Gold Mining Tour

Gold Mining

Southern Africa's indigenous people mined gold for hundreds of years prior to the influx of Europeans in the 19th C. Considerable gold, largely of alluvial origin, was probably recovered during the first part of the 2nd Millenium. By the mid-1800s missionaries, explorers and hunters had made many favourable reports of gold in Southern Africa. In the 1870s gold prospecting was widespread throughout the South African Republic and important discoveries were being made. Taking inspiration from these discoveries increased gold prospecting took place on what is now known as the Witwatersrand.

An early start takes us to the top of Northcliff Hill in the north-western suburbs of Johannesburg, for a panoramic and regional geological overview. We then drive north-west of Krugersdorp to the Magaliesberg to trace the discovery and early production of gold in Gauteng, and end with the founding of Johannesburg in 1886. The tour includes visits to:

The old Blaauwbank Mine near Magaliesberg village for a fascinating guided underground trip. Here interbedded quartz veins within Timeball Hill shales were mined from 1874. This was the first producing mine in the region. We also see real gold being panned from the crushed ore!

Alternately we may visit the old Kromdraai Mine within in the Black Reef formation, which was at the centre of the first goldfield proclaimed in 1885. The latter mine is also located within the "Cradle of Humankind", a World Heritage Site. Both these mines pre-date the discovery of the Witwatersrand.

Next we visit the scenic Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden near Krugersdorp and see the newly established Geological Rock Garden. The energetic also have the option of walking part of the JCI Geological Trail at the base of the Witwatersrand Supergroup. A quick lunch will be taken here.

After lunch we drive to the old Struben's workings dating from 1884, on the Confidence Reef at Kloofendal, where pioneer mining was done and a 5-stamp battery erected. The establishment of this small mine was very influential in the soon-to-be-made major Witwatersrand discoveries.

Thereafter we make our way to the most famous gold discovery site of all, the Main Reef group of conglomerates in George Harrison Park at Langlaagte. It was exactly here in 1886 that George Harrison and George Walker discovered the first "payable gold" on the Witwatersrand proper, an event that was to change the face of South Africa.

Our drive back to Johannesburg takes us through the famous Crown Mines area (consolidated in 1909) where we see a turn-of-the century mining village and reprocessing of old gold mine dumps, and through into the old inner city mining district.

We return to your drop-off point in late afternoon. Time permitting we drive past some of the magnificent suburban homes of the Randlords in Parktown, who made Johannesburg such a colourful and dynamic city.

Southern Africa's indigenous people mined gold for hundreds, if not thousands, of years prior to the influx of Europeans in the 19th C. This is reflected by the numerous gold objects found at Mapungubwe (1000 - 1300 AD), Great Zimbabwe (1200 - 1400 AD) and Thulamela (1500 AD). No doubt considerable gold was recovered, probably largely of alluvial origin, during the first part of the 2nd Millenium.

Following the Californian gold-rush in 1849, and the Victorian gold-rush in 1851, gold was on everyone's mind, not least the numerous prospectors in Southern Africa. Earlier missionaries, explorers and hunters had already made many favourable reports of gold. The most influential was that of Karl Mauch, a German explorer, who in 1867 enthusiastically recounted his discoveries to the north. By the 1870s gold prospecting was widespread throughout the South African Republic. Several important discoveries were made: near Francistown (1870, in what is now Botswana); near Pietersburg (1871); around Sabie and Pilgrims Rest (1873-4); and in the Barberton Mountainland (1882-4).

Every farmer with a quartz reef on his farm thought it was gold bearing. Closer to what is now known as the Witwatersrand gold prospecting continued, taking inspiration from these discoveries. The diverse geological settings of the discoveries will be explained during Tour 1. Important events are indicated below.

As early as 1852 an English geologist John Henry Davis is said to found gold on the farm Paardekraal (now Krugersdorp) but the discovery was hushed up and Davis was deported!

In 1853 Pieter Jacob Marais, an experienced prospector, is said to have panned only traces of gold in the Jukskei and Crocodile Rivers north of the Witwatersrand.

The discovery of gold at Blaauwbank near the village of Magaliesberg by Australian Henry Lewis in 1874 and establishment of the first gold mining operation in the region.

In 1878 David Wardrop found gold in quartz veins at the prominent hill named Zwartkop, north of Krugersdorp. An adit was sunk and this was unknowingly the first in true Witwatersrand rocks.

In the same Sterkfontein valley in 1881 Stephanus Minnaar discovered gold on the farm Kromdraai and mining started in 1882.. The farm was proclaimed a public digging in 1885, the first on the Witwatersrand.

In 1882 gold was discovered nearby on the farm Tweefontein and in 1885 Siegmund Hammerschlag installed a 10 stamp crushing battery, the first on the Witwatersrand.

Also in 1884 the Struben brothers, Harry and Fred, began extensive gold prospecting north of present day Krugersdorp and Roodepoort, and found the Confidence Reef, a small rich quartz vein pocket, and set up their 5-stamp battery in late 1885.

Our story reaches its climax in early 1886 when Australian prospector George Harrison, while working on the farm Langlaagte, and probably assisted by George Walker, found the fabulous Main Reef group of conglomerates.

By April 1886 Langlaagte had become the centre of gold prospecting attention and the record shows that on 24th July George Harrison signed perhaps the most understated document ever in South African history, saying:

"My name is George Harrison and I come from the newly discovered goldfields Kliprivier especially from a farm owned by a certain Gert Oosthuizen. I have long experience as an Australian golddigger and I think it a payable goldfield."

Thus the Witwatersrand Goldfield was born. Of course the news spread like wildfire, and the Main Reef conglomerates were traced both to the east and west within a matter of a few months. Many other prospectors shared in the discoveries, and all manner of people flooded to "the Reef" in search of their fortune. The existence of the new goldfield was confirmed and nine farms were proclaimed public diggings in September and October 1886.

The "uitvalgrond" farm Randjeslaagte was set aside for a mining village, now the nucleus of the City of Johannesburg. Soon Johannesburg took shape out of bleak and empty grassland.

Hours: Daily (Monday to Sunday): x:00am to x:00pm
Phone: (011)
Fax: +27 11
Refreshments: None available

Copyright © 2003, Rodney Jones,, Randburg, South Africa (Last updated on 2 January 2003)