despite everything, sensed the excitement, glamour and fun of those historic days.
Scully walked to the Pilgrims Gold Fields with three companions, from the diamond fields of Kimberley.. The first of his companions was apparently an old booze-soak tramp, name unknown. The second companion was reputed to be a grown up street urchin from Melbourne, who hied under the name of "Artful Joe".

His third companion was an elderly Jew named Levy. Levy it was said, had a pair of enormous boots, that provided great fun to his companions because they delighted in hiding them from him every night.
This foursome must have walked and slept in the bush along the trail, like every other hopeful "Pilgrim", until Scully with seven shillings in his pocket and his companions, looked down on the Pilgrims Creek Gold Rush from the heights above.

William Charles Scully from his book
Photo from his book
"Reminiscences of a South African Pioneer" by T. Fisher London

Imagine the four looking down at this nondescript little stream with very sparse brush and scrub surrounding it and tents spread out all along the banks. Although they were some of the first, there were already over 250 diggers there, all busy with digging and washing and working their claims.

As they walked into the camp area the jibes and remarks that were normally made to all new comers, must have rung about their ears.
Comments like "Town made legs in country-made trousers" and various others must have alluded to their footsore weary state. The hospitable Diggers I am sure, must have offered them food and advice, because on the whole these Diggers were a happy crowd.


Scully seems to have left his companions with whom he arrived and started working for a group of Australians. This was pick and shovel work, at the standard wage of an ounce of gold per week. Working for others gave any newcomer the experience of how to pan and dig for gold.

This was a hard but a healthy way of living, in a healthy climate.

In order for him to go it alone he needed to have a certain amount of cash to help him through, until such time as he was able to find payable gold.
According to the Rev. Gerald Herring his board and lodging cost him two shillings per day.

The German government had donated war materials left over from the Franco-Prussian war to the Transvaal Republic to aid the Republic in it's wars against Sekhukhune the chief of the Pedi tribe, who had embarked on hostilities against the White Settlers in this region.
Major MacDonald was tasked with organising a party to go to Delagoa Bay and bring the materials back to Pilgrims Rest.
The expedition consisted of 26 men and sixteen spans of oxen and in early July of 1874, set off for Delagoa Bay.

Eight spans of oxen were left at Pretorius Kop which was out of the Tsetse belt. The reasoning was that the incubation period for "Nagana" or Trypanosomiasis which was the disease that was carried by the Tsetse Fly, "The Fly" and transmitted to cattle was six weeks. They calculated that the odds were in their favour to get to the coast load up and be back at Pretorius Kop before the oxen started dying. They could then utilise the eight spans that would have been fresh and rested in order to get back.
On the way they came across a bushveld tragedy of which this was one of many.

In the bush they came across a deserted wagon. There were carcases of oxen rotting in the veld, some having been eaten by hyenas and lions. There were also three mounds which were graves of soil simply heaped over the bodies.
Under the wagon lay four white men raving and delirious with malaria fever.

They were French and raved at the party most pitifully. Water was given them and Scully describes the stench as too terrible.
As they were occupied with caring for these poor souls, a giant of a man emerged from the bush carrying a small demijohn of water in each hand.
Scully recognised him from the diamond fields as being Isidore Alexandre.
Alexandre then explained that his party had originally been eight strong and had set out from Lydenburg six weeks prior to this. Their oxen died of Nagana sooner than they had anticipated and three of the party had died of fever.


Lions and hyenas came every night and tried to dig up the graves. Jackals and hyenas feasted on the animal carcasses but the lions were the most troublesome. They were approaching closer and closer every night.
The nearest water was ten miles away and Alexandre walked there every day to fetch water for his companions.

MacDonald's expedition loaded up the sick and leaving the wagon behind took them to Delagoa Bay.

In Delagoa Bay the normal practice of "Painting the town red" took place.The story is told that they obtained some Portuguese Firemen suits and caused havoc. Shops were closed, houses locked and bolted, even to the extent of the Portuguese garrison barricading itself in the fort with cannons trained on streets approaching the fort.
The Portuguese were becoming accustomed to the rowdy, hooligan behaviour of the Diggers and shut down and waited them out.

When the party had sobered up they departed, leaving behind wrecked establishments, black eyes and bruises.
On the way back Scully relates, in his own words, another strange episode of the mysterious bush, in an area uninhabited by humans.
"One dark night we heard a far-off hallo. The source of the noise drew nearer and nearer, the hallo sounding at short intervals. It was unmistakably a human voice. We made a roaring blaze, shouted, waved firebrands and discharged guns. But the creature with the human voice passed, I should say about three hundred yards from us,uttering it's cry at intervals. Then the cry grew fainter and fainter in the distance. None of us slept a wink that night".

In 1937 W C Scully reminisced about his journey in 1874 from Pilgrims Rest to Maputo in "The Star" newspaper dated 25 June 1937.
Stephen Gray is credited for this reference
" We had many interesting experiences, including the cutting of the trail through the mighty boulders of the Lebombo and the making of corduroy roads over the Matolo Marshes … It was the first breakthrough with wheeled vehicles in a country which was then practically a terra incognita. "
After picking up their rested oxen at Pretorius Kop they eventually arrived back at Pilgrims Rest having lost 102 oxen to Nagana.

Scully now had enough capital to embark on a venture that he had been considering for some time and that was to explore and fossick in the Olifants River valley. He teemed up with John Mulcahy, a big Irish American who had been involved with the Californian goldfields. Mulcahy was quite a character, with a tremendous appetite for adventure, food and liquor.

They set off, but after a day or two they got caught in a heavy rain storm that lasted a few days. They were drenched, starved and frozen, so they decided to go back to Pilgrims Rest to recover.


In the Lower Camp, as it was known, was a big marquee tent that was an eating house run by Jimmy Stopforth and his partner Bill Bowman.

They claimed that their standard meal for two shillings was enough to satisfy anybody's appetite. Scully and Mulcahy arrived at this establishment in their ravenous condition.


Jimmy Stopforth gaped in amazement as helping after helping disappeared down Mulcahy's throat. Bill Bowman, who did the cooking in a tent next door, stopped working in order to see for himself who this person, with this huge appetite, was. After a while their hunger was assuaged and they left their two shillings on the table and departed to rest and dry out.


After they had rested and recovered they left early one morning to resume their Olifants River expedition. They stopped at the marquee again for a last good meal. Jimmy Stopforth was not too pleased to see them again and he called out to his partner, "Bill, breakfast for ten, the Son of a Bitch is back again".


They had no luck with the Olifants River sortie and so returned to Pilgrims Rest.
It is told that Mulcahy hit "paydirt" and after collecting a handsome sum, left for Cape Town where he bought a tavern and proceeded to drink himself into insanity.


Scully worked long and hard and even ended up in Swaziland with a party of Australian diggers, but he had no luck.

He found one good claim at the head of Pilgrims Creek but because of a drought, did not have enough water to work his claim, so he had to abandon it.

If a claim was left unattended for a continuous period of 7 to 10 days, it was considered "Jumpable".
Someone at a later stage took over working that claim and made good finds.

Scully then went down to "The Reef" on Jubilee Hill and formed a partnership with a Dane named Wolff and an Australian named McGrath. He tells of how McGrath was bitten on the instep by a black mamba.

This resulted in him becoming such a physical wreck that he had to open his eyes with his hands for many months.
What the end result was we don't know.
He is also reputed to have worked as a tent maker at one time to supplement his income, which practice seems to have been quite common amongst the Diggers.

They worked long and hard with no luck on Jubilee Hill and finally left the claim.

The hardest blow came after they had abandoned their claim.
A New Zealander named Cunningham, pegged a claim over their site and recovered over 4000 pounds worth of gold in just a few short weeks.


Scully decided that his future did not lie at Pilgrims Rest so he packed up and left.

One wonders what his feelings were when with only one shilling and nine pence to his name, he must have turned back at the top of the hill and looked back on Pilgrims Rest for the last time.
What a store of memories he must have built up.



I apologise for the poor quality but for the sake of this lady's story I had no option but to insert this copy.
I do not think that there are very many men who would have dared to do what she did, nor could have done it as well as she did.

To set the record straight, there are some accounts saying that there were two Russell sisters at the Pilgrims Diggings.
Mrs D.W.Bosch, grand daughter of Elizabeth Russell, confirms that this was not so.
Elizabeth had a younger sister Annie but she was most definitely not with her on the Pilgrims Rest Diggings.

Elizabeth (Bessie) was born in London on the 29th of May, 1850, the daughter of Mr. H.B.Russell who was later to become a very well known citizen, miller and merchant of Pietermaritzburg, Heidelburg and Pretoria.

At the age of twenty three, she and her brother Alfred, who was known as "Tucker" set off, in defiance of her father who forbade her to go, to the Diggings at Pilgrims Rest.
Her father was extremely angry and forbade the rest of the family to communicate with the two runaways.

Readers do you have any idea of the guts this must have taken, for a young unmarried girl in her twenties, to defy her father and attempt to make her mark in a man's world of prospectors.
This was at a time when women did not even have the vote, let alone any recognition in a totally Victorian male chauvinistic world.
What is interesting however is, that as a claim holder, she was reputed to have had the right to vote, this was before 1875!

Elizabeth Russel Cameron one of the most famous lady characters of the Pilgrims Rest gold rush days

Look at the determined set of this lady's mouth and you must recognise, that you would not want to mess with her.

She, acting on the advice of "Yankee Dan", a prospector, whose word was considered the absolute truth, bought a claim and worked it, with her brother Tucker.
It did not do well and she was reduced to having to make sausage rolls and ginger beer to keep the venture going.
She realised that Tucker was in modern jargon, "Chilling Out" too much and as a result of disagreements, he left in a huff.
She fired all the staff with the exception of one black stalwart named "Basket".
Basket saved the day when after four months of really "just scraping by" he yelled that he had found it and presented Elizabeth with a four ounce nugget and the next day with a nine ounce nugget.
Elizabeth paid old Basket and presented him with a thick warm overcoat as a reward for his faithfulness.
He was delighted and exhibited it with much pride to all his envious friends.

Her other brother Harry turned up at Pilgrims Rest the next day. They joined forces and thereafter they were able to make their way.
She worked and dug the claim the same as any other man on the diggings.


Elizabeth met and became engaged to an American W.A B. Cameron who had a claim next door to hers. They were married on the 12th December at St Albans in Pretoria in 1874. President Thomas Burgers attended the wedding and proposed the toast to the health of the bride and groom.
Not long after the wedding, Cameron was elected to represent the Diggers in the Volksraad.

There are some stories about Elizabeth that I have not been able to substantiate, but I set them down for posterity, because this is what legends are made of.
There was a pastor on the Diggings by the name of the "Reverend St. Charles Cawkill Barker", who was well liked, but a hardened drinker and maybe more interested in prospecting than his calling.
The Rev, Barker was very friendly with Elizabeth and was often entertained at her lodgings, to enjoy ginger beer with her, which I am sure he swallowed with difficulty.

Major MacDonald, the gold commissioner, apparently made some suggestive remarks about the good parson's relationship with Elizabeth.
Upon hearing of these remarks, legend has it that, Elizabeth armed herself with a hippo hide shambok and strode over to MacDonald's tent.
Finding him in the middle of a poker game did not put her off and she administered a sound thrashing to the commissioner. Look again at those set lips and I ask you "Do you believe this story"?.
I really doubt the truth of this story but it makes up part of the legend of the "Old Days" at the diggings.
After their wedding in Pretoria, Elizabeth and her husband returned to the biggest and noisiest reception ever held at the Diggings.
The Reverend Barker was asked to officiate and welcome the couple after their wedding, but as a precautionary measure, it is told that he was tied up and restrained in his tent, twenty four hours before the couple arrived.
Upon their arrival all the Diggers assembled at the, very sober, Reverend's tent.

The Diggers lined up in two columns, to welcome the couple and throw boots at their feet as tokens of their good wishes.
Apparently one unsuccessful suitor was a bit too enthusiastic with the throwing of the boot.

He heaved the boot ,hit her on the head and bowled her over in a
non-intentioned way. Down went the bride biting the dust. Her husband picked her up, dusted her and himself off, took off his jacket and beat the guilty party up very convincingly.

I like this story and it really sounds like a gold rush story, so I leave it with you to enjoy or not to enjoy.
The marriage did not last because after having five children they decided that they were not compatible and separated.

I have had the pleasure of making contact with Elizabeth Russell Cameron's great grand daughter, Mrs. Joan Marsh.
She has very kindly allowed us to link to Elizabeth Russell's story and detailed resume of her life.

She mentioned that her aunt was once told, "Jou Ouma was 'n baie kwaai vrou". (Your grandmother was a very fierce women)
She was reputed to have a tint of red in her hair!!!

YOU HAVE TO, read the resume of her life story by Win de Vos.
This you can do by clicking on her web site, below. http://samilitaryhistory.org/diaries/ruslindx.html
Look at chapter 5 which specifically deals with the Pilgrims Rest story.

The rest of her story is also fascinating reading.



Thomas Francois Burgers (15 April 1834 - 9 December 1881) was the 4th president of the South African Republic from 1871 to 1877.
He was the youngest child of Barend and Elizabeth Burger of the farm Langefontein in the Camdeboo district of Graaff Reinet, Cape Colony.

After studying theology at the University of Utrecht in Holland, he obtained the degree of doctor of theology. Burgers was ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, at Hanover, in the Cape Colony South Africa in 1859.He served in this position for eight years

He was described as a charming, eloquent, but fiercely individualistic man, with very liberal ideas for those times.
In 1862 his preaching attracted attention and the
Rev. Burgers became involved in a controversy with the Dutch Reformed Synod over his alleged liberalism and disbelief in the literal truth of the Bible.
Two years later an ecclesiastical tribunal found him guilty and suspended him for heresy.
He appealed to the colonial government in 1865, the Supreme Court overturned the decision, and he was
re-admitted to the ministry.

When M. W. Pretorius resigned as President of the Transvaal Republic and President Brand of the Orange Free State declined the office of Transvaal President, Burgers was urged to stand for the presidency.
He was elected president of the Transvaal in 1871, by a majority of 2,964 to 388.
In 1873 he attempted to obtain an alteration in the boundary of the Barolong territory as fixed by the Keate award, but failed.
During his visit to the New Caledonia goldfields in 1873, his remark upon reading the mining register and
seeing all the Scottish surnames was that they were all Mc Mc's. This led to the naming of the fields Mc Mc originally and later changed to Mac Mac. FOR MORE

The South African Republic's first coins—the famous Burgerspond—was introduced in 1874. These were struck at Heaton's Mint in Birmingham, England when he was there on a visit. CLICK HERE FOR MORE
Some people in the South African Republic objected to the issue of the Burgerspond, because the portrayal of the President on coins likened him to a dictator.

Another of Burgers' plans was to build a railway linking the Transvaal to the sea and in 1875 he traveled to Europe in to raise funds.

He failed to find financial help in London, but managed to raise £90,000 in Holland, with which he purchased a quantity of railway material.
This was mortgaged on its arrival at Delagoa Bay to pay for freight costs and thus the scheme ended.

In June 1876 he induced the Volksraad to declare war against Sekhukhune, a powerful native chief in the eastern Transvaal. The campaign was unsuccessful, and with its failure the republic fell into a condition of lawlessness and insolvency, while a Zulu host threatened invasion.

In 1877 Burgers was very unpopular and his government was insolvent and in an address to the Volksraad on 3rd of March 1877, Burgers stated that "I would rather be a policeman under a strong government than the president of such a state. It is you -- you members of the Raad and the Boers -- who have lost the country, who have sold your independence for a drink."

As Britain was keen on expanding her empire, Sir Theophilus Shepstone, was sent to investigate the condition of affairs in the Transvaal Republic.
On the 12th of April 1877 he issued a proclamation annexing the Transvaal to Great Britain. Burgers fully accepted the necessity for annexation.
He accepted a pension from the British government, and settled down to farming in Hanover, Cape Colony. He died at Richmond in that colony on the 9th of December 1881.

Burgers was fluent in both Dutch and in English, and described as a strong patriot.
He once pardoned a man sentenced to death, because he was skilled at tending roses. Burgers believed that this skill was better being put to use than lost to the grave.
He was full of energy but his failure can be attributed to the fact that he attempted to carry out his far seeing plans with not enough financial backing.



In 1912 the 2nd Zeederberg Coach robbery took place on Pilgrims Hill. The Highwayman was Tommy Dennison.

Dennison had come out to South Africa as a private during the Anglo Boer War. He was a bugler and despatch rider for the Earl of Athlone and was discharged after being wounded on active duty.
He somehow found his way to Pilgrims Rest and started work as a barber. A more efficient barber put him out of business so he employed some black women and started a laundry service.
It was during this time that he thought up the idea of robbing the coach obviously inspired by the success of the 1st robbery. Mr.A.P.Cartwright in his book Valley of Gold mentions that he actually met Tommy Dennison, who quite willingly spoke of his escapade.

On that fateful day the coach was stopped by a masked rider on the well recognised grey horse that Dennison had recently bought from the Reverend Maurice Ponsonby.

The man on the right is Tommy Dennison.
This picture is in the Pilgrims Rest museum and in the book
"Valley of Gold"
by A.P.Cartwright

When Piet du Plessis the coach driver was ordered in a fake accent to throw down the money boxes, one box fell and burst open scattering silver half crown and florins on the ground.

The highwayman was heard to yell "You fool I thought you said it was gold sovereigns". The coins were scooped up into a bag and the robber took off.
The next day during his laundry delivery Dennison started paying all his debts in silver coins, which aroused suspicion.
He was arrested and admitted his guilt saying that it was a practical joke, hoping for leniency.
The judge saw nothing funny about this and laid down a five year jail sentence in the Pretoria Central Prison.
After serving his term he returned to Pilgrims Rest and worked as a cartage contractor for the mines
He one day decided to open a garage, his sense of humour came to the fore and when people saw his sign "The Highwayman" there was much laughter.
He mentions that Dennison referred to his days in prison as his college days. When offered a copy of this interesting book he asked the author to please sign it.



For many years it was thought that Robbers Grave was the grave of an unknown man who had been caught stealing from a tent at the diggings camp. He was banished as a result but was seen on nearby Cemetery hill a few days later and was shot. He was buried lying North to South thus condemning him as a thief forever.


This is in fact not true and more accurate information has been brought to light by Hans Bornman in his book "Cockney Liz Legendary Barmaid of Barberton" ISBN 978-9584782-5-2. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these characters.



Roy Spencer who was engaged to Elizabeth Jane Webster aka Cockney Liz, had come out from England after a dispute with his father to earn his fortune. Roy together with his friend and partner Walter Scott were at the diggings when Walter whilst under the influence of the "Demon Liqour" accused Roy of stealing his gold and shot him. When he went back to his tent he was horrified to find his gold in a purse that had fallen out of his pocket.
In drunken remorse he sought solace at the Methodist Church and failing to sooth his conscience took his own life. Roy was mistakenly buried as a robber and Walter lies next to him in an unmarked grave.


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