Against all odds: Despite an abusive husband, hotelier Margaret Radestock became a successful business woman

Radestock’s Eudunda Hotel, 1886. Picture: State Library of South Australia. Inset: Host Margaret Radestock. Picture: Adelaide Chronicle Thursday 22 July 1937


DEFYING the odds, Margaret Tabitha Radestock was a successful hotelier, who despite an abusive husband, and antiquated licensing laws, became a wealthy and respected South Australian businesswoman.

The daughter of German winemakers, Margaret, after almost 20 years of marriage to a wealthy, but brutal husband, bravely left him to forge-out a hospitality career in her own right, and toughed-out a long and prosperous life, sprinkled with joys, hardships and sorrow, for almost a century.

Margaret was born in 1849 in the small Adelaide Hills’ village of Oakbank, to vintners, Herman and Hannah Rose before marrying an impetuous German immigrant, Otto Radestock, who would develop a reputation for his fiery temper.

Margaret’s parents made wine from the grapes they grew near Oakbank, which members of her family then sold in their wine shop.

A young Margaret met Otto Radestock through his Oakbank cooperage, which likely did business with her parent’s winery.

Radestock proved a bad choice for a husband. Although a successful businessman in his younger years, he later in life became a violent drunkard, often fronting magistrates for his erratic and eccentric behaviour.

Otto Radestock came to Australia as a 20-year-old immigrant aboard the ship Steinwarder, from Hamburg, Germany, and after arriving in Adelaide in 1863 began a cooperage in Oakbank.

Queens Head Hotel, North Adelaide, 1935. Picture: State Library of South Australia.

After his marriage to Margaret Rose in about 1870, Otto was granted the license of the Queens Head Hotel on Kermode Street, North Adelaide on December 14 1874. The pub continues to trade today, and is one of Adelaide’s oldest pubs.

Margaret and Otto’s two children would follow in their parents’ foot steps and also both become publicans.

The couple’s first child, Clara was born in 1870, while their son, Oscar came into the world while Otto and Margaret were hosting the Queens Head Hotel in 1876.

Unlike his father though, Oscar would go onto become a respectable publican, hosting three successful Sydney hotels – two of which continue to trade today (2023).

By 1879 the Radestocks were financially comfortable, and Otto had saved enough money to buy the freehold of a pub at Eudunda, about 100km northeast of Adelaide.

The Eudunda Hotel was established in the 1860s by a Quaker, Henry Watson as a wine store and bar to service passing stockman.

Eudunda Hotel, Eudunda,1885, when the Radestocks were host. Picture: State Library of South Australia

By 1884, Otto’s business at the Eudunda Hotel was thriving, with extensive additions added to the single storey stone building. However, not all was well within the family.

Otto was hitting the bottle hard, and had been fined a number of times for being drunk whilst in the management of licensed premises.

In February 1885 Otto was fined after the police inspector reported he found the Eudunda Hotel “in a state of confusion, and Radestock going about drunk, and abusing people”.

By 1889, Otto’s eccentricities and drunkenness was out of control. He was remanded under the “Inebriate Act” and forced to spend six months sobering-up in the “Belair Inebriate Retreat”.

Margaret, now 40, took the license of the Eudunda Hotel, and with the help of her 13-year-old son, Oscar, and 17-year-old daughter Clara, saved the business from going under.

Otto however absconded from the asylum, breaking out with a tomahawk, before his incarceration had expired. He was later caught, and as a consequence spent two months in prison. When appearing in court to answer the charge of escaping from the asylum, Otto’s lawyer asked the magistrate to deal as leniently as possible with his client. His lawyer explained that Otto was of “a very excitable temperament”, and “when irritated either by mental or physical suffering, used his tongue too freely to the superintendent and police”.

Otto’s rapid fall from grace continued after absconding from the asylum. He returned to Eudunda, where in January 1890 he was charged with a number of serious offences, including assault with intent to rape the wife of the town’s watchmaker. Otto was eventually cleared of the assault charge due to lack of evidence. However, on another charge of firing a rifle in the public street of Eudunda on January 6, 1890 he was found guilty.

While in the bar of the Eudunda Hotel, Otto had loaded a rifle with a ball cartridge and fired through the open door across the street. Luckily no one was injured. However, Otto copped a fine of £2, with court costs.

Just five days later two mounted constables were outside the Eudunda Hotel when they heard Otto using “foul and indecent language” from the bar. He was slapped with another £2 fine with costs.

Despite Otto’s drunkenness, temper and unpredictable behaviour, he somehow remained financially secure, and, besides the pub, managed and owned several shops in Eudunda during the 1890s.

To what degree Margaret played in the management of her drunken husband’s financial affairs is unclear. There’s little doubt though she had a stabilising role, and she continued as licensee of the Eudunda Hotel after – not surprisingly – her husband was refused a permit after spending a couple of months in prison for escaping from the asylum.

Otto’s turbulent exploits continued after his release from gaol.

Margaret was charged on November 27, 1894 for allowing a “disorderly person”, namely her husband, Otto “to continue on her licensed premises”.

Margaret’s lawyer asked for a dismissal on the ground that “a woman was not expected to turn her husband out of doors”. The bench agreed, and dismissed the case.

Although Margaret was licensee, evidence in the court case showed Otto, who was now 51 years of age, was managing the hotel.

This is where the law caught-up with Margaret.

Otto’s abusive behaviour forced Margaret to move in with a friend. She was no longer living at the pub. As a consequence, Margaret was charged with the illegal act of permitting Otto – who had been refused a hotel license through misconduct – to manage her pub. She was fined £5, with an additional £5, 12 shillings court costs.

Otto’s appalling conduct finally led to the refusal of Margaret’s license of the Eudunda Hotel. The license was refused on the ground of unsatisfactory management in March 1895.

The hotel license was taken over by Ernest Albert Mann, who had married Otto and Margaret’s daughter, Clara. However the following year, in 1896, tragedy struck the family, when Clara died at the age of 24 while giving birth to twins.

Albert Mann remarried in 1905 and would host the Eudunda Hotel for over 20 years.

Meanwhile the intemperate habits of Otto Radestock continued.

The couple moved to Adelaide after Margaret was refused the renewal of the license of the Eudunda Hotel, where Otto’s hot-temper finally forced their legal separation.

In 1899 Otto was charged, on information from Margaret, with cruelty towards her and adultery. Although pleading not guilty to cruelty towards his wife, although denying adultery, he would not oppose those charges. He agreed to a separation order, but taking into consideration the amount Margaret had already received from him, he was not willing to pay maintenance.

Margaret, now 51, relocated to Broken Hill, NSW, with her son, 24-year-old son, Oscar, where the pair operated the Wentworth Hotel for over a decade. They would never see Otto again.

The hot-headed German died at the age of 65, alone in a room he rented attached to a house at the corner of Hurtle Square and Carrington Street, Adelaide in 1908.

The landlord’s daughter drew attention to an offensive smell coming from Otto’s rooms, and the police were called.

The door was forced open, and Otto’s decomposing body was found kneeling on the floor, with his head and arms on the bed. He was undressed except for a pair of trousers.

A coroner’s inquest later found that Otto came to his death on or about November 28, 1908, but the evidence did not show how.

The Broken Hill newspaper, the Barrier Miner reported on December 7, 1908:

The late Otto Radestock was the husband of Mrs Radestock of the Wentworth Hotel, Argent-street, Broken Hill, and father of Mr Oscar Radestock, who is well known here. For 17 years deceased kept the Eudunda Hotel, which was his own property and in consequence of his affluent circumstances was colloquially known as the ‘King of Eudunda’. He went out of the hotel business about 18 years ago, and, for a time lived privately with his wife and family. About 10 years go he became separated from his wife, and since then he had developed peculiar traits which led to his living alone in a rented room. Mr Radestock has never been in Broken Hill, although his widow and family have made it their home for several years. At the time of his death Mr Radestock still owned the Eudunda Hotel property, which for some years past has been tenanted by his son-in-law [Ernest Mann].

Margaret inherited the old German’s property interests, including the Eudunda Hotel, which she sold in 1936. Margaret, with her son, shared the license of the Wentworth Hotel at Broken Hill for 12 years before they separated ways.

At the age of 63, Margaret retired and returned to Adelaide in 1912. Oscar, meanwhile, relocated to Sydney where he gained the license of the Euston Hotel, a grand inner-city establishment on George Street, on July 4, 1912. While host of the Euston Hotel he married 16-year-old Evelyn Watts at the late age of 38 in 1914. They would have three children together, Vernon, Patricia and Ronald.

Euston Hotel, Sydney, 1948. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

With his new wife Evelyn, the Radestock hosted the Euston Hotel until 1917 when the pair took-on the license of the Imperial Hotel at Erskineville.

The Euston Hotel was located in George Street at the corner of Deans Place, and closed for business on June 29 1963 and was demolished soon after.

Imperial Hotel, Erskineville, 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. Inset: Oscar Radestock reading a scripture from the pulpit of the Leichhardt Presbyterian Church during a business men’s service. Picture: Daily Telegraph July 27 1936

The Radestocks hosted the Imperial Hotel at Erskineville until 1926 when Oscar, now 50, took the license of the newly completed Imperial Hotel at the corner of Norton Street and Parramatta Road, Leichhardt.

During the 1920s and 30s, the wealthy Radestocks climbed Sydney’s social ladder, and were regularly mentioned in the gossip pages of newspapers.

Oscar was a keen follower of horse racing, and a regular visitor to the famed Melbourne Cup. He also regularly travelled between Sydney, Broken Hill and South Australia, where he would visit his mother, the grand-old landlady, Margaret, who was living in retirement at “Koot Ledar”, Wayville, an inner-southern suburb of Adelaide.

Radestock’s Imperial Hotel, Leichhardt, 1930. Oscar Radestock’s last pub. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Oscar Radestock had come along way from the those rowdy days when as a teenager, he watched his father’s life spiral out of control. Now a wealthy businessman, who held the presidency of the Parramatta Road Shopkeepers’ Progress Association, he was a respected member of the Leichhardt Presbyterian Church, and host of a well-run and successful Sydney hotel. He, like his mother, Margaret, despite adversity had, aside from wealth, earned respect and social standing in the community.

In retirement in Adelaide, and now 88 years of age, life would deal Margaret one more cruel blow in 1937 when she lost her only remaining child. 

Oscar Radestock died unexpectantly at the age of 61 after an operation at Lewisham Private Hospital on December 30 1937.

NONAGENARIAN AND THREE OCTOGENARIANS. These sisters and brother were all born at Oakbank. Top: Mrs. E. Leschke, 86; and Mr. Benjamin Rose, 82. Bottom: Mrs. G. Keene, Gouger Street, Adelaide, who celebrated her ninetieth birthday on July 18, and Mrs. M. Radestock, 88, of Elizabeth Street, Norwood. Picture: Adelaide Chronicle Thursday 22 July 1937

Margaret Radestock died in Norwood, Adelaide in 1946 at the grand age of 97.

Meanwhile, after Oscar Radestock’s death in 1937, his 40-year-old widow, Evelyn took the license of the Imperial Hotel at Leichhardt, where she remained host for over a decade.

Evelyn Radestock died at the age of 60 while licensee of the Imperial Hotel on March 15 1958. At the time of her death the Radestocks had been of the helm of the Imperial Hotel at Leichhardt for over 32 years.

Vernon Watts Radestock took over briefly as licensee after his mother’s death until 1959.

Radestock’s Imperial continues to trade today (2023) as Norton’s Irish Pub in Leichhardt.

© Copyright 2023 Mick Roberts

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Categories: Adelaide hotels, NSW hotels, South Australia Hotels, Sydney hotels

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1 reply

  1. Bit more on Vernon from the Canowindra Star 25th October 1967


    The death occurred at the Canowindra Hotel on Friday morning of Mr. Vernon John (Jack)
    Radestock, 49, licensee of the hotel. The late Mr. Radestock was well known in the town having come to Canowindra about three and a half years ago.

    He had complained of not feeling well in the morning and a doctor was called. The doctor was
    with him when he suffered the fatal illness which is believed to have been a cerebral hemorrhage.

    Mr. Radestock had decided to go upstairs to lie down when he collapsed.
    His funeral took place in Sydney on. Monday. He is survived by his wife, Dot, and two daughters.

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