Edward Button and James Sutherland found gold in the mountain range they named after Sir Roderick Murchison, the British geologist, in 1870.
This discovery did not prove lucrative, but in 1888 the renowned prospector French Bob, who had discovered the Pioneer Reef near Barberton, found more gold in the range and this started a rush.
Several mines were opened, thousands of claims were pegged and about 600 prospectors were active in the area.
The centre of excitement was the camp of French Bob. In 1890 this camp was selected by the government as the site for a town from which to administer the Murchison Range gold-mining fields. The town was named Leydsdorp, after Dr W Leyds, the state secretary. Leydsdorp grew rapidly into a conglomeration of shacks, pubs, hotels, stores and printing works which published a newspaper, The Leydsdorp Leader.
Ninety meters off the road linking Leydsdorp to Gravelotte is a hollowed out baobab which was fondly known as 'the Muchison Club' containing a makeshift counter over which drinks used to be served to thirsty gold-seekers. A dozen or so men could gather at a time inside the tree.
The mining area was called the Selati Gold Fields, after Shalati, the female chief of the small Tebula tribe who lived in the bush around the Murchison Range.
For transport to the gold fields, a railway called the Selati Line was planned. It is said that the railway was as crooked as its promoters, a pair of continental confidence tricksters, Baron Eugene Oppenheim and his elder brother, Robert.
After much wheeling and dealing construction of the Selati Line began in 1892 from Komatipoort on the Eastern Line. By that time the Selati Gold Fields had petered out but in any event it was doubtful that the railway promoters ever intended the line to reach the area. They simply set out to sell shares and make money. When the scandal was exposed in 1895 it was found that more than 40 km of unnecessary bends and loops had been added to the line. Baron Oppenheim and his brother ended up in gaol and the 120 km length of line already built was left to rust.
Only in 1912 was the Selati Line relocated and completed. Three hundred and thirty kilometers of line was laid from Komatipoort to Tzaneen and later, to Modjadjiskloof (Duiwelskloof) and up the escarpment to join the Pietersburg-Messina line. Leydsdorp by that time was almost a place of ghosts and even today the cemetery is often described as the liveliest part of the town.
Mining still flourishes in the Murchison Range, although not much gold is produced. Antimony, cinnabar, emeralds, feldspar, mica and silica are the main products of this area. Its pricipal centre is Gravelotte, named after the battle in the 1870 Franco-German war and created as a railway centre when the completed Selati Line missed Leydsdorp by 11 km.
The Consolidated Murchison Mine, near Gravelotte, is the world's largest producer of antimony. The station of Mica, on the southern end of the range, is the despatch centre for several mines producing mica, and glittering fragments of this strange mineral litter the ground.
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