A Short Biography of Tom McLachlan, Prospector

Karl Mauch

Karl Mauch’s prophecies about the presence of Gold through the Escarpment below the Drakensberg Range of the old Transvaal were taken seriously by a number of eager prospectors. Some of them were Button, Sutherland, McLachlan and Parsons.

Button journeyed up to the Lydenburg area with two companions. They were George Parsons who had led the abortive Natal South Coast gold rush, and James Sutherland, a man of twenty years experience in the Californian and Australian rushes.

The trio was joined by Tom McLachlan, the son in law of Maria Shires, and one of the greatest of all South African prospectors; and they searched throughout the Eastern Transvaal areas which Mauch had indicated as being potentially rich in Gold. Although they found traces they were not very successful. The search went on especially in the Lydenburg district where the area was combed diligently. Richard Thomas and James and Tom Mc Lachlan were extremely active; both made permanent homes in the little town.

An old Australian digger named Lilley had also arrived, and local residents subscribed forty pounds Sterling to finance his search.

Tom MacLachlan


Lilley explored painstakingly, and when the resources of his backers dried up, Mc Lachlan and James supported him from their own means. Lilley found a single solitary speck of Gold; and this was unfortunately lost in the wind while exhibiting it to a bevy of old ladies. Then Lilley struck it rich at the Pilgrim’s Rest diggings by discovering the Lilley nugget that weighed 119ozs 200dwt.

George Lilley

This was enough to start McLachlan off again on a personal search. With George Parsons and Sydney Valentine he resumed the laborious activity of prospecting in the Drakensberg, and kept Lydenberg on tenterhooks with constant rumours of a rich find. He was further spurred on with his associates by the Republic’s offer of a five hundred pound Sterling reward for the discoverer of payable Gold. They concentrated their search in the area which Karl Mauch had described so enthusiastically when he had viewed it from the summit of the Mauchsberg.

Macmac Falls

McLachlan bought a portion of the farm Geelhoutboom and built a small stone house to give him and his partners a base from where they could operate while prospecting in the neighbourhood. The three men worked long and hard. Eventually their luck changed. In a creek on the farm Hendriksdal, on the 6th February 1873, the partners found their first Gold.

They worked on feverishly. Eventually they found what they considered to be a payable deposit of Gold, on the north side of Spitskop in a little creek which they named McLachlan’s Gully. This gully lay in what is now known as Leader Hill, just below the disused railway line in the Malieveld region.

Gold Nuggets

They put a claim in for the reward after producing a 2.5 oz. nugget, claiming that they’d found payable Gold. The reward was never paid. The area around Spitskop was however proclaimed a public digging, resulting in a wild rush to that area as soon as the news spread.

In 1874 Tom McLachlan made the first reports of Gold in the Kaap valley, where Barberton was later destined to grow. However the only payable deposit he found remained his discovery up on the heights of Spitskop.

It was only a matter of time before the next strike was made, as prospectors were busy all over the countryside. Just north of Spitskop on the farm Geelhoutboom, Johannes Muller and his son Dietricht had become infected with Gold Fever. Tom McLachlan taught them how to prospect, and with beginners’ luck they stumbled across a fine discovery. It was along the banks of the rivulet that ran through the farm, and consisted of a deposit of alluvial Gold all along the bed of the stream, just before it tumbles down nearly 90 meters through the cool beauty of the Macmac Falls.

President Burgers

President Burgers when on a visit to the Gold field broadly known as New Caledonia Gold Field noticed the number of diggers’ names beginning with Mac’s and Mc’s. He named the diggings Macmac. The diggers loved the name, which has stuck right up to the present day.

Having built a stone house at Macmac which was on the farm Geelhoutboom, McLachlan was the best- known inhabitant. He worked the area with some small success for a while, and then in 1878 sold out his interest to a Kimberley syndicate. The syndicate sent up Bob Jameson, brother of Dr. Leander Star Jameson to manage operations. Jameson occupied McLachlan’s stone house and during his tenancy it became a noted gambling center, with Dr. Hans Sauer, Dr. Oscar Somershields and J.B. Taylor making up a famous poker school. They were joined at times by Ikey Sonnenberg, doyen of gamblers.

Burgers Cross

Some of the women busied themselves in trying to improve the lot of the diggers. Tom McLachlan’s wife and his ward (a Miss Espag) did so much good work for the sick at Macmac that in August 1874 President Burgers awarded them each his Burgers Cross in recognition of their labours.

At the end of September 1882 McLachlan paid his last visit to the Kaap area, and this was the occasion for an event which became renowned in digger circles. McLachlan found the diggers were prepared to do anything for information on someone else’s discovery. They plied him with liquor, and questions. About his own activities he refused to say a word, but he told them that he knew where French Bob and his party were finding their Gold. They eagerly plied him with more liquor and when supposedly mellowed by their hospitality he agreed to show them the way as soon as he had finished his local business.

French Bob

200 of the diggers, together with Ziervogel packed their chattels and prepared for the new rush. McLachlan finished his business sooner than expected and left a note telling the mob to meet him at a certain rendezvous on the 2nd of October. When they reached that spot there was a note instructing them to proceed to another spot. When the eager 200 reached that rendezvous they found another note with further directions.

So it went on for days, with McLachlan leading the weary 200 through most inaccessible country. Over the next few weeks, stragglers from the party gradually returned to the Duiwel’s Kantoor in various stages of exhaustion, all breathing dire awful threats against McLachlan, who despised rabble who only wanted to rush other mens’ claims.

Duiwel's Kantoor

After the ascendency of Mbandeni as the King of Swaziland in 1876, Tom McLachlan having left his home at Macmac, led a group of 14 prospectors into the mountains of north-western Swaziland. They prospected and explored through the most beautiful of wilds, but found no Gold, discovering instead all the other wealth that Mother Nature had bestowed on this remote corner of Africa. McLachlan and two partners decided to settle in a beautiful part with breathtaking views. He built a shack near the trail leading from Lourenco Marques to the Kaap valley.


As King of Swaziland, Mbandeni lavishly sold concessions for every service, commodity, facility, goods, licences or whatever to adventurers.

Swaziland Mountains

One individual even had a concession giving him the sole right to act as a broker for concessions. Some big deals were put through.

McLachlan sold his so-called Kobolondlo Concession in 1887 to a French company.

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Gleaned from “Lost Trails of the Transvaal” by T.V.Bulpin and other sources.

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