The Royal Hotel Durban – History in the making!!
The Royal Hotel Durban has stood at the centre of Durban and its history for more than 150 years. It has grown with the City and stands proud of its tradition of exceptional service and hospitality.
On 12 December 1845 Durban’s first hotel announced itself open to the public. The story of McDonald’s Commercial Hotel, subsequently renamed the Masonic and finally the Royal, begins during the late 1830’s with the arrival at Port Natal of a Scottish sea captain, Hugh McDonald.
It was Charles McDonald who in January 1843, bought the Market Square property on which part of the Royal Hotel today stands, for the sum of £40. He erected a wattle-and-daub thatch-roofed trading store and began selling such essential items as sugar, tea, tobacco, wine and brandy, conveniently supplied by the Pilot. It is possible that he also offered rudimentary accommodation to travelers.
Charles McDonald moved to Pietermaritzburg at some time during 1845 and his brother Hugh was at sea on the Pilot when on 12 December 1845 an advertisement appeared in Natal’s first newspaper, de Natalier and True Pietermaritzburg Recorder, announcing the opening of the Commercial Hotel in Durban.
It may be assumed that Charles McDonald had leased the property to John Edwards, the first proprietor of the hotel. Little is known about Edwards, whose proprietorship of the Commercial lasted only a few months and in February 1846 Hugh McDonald gave up his life at sea to take over the hotel. He bought the property from his brother Charles, together with is adjoining plot, paying £40 for each!!!
Between January 1849 and June 1952, almost 5000 British immigrants arrived in Natal. Hugh McDonald was not slow to take advantage of the influx of people requiring temporary accommodation. He consolidated his property by selling off two portions of his brother Charles’s original property and erected a new double-storeyed building on his undeveloped property adjacent to the original Commercial.
Hugh McDonald died in June 1853 at the comparatively young age of 56. His death did not result in the closure or sale of McDonalds, for it was managed until 1857 by his capable widow, Ann.
In July 1855 Ann McDonald advertised the hotel business for sale and for a brief period the hotel was in the hands of Thomas Galloway, who had arrived in Natal in 1850. Despite auctioneer Robert Acutt’s enticing advertisements, Ann McDonald was not able to find another buyer and so actually retire until March 1857.
Charles McDonald’s original plot and building (minus the two bayside subdivisions sold off by Hugh in 1851) were sold to Henry Stainbank, while the ‘new’ hotel with its stables and outbuilding was leased to George Winder for 21 years.
In March 1859, after only two years at the helm, George Winder sold the lease of the Masonic to William Wood, formerly owner of the Crown Hotel in Pietermaritzburg.
Having obtained Queen Victoria’s young son, Prince Alfred’s permission after he attended a dinner at the Masonic, William Wood wasted no time in renaming the hotel and his advertisement soon carried the words ‘Wood’s Royal Hotel (by Special Appointment)’ as well as displaying the Royal Coat of Arms.
By May 1861 William Wood was in deep financial trouble and the hotel was up for sale yet again. The purchasers of the lease o f the Royal and the adjoining freehold property in 1861 were Farquard Campbell Salmon and John Beard. The partnership with John Beard was shortlived and by December 1861 the hotel was being advertised as ‘Salmon’s Royal Hotel’.
The Royal was purchased in 1881 by the well-respected FL Jonsson, an astute and wealthy businessman, who was to manage it, in conjunction with his many other enterprises, with conspicuous success over the next twenty years. FL Jonsson died on 10 June 1899 at the age of 63.
The terms of FL Jonsson’s will evidently specified that the Royal should be sold after his death. However, in view of the unsettled political and economic climate 1899, the sale was postponed indefinitely. The Royal therefore remained in the hands of Jonsson’s heirs. In May 1902 the Jonsson family finally sold the Royal to the Royal Hotel and Estate Company, which had been specially formed for this purpose.
In November 1927 a scheme to amalgamate the Royal and Marine hotels, first considered during the early 1920’s but shelved. The company formed for the purpose was Durban Hotels Ltd by Vernon Hooper and the Marine Hotel’s Levin Joel. The Joel family and Vernon Hooper were the major shareholders. Levin Joel was appointed overall Managing Director and Vernon Hooper Chairman of the amalgamated Board of Directors.
Levin Joel died in October 1951, to the deep regret of many. His obituary paid tribute to a remarkable hotelier and to a man whose personal generosity with his considerable wealth had benefited many institutions and charitable organisations in Durban.
Gordon Noyce was appointed Managing Director after Levin Joel’s death and then Chairman of the company after Vernon Hooper’s death in 1954.
After Gordon Noyce’s death his son, Michael, who had been a director of Durban Hotels for some years, was elected Chairman. In 1973, Russell Stevens, who had been a director of the company as well as its part-time marketing advisor, was appointed Managing Director. Stevens envisaged the Royal of the 1980’s as a city-centre hotel of international class.
In 1988 Durban Hotels Ltd signed a contract with Russell Stevens’s newly-formed hotel management company Three Cities Hotels, which has since been responsible for the management of The Royal Hotel until recently.
01 February 2012, The Royal Hotel as well as Durban Hotels Ltd was bought by property guru Moses Motsa who resides in Swaziland.