The story of William James Mudie Larnach is just as intriguing as the castle itself, and reads like a script from a soap opera. He was born in 1833 in New South Wales Australia to parents of Scottish decent. He started his career in banking during the Australian gold rushes, and when gold was discovered in New Zealand in the 1860's he was offered the position of manager of the Bank of Otago in Dunedin. He and his beloved first wife Eliza sailed for Dunedin in 1867.
His investment portfolio and personal wealth was built through his merchant empire, shipping, farming, landholding, politics and speculation. For twenty-five years, he was a cabinet minister in the New Zealand government, and he was a trusted advisor of Richard Seddon.
In total, he had three wives. Two were short-lived, one became a lonely alcoholic locked in her bedroom, and Connie his third wife was rumoured to be having an affair with his oldest son. Adding to his woes, his favourite daughter, Kate, died of Typhoid. His untimely demise occurred 1898 when he committed suicide in Committee Room J, in New Zealand’s House of Parliament.
I took Mum and Dad to explore the castle and its grounds, and they were both impressed with how the Barker family have developed the property and continued their mammoth restoration project. Since 1967, they have scoured auctions and antique stores to refurbish the Castle with its original treasures and other furniture for that period of New Zealand’s history. Restoration of the Castle itself has taken decades and the ruins have finally returned to their original splendour. Inside the carved ceilings, mosaics on the floor, collection of New Zealand antiques, and hanging staircase (which was built without nails or screws), are all looking magnificent.
On a sunny day, the view from the battlements at the top of the tower proves why Dunedin is such an amazing place to live. The Otago Peninsula and Harbour stretch out into the distance, and you can see why the manicured Castle grounds complete with statues and art installations has been registered as ‘A Garden of International Significance’.
Larnach Castle is another example of a place worth visiting on a sunny day in Dunedin, and a building with a social history that could be part of a Hollywood movie, if only walls could talk!