1871 - 1898 "The Larnach Years"
The Story of William Larnach
William James Mudie Larnach, of Scottish descent, was born in 1833 in New South Wales, Australia. His banking career began in Melbourne then followed the gold rush to the Australian goldfields where he was manager of the Bank of New South Wales at Ararat. His bank was a tent and his equipment consisted of dogs, a gun, and strong boxes.
Gold was discovered in Otago, New Zealand, in the 1860's. Larnach was offered the position of manager of the Bank of Otago in Dunedin, which serviced the extensive goldfields. He sailed for Dunedin in 1867.
Larnach's brillant career encompassed his merchant empire Guthrie and Larnach, banking, shipping, farming, landholding, politics and... speculation. He travelled extensively and was a cabinet minister in the New Zealand Government, holding various portfolios, over a period of twenty-five years.
Larnach was married three times and had six children. He was pre-deceased by his first two wives and his eldest daughter, Kate.
He took his own life in the New Zealand Parliament Buildings in 1898.
Building Larnach Castle
Larnach was a man of great vision and created a magnificent residence for himself and his family.
A story is told that William Larnach and one of his sons went for a horse ride along the top of the Otago Peninsula to choose the best site for their home. Today you can still see why this site was chosen as it has wonderful panoramic views of Dunedin, Otago Harbour, the Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean.
First the site was clear-felled, then the hill site was levelled by putting pegs into the volcanic rock and pouring salt water on them to split the rock. Approximately 200 men spent three years building the shell of the Castle and then gifted European craftsmen spent 12 years embellishing the interior.
Materials from all over the world were used - marble from Italy, slate from Wales, floor tiles from England, glass from Venice and France. No expense was spared in creating Larnach's dream home! Many New Zealand native woods were also used - kauri ceilings, rimu floors and honeysuckle panelling. In 1885 a 3,000 square foot Ballroom was added.
The Larnach Family
Larnach's first wife Eliza Guise, had six children - Donald, Douglas, Kate, Colleen, Alice and Gladys. Eliza died at the age of 38 when Gladys was still a baby. Larnach then married Eliza's half sister Mary Alleyne. They were married for 5 years when sadly Mary also died at the age of 38. Larnach then married a much younger lady, Constance de Bathe Brandon.
Larnach was struck by tragedy when his favourite daughter Kate died in her 20s. Five of the children were sent to England for their education. This meant long sea voyages and a lot of time away from the Castle and family.
After Larnach's suicide in 1898 the family was further torn apart by legal battles over Larnach's property as he died intestate. The family then sold the Castle in 1906.