“The Royal”, built circa 1878 before the Anglo-Zulu War, and a request for a liquor licence was made in 1886 by Mr Hamilton the proprietor. Ladysmith hosted many wagon riders on their way north to the diamond mines of Kimberley and the gold mines of the Rand and was recognised as a half way stop for every coach posting service between Durban and the Highveld.
During the Siege war artist Melton Prior from the London Illustrated News wrote: “perhaps on a Sunday afternoon one would be asked to afternoon tea and it was somewhat depressing when visiting the Royal Hotel to be graciously offered a glass of hot water”.
The Royal’s proximity to the town Hall and the fact that it hosted “the most privileged of the besieged” meant the building was shelled several times. In one issue of “The Bombshell” during November 1879 it was written: “there was a time at the Royal when you had eggs inside and shells outside, now you don’t”.
After the war Lord Roberts visited Ladysmith and lunched at the Royal.
It was a most convenient place for a drink and it is said that mine manager, David Harris popped over to cool off after the Gandhi riots of 1906.
Dr Arthur Stark
Doctor Stark was a widower aged 54 from Torquay, England. He travelled extensively and had written a work on “Birds of South Africa”. Staying at the Royal Hotel, he had the bad luck to find himself trapped in Ladysmith when the Siege started. He was sympathetic to the Boer cause and was actually suspected of being a spy. But being a very popular fellow and a good conversationalist he had enough friends to vouch for him. Despite the shortage of doctors he never practiced his profession during the Siege. On the 18th November 1899, Dr Stark, with his cat in his arms, was standing in the hotel entrance talking to journalist M C Hugh, when a shell passed through the roof, came down the stairs, ricocheted against the wall and hit Dr Stark where he stood on the sidewalk. Although it did not explode, it took off one of his legs and mangled the other. He died shortly after. It is said that his last words were “Look after my poor cat.”