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Pilgrim's Rest and Highwaymen

Highwaymen, Pilgrims Rest, South Africa, get-rich schemes, greed

Every Tom, Dick and his website promises you an instant means to get rich quick. Guaranteed, fool proof and transparent. In just a few easy steps you can own your life and everything you desire in it. Pyramid schemes, investment options, “Buy now pay later” deals and psychic lotto number predictions, are dangled before your hungry eyes. All seeming so legitimate. And completely irresistible.

This lure towards easily obtained wealth is not a new one. It is one of those quirks of the human condition that has survived throughout centuries. People are constantly on the lookout for an effortless way to obtain wealth, unbounded. They ignore their conscience, which knows better and whispers the warnings. Man is greedy.

A certain group in history, whose actions were ruled by their obsession with the gold- stuff, were Highway robbers. There still exists an alluring fascination with the tales of these dark, mysterious figures. Intimidating masked men on horseback who sabotaged coaches transporting riches, or rich folk. Shrouded in shadow and lusting over money. Although criminals by nature, these men were appealing. Women swooned at their mention. The “Bad Boys” of the old days. Men coveted their reputation as unstoppable, fearless brutes. People can relate to the motives of these immoral rouges, while simultaneously condemning their felonies. Highwaymen saw an opportunity to grasp unlimited treasure by simply snatching it from where it stood. Stealing? Yes. But also supplying instant gratification for the starving beast, named Greed. And most can identify with that temptation, in one way or another.

The recollections of rampages undertaken by these characters, mostly trace back to the United Kingdom during the Elizabethan era and into the 19th Century. Dick Turpin is possibly the most famous of them, conjuring up images of a dashing and daring thug. Other of his contemporaries included Black Harry, Captain Tom King, Robin Hood and later Bonnie and Clyde. Their performance names add to the air of heroism. They were bitter-sweetly admired by many as they were considered to be bold individuals who confronted their victims face-to-face and were willing to fight for what they wanted.

Highway robbers were not only confined to lands abroad. South Africa can claim some reasonably notable historical robbers of its own. In particular, the quaint tourist town of Pilgrims Rest boasts a captivating past. One which surrounds gold and all the scandal and tensions this resource brings in tow. Situated in the Mpumalanga province, at the bottom of a winding pass, this location proved to be ideal for mining. In 1873 alluvial gold was discovered there. News of this monumental find sped over borders and optimistic gold panners and prospectors soon overpopulated the delightful valley. Soon after the place was proclaimed an authentic gold field, Pilgrims Rest flourished into a fully functional village. Most of the establishments, homes, the church and saloons have survived to present day. They remain largely unchanged since the gold rush days, which gives the town a genuine and charmingly old fashioned feel about it. It’s been affectionately labelled, “a living museum.”

However, that is but a snippet of the area’s life story. It has a few other enthralling, underground events attached to it. An example is that of the two coach robberies which took place there in decades gone by. During the era of gold in Pilgrim’s rest, mule-drawn coaches were hauled up and down the Pilgrim’s Hill pass. Some of these transported mail and gold bullion from the mining company and from commercial banks to Lydenburg. Robbers, or highwaymen as I and many others have dubbed them, could not resist the easy target that was this waiting vehicle of prosperity. Twice was a coach relieved of its riches, at the summit of this pass, near to the Blyde River. It is known today as Robbers Pass.

The first robbery occurred in 1899, two masked bandits made an escape with gold to the value of £10000. Luck was a friend to them that night, and their perfect heist is legendary still. In 1912, the second robbery took place. The local barber of Pilgrim’s Rest, Tommy Dennison, was badly in debt. If ever a situation makes a man cry out for divine intervention or a quick fix, it’s a debt filled one. In his position of financial woe, Tommy thought he had found the ideal, instantaneous solution to his worries. This came in the idea of a highway robbery which would make all his cares dissolve into comfort and happiness. With his mind hazy from that human attraction to the concept, he single-handedly robbed a coach.

Unfortunately, his bounty was not as valuable as his role model highwaymen’s. Dennison salvaged, only a case of silver coins, adding up to £129. However this would have extinguished his problems, in theory. Unluckily, he was arrested at the Royal Hotel Pub while in the process of paying off his £20 arrears, all in half crown silver pieces.

He became, and remains, a celebrity there due to his exceptional deed and the great story it makes. Most of those who heard about his tale, respected him, in a guiltily twisted way. It’s the risk factor that was involved which makes the account so damn captivating.Although his effort at taking the shortcut to riches, ultimately failed, and justice and lawfulness triumphed, he is still notorious for his epic attempt at something many people secretively long to do.

After those pyramid schemes have stagnated with no sign of return,
and those “sure-win” investment risks backfire or you are arrested at your local bar, the apparent “easy way to strike it rich” option may not seem too attractive anymore. An attempt at a recently criminally popular cash-in-transit heist is not recommended either. That’s just not as cool as a highway robbery- let’s face it. Very rarely is contentment and bliss found at the bottom of buckets of gold.

It’s a dangerous game, this sneaky, cut throat business of trying to make a quick buck. Perhaps it should be left to those who thrive on riding on the edge of jeopardy. Those with a life expectancy of only 28 years because of their menacing lifestyle and daring conflicts with the law. Let’s leave such exploits to the Highwaymen.
Published: 2009-12-04
Author: Kelly Kidson

About the author or the publisher
I am Kelly Kidson, a young and enthusiastic new writer with a zest for travel and the adventures it potentially offers. I relish the oppertunities to fuse my two passions: writing and travel, to create pieces that I hope readers will enjoy and relate to. I hope to write as a career in this field in the near future.

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