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Views in the Transvaal

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y3055B

Scope and Contents

A collection of prints mounted on thin card, most measuring approximately 190 x 140 mm., with printed captions beneath the photographs, apart from 17-23 which have no captions. The captions have been used as titles and have been recorded as found. Titles supplied by the cataloguer are enclosed in square brackets. The prints are divided into two sections, each with a card stating ‘Exposé [exhibited] par Mr Le Chevalier O. W. Forssman,’ thus:

1-10 Vues rises dans le Transvaal
11-16 Vues rises dans le Transvaal
17-24 Vues de Potchefstroom, Transvaal

Early gold mining in the Transvaal:

The majority of these prints, apart from those in section three, show scenes in the vicinity of the Pilgrim’s Rest Gold Mines in the mid 1870s. Early prospecting in the Transvaal had missed this area east of Lydenburg. In 1866 the German schoolteacher Karl Gottlieb Mauch arrived and spent four years prospecting in the Transvaal, but although convinced of the presence of gold he failed to point out any specific areas which would later prove to be paying. He did however find small quantities of gold in the Tati River in 1867, thereby diverting attention away from the Lyndenburg area. A small amount of gold was found by a group of prospectors in 1870, just sufficient to allow Edward Button to float the Transvaal Gold Mining Co. in London; but the real beginning of the industry came in February 1873 when the Executive Council in Pretoria was informed that G.R. Parsons, Thomas McLachlan and J.L. Valentine had found gold ‘at a distance of six hours ride on horseback to the east of the town of Lyndenburg.’ When this report had been confirmed, the dig was officially proclaimed on May 14 1873 and an American, Major W. MacDonald was appointed Gold Commissioner. The site, officially named ‘The New Caledonia Goldfield’, was from the start better known as Mac Mac, a name reputedly given it by President Burgerson on account of the high proportion of Scottish diggers. As the prospectors flooded into Mac Mac, one Alec Patterson moved north to the area later to be known as Pilgrim’s Rest and there in September 1873 found gold. A short time later William Trafford also left Mac Mac and finding gold in the same area, informed the gold commissioner. Thereafter the new rush was started: the gold commissioner moved his headquarters to Pilgrim’s Rest and the flow of diggers was increased by an influx of men from Kimberley (see Y3059L) where many of the claims had been exhausted. At the height of the boom, in 1874-5 there were about 1400 diggers in the area and by the end of 1875 much of the surface of Pilgrim’s rest had been scraped bare and the alluvial pickings found. H.F. Gros visited and photographed the Lyndenburg fields in 1874 and 75, during the most intense period of alluvial mining.

Robert Forbes was a commercial photographer, running the City Photographic Studio in Longmarket Street, Pietermaritzburg in 1874 (see ‘Natal Almanac' for 1875), with a residence at 14 Loop Street. No further information has been found but it is possible that he shortly afterwards ceased work as a commercial photographer and is the Robert Forbes listed as a planter at Kruisfontein, Umhali, in the 'Natal Almanac' for 1879.

H.F. Gros. Of Swiss origin, Gros was one of the most important early photographers in the Transvaal. Arriving in South Africa about 1869 (see N. Cowan, ‘The photograficana of H.F. Gros’, ‘Africana Notes and News’, Vol. 23, No. 3, Sept 1979 pp. 99-104, from which much of this information is abstracted), the earliest record of his photographic activities is an advertisement in the ‘Burghersdorp Gazette’ of 16 July 1870 stating that his photographic saloon will ‘resume again.’ In the following two years he appears to have been in partnership with the firm of Weber and Gros at Bloemfontein, of which he assumed full ownership in 1872 as well as opening his ‘Superb Saloon’ at New Rush (’Diamond News’, 9 March 1872). During 1874 and 1875 he visited the Lydenburg gold fields photographing activities at Pilgrim’s Rest and Mac Mac ('Diamond News', 9 May 1874 and 13 February 1875) and several of these prints can be found at Y3055B. The exact date of his removal to Pretoria is unknown, but he had certainly settled there by late 1876, his ‘photographic gallery’ being advertised in the first edition of ‘Transvaal book almanac and directory for 1877’ (Pietermaritzburg, 1877), but like almost all directories and commercial handbooks, prepared in the autumn of the previous year for early release. Gros was at this time also a member of the Aurora Lodge of Masons in Pretoria. He built up a photographic practice from a studio at the corner of Church Street and Market Square and took several group portraits of the officials who made up the annexation commission of 1877 (see Y3055H). During the siege of Pretoria he made the important record of his life in the blockaded town seen in this collection, although he is only mentioned once in Du Val’s memoirs:

‘A photographic artist of Pretoria, Swiss by birth, and ‘Gros’ by name, who had taken numerous pictures of our camp life, kindly photographed the broad sheet of type into a microscopic three-inch square production.’ (This résumé of the state of affairs in Pretoria, intended for smuggling past the Boer blockade, was sent out three times, but no copy appears to have reached its destination. The despatch itself is almost certainly the cutting pasted into the RCS volume opposite plates 9-10). (Du Val, Vol. II, p.145)

After the lifting of the siege and the retrocession of the Transvaal back into Boer hands, Gros made photographic tours of the Transvaal which resulted in the two album publication with printed title page called ‘Picturesque aspects of the Transvaal’ (1888, although some of the photographs included were certainly taken at a later date). He left South Africa for Europe in 1895, his Pretoria studio being taken over by J. Perrin.


  • Creation: 1874 - 1879

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

Oscar Wilhelm Alric Forssman (1822-1899), of Swedish origin, set up as an importer and merchant in Potchefstroom in 1852 and was for some years one of the wealthiest businessmen in the Transvaal, holding concessions with the Transvaal Republic for gunpowder and lead (1858-60) and stationery (1868). He was appointed Portuguese Consul in the Transvaal in 1870 and Consul-General in 1876 (see ‘Dictionary of South African Biography’). These photographs were probably shown by him at the Paris Exhibition of 1878.


24 item(s) (24 images)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

good condition unless otherwise specified.

Existence and Location of Copies

This file is available on microfiche: Africa, fiche number 178.


For a detailed history of the Pilgrim’s Rest gold fields see: Cartwright, A.P. (1961). 'Valley of gold', London: Bailey.

For a description of the gold diggers' life at Pilgrim’s Rest in the 1870s: Scully, W.C. (1913), ‘Reminiscences of a South African pioneer’, 1st series, London: T.F. Unwin.

See also: Herring, Rev. Gerald (1949), ‘The pilgrim diggers of the seventies,’ Pilgrim’s Rest.

For an account of the Lydenburg goldfields, see: Baines, Thomas (1877), 'The gold regions of south-east Africa,’ London: E. Stanford; Port Elizabeth: J.W.


This collection level description was entered by WS, NE and MJC using information from the original typescript catalogue.

Date information

DateText: The dates are approximate..

Includes index.
2006-09-27 12:28:58+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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