Bega’s Royal Hotel was established by legendary mountain horseman, Jimmy Kiss

Workmen, including publican Thomas Dunn, laying granite curbside stones outside the Royal Hotel, Gipps Street Bega. Picture: State Library of NSW


LEGENDARY mountain horseman, 29-year-old Jimmy Kiss opened Bega’s Royal Hotel on the NSW South Coast in 1873.

Jimmy was a well-known Snowy Mountain’s rider, who was “never known to be unseated by any bucking horse”. Reportedly, Jimmy was one of the ‘mountain men’ who inspired Banjo Patterson’s ‘Man from Snowy River’.

While Patterson acknowledged his epic poem was a work of fiction that drew-on stockman Jack Riley, he also conceded his famous work was based on other mountain cattlemen, who he had met or was told about while visiting Coolringdon Station in the Snowy Mountains.

Banjo Patterson. Picture: Adelaide Critic, September 29, 1900.The Man From Snowy River. Picture: Good Neighbour, June 1, 1963.

Built by Nicholas Bouquet, Bega’s Royal Hotel traded for almost 40 years before it was forced to shut by the NSW Government in 1911.

The Royal was opened for business in Gipp Street by Jimmy and Catherine Kiss. Jimmy was granted the license on July 1 1873 at the Bega Police Court. It wasn’t his first pub though, having previously hosted the Bobundarah Hotel in the Snowy Mountains. 

In the year 1843, James Kiss was born at Camperdown, near Sydney. When he was 16 years of age, he and his elder brother, William, were cattle dealing around Coolringdon Station west of Cooma.

Coolringdon was owned by Laurie Harnett, who in his later years claimed to be the man Patterson based his immortal poem. Harnett became well-known for passionately, and somewhat egotistically, reciting Patterson’s ‘Man From Snowy River’ at functions and other events, during the 1890s, explaining to his audiences that it was he who was the subject of the poet’s poem.

Jimmy meanwhile had built his skills as a highland’s horseman before marrying Catherine Higgs in 1862.

The newly married couple were one of the first settlers in the Bega district, under Sir John Robertson’s Land Act, taking up about 320 acres.

In his late 20s, the call of the mountains had seen Jimmy return to the ‘Snowy’, selling his Bega sheep farm. For a period he ran a general story at Brown Mountain, about 13kms of Nimmitabel, before he and Catherine took the license of the Bobundarah Hotel, near Jindabyne, in 1872.

The following year Jimmy and Catherine returned to Bega where they established the Royal Hotel. The Bega Gazette reported on Thursday 26 June 1873:

Mr. Castle applied for a Publican’s license for J. Kiss. The Bench were informed by S. C. Wells that the house would contain ample accommodation, and the stabling would be sufficient. The Bench – If he had good stabling he was entitled to a license. None of the houses in the town had stabling worthy of the name. License granted.

As a respected horseman, Jimmy’s Royal Hotel gained a strong association with the racing fraternity, with a number of its future publicans also having a strong interest in the ‘sport of kings’.

Jimmy’s brothers, Dave, Billy and Tom, were successful cattle dealers on the NSW South Coast during these times. They over-landed thousands of bullocks across the border to Gippsland in Victoria.

Along with his brothers, Jimmy was a splendid horseman, and it was a common occurrence to see him throw his hat or stock whip to the ground, and, galloping past, stoop from his horse and pick up either article; or he would jump off his horse at full gallop, and throw himself in to the saddle again.

Less than a year after opening the Royal, Jimmy nearly lost a guest dining at his pub. An accident that nearly proved fatal, occurred when a man, while at dinner, was choked by swallowing a large piece of beef, and started to choke.

Dr. Evershed was called, and it was reported at the time “that the mouth of the sufferer was so firmly closed that it was only by the use of a mallet and piece of wood that it could be opened, and the doctor after many efforts extracted the piece of meat, which weighed nearly three ounces, from the uvula”. The Kiama Independent reported on July 9 1874 that after about an hour’s suffering, “the unfortunate man recovered”.

After the death of his wife, Catherine in 1875, Jimmy went on to host the Commercial Hotel in Wolumla, before returning to his beloved mountains where he was publican of the Nimmitabel Hotel until 1884. The family relocated to Gundagai in 1885 where Jimmy continued his cattle dealings.

In his later years Jimmy retired to Green Street opposite the Victoria Barracks, Paddington Sydney, where he died at the age of 77 in May 1921. The old mountain horseman was buried at Rookwood.

The Royal was frequented by large gangs of road workers who came to work in the district. At one point, the Royal was selling the cheapest beer in town, which forced the other eight pubs in the town to lower their prices. More on that later.

After Local Option Polling forced the closure of the Royal, Bega’s Southern Star newspaper reported on Saturday 10 June 1911.

The Royal Hotel, Bega, which has just closed up in accordance with the Local Option Court, had many licensees during its career of nearly 40 years. It was opened by the late “Jimmy” Kiss [Jimmy was still alive and living at the time], who sold to Mr. Thos. Mooney, who later on passed it on to his brother “Mick”. Then Mr James Hutton had it for years. Those were the days in which Rixon and Macleod’s sale yards were situated just above the hotel and it used to be a very busy spot on market days.

Later on Mr. Hutton moved out and opened the Metropolitan Hotel, the Royal passing to Mr. Plowright (from Bombala). The late Tom Dunn (also from Bombala) next took it, and did a lively business for some years, navvies and others coming from long distances to knock their cheques down at Dunn’s – and they used to make big cheques in those times.

Mr. Dunn later on came down to the Occidental, and sold the Royal to Mr. “Joe” McKee (now of Towamba), who in turn sold to Mr. “Jack” Donnelly. Then came the late “Jack” Gay, who was killed at Cooma a few years back, and from him it passed to Mr. Brice, and later on to Mr. Hill (who died there). It was Mr. Hill who brought the price of beers down to 3d in Bega, and the other hotels, although holding out for some time, soon followed suit. Mr. P. McGuinness and Mr. D. Lambert followed as licensees, and then Mr. Ralph Kavanagh held it for some time, and Captain Wilson was the last to grace its halls. The old place has seen some lively times, and a book might be written of the many incidents surrounding its career.

When the pub closed, there were just five watering hotels left in Bega. The last publican of the Royal marked the pub’s demise with a symbolic gesture, the Braidwood Dispatch reported on Saturday 17 June 1911.

When the Royal Hotel at Bega closed the other week the licensee turned the tap and allowed half a cask of beer to run to waste, and as it flowed both the licensee and the groom reverently lifted their hats to the departing.

The old Royal was later used as a boarding house and private home. The building was still standing in August 1946 when a strong gale damaged part of the roof. It was demolished to make way for a BP petrol station, according to the Bega Pioneer Museum’s website.

According to Phil Smith, the exact address of the old Royal was 96 Gipps Street. He writes: “It was demolished in 1960 or 1961 the year my family moved out. It was purchased for £580 and used as the private residence of “Brickie” Smith and family for at least 15 years. Looking at the picture further to the right the rooms which included the old kitchen was rented to Myron Kelly the ‘Bega Bomber’.”

* Can anyone provide us with a photo of Jimmy Kiss or the Royal Hotel, either while it was trading, or after it closed for business? 

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2016


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4 replies

  1. The exact address was 96 Gipps Street. It was demolished in 1960 or 1961 the year my family moved out. It was purchased for 580 pound and used as the private residence of “Brickie” Smith and family for at least 15 years. Looking at the picture further to the right the rooms which included the old kitchen was rented to Myron Kelly the ” Bega Bomber.”

  2. My husband has a connection to this KISS line. He would be his 2nd great uncle. Your story speaks of his wife Margaret. According to my research his wife was Catherine Higgs, daughter of Josua Higgs and Catherine Cunningham. Marriage Record: Year 1861. NSW Reg no 1684.
    There is also a story about the theory that Jimmy Kiss was the Man from Snowy River. TROVE. The Picton Post (NSW 1907-1954), 7 Sept 1933, page 3, “The Man from Snowy River”.
    APA citation
    [No heading]. (1933, September 7). The Picton Post (NSW : 1907 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved July 21, 2014, from
    Kiss James. #660. Man From Snowy River Reference
    Perhaps you could validate the marriage to a “Margaret”
    Enjoyed the background info.

    • Hi Karen. Thanks for drawing my attention to the typo in several paragraphs. While I did state that James Kiss married Catherine, in a couple of paragraphs I referred to her as Margaret. Those mistakes have now been corrected. By the way, do you have a photo of James Kiss to include in the story?

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