European prospectors found the first alluvial gold deposits at Eersteling (Limpopo Province) between 1840 and 1870, but the first major gold rush in South Africa, however, started on 5 February 1873 at MacMac, a mere 5 km from Pilgrims Rest as the crow flies.
The big strike however, was when Alec "Wheelbarrow" Patterson discovered gold in the Pilgrim's Creek in 1873. He registered his claim at the gold commissioner's office, MacMac, resulting in a major gold rush on 22 September 1873.
Gold was also discovered in the De Kaap Valley in January 1874. Small deposits were found at Kaapsehoop and Berlin. It was the discovery of alluvial and reef gold by August Robert, alias French Bob in 1882, that the Barberton Goldfields were established.
It is believed that it was a Sunday in March 1886 that an Australian gold miner, George Harrison, stumbled across a rocky outcrop of the main gold-bearing reef. He declared his claim with the then-government of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republic (ZAR), and the area was pronounced open. His discovery is recorded in history with a monument where the original gold outcrop is believed to be located, and a park named in his honor. Ironically, Harrison is believed to have sold his claim for less than 10 Pounds before leaving the area, and he was never heard from again.
By 1898 the gold production of the Witwatersrand exceeded that of the entire United States of America. Gold is still to this day, the basis of the South African economy.
George Harrison discovered by chance, the Great Rand Reef (Johannesburg) in 1886.
The first diggers moved in, and by September of that year, 3000 prospectors were working the area. In 1893, Peter Marais discovered more gold deposits on the Witwatersrand.
The geologists Harry and Fred Struben were convinced of rich deposits, and erected a five-stamp battery on top of the area which became the largest gold-bearing reef in the world!
In South Africa, the Witwatersrand Gold Rush leato the founding of Johannesburg and tensions between the Boers and British settlers.
South African gold production went from zero in 1886 to 23% of the total world output in 1896.