History

William James Mudie Larnach was born on 27 January 1833 at “Rosemount”, Singleton, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

He was the 4th of 11 children.

Of Scot’s descent Larnach grew up in relative luxury on the family farm.

The family wealth was created by virtue of his father being able to call upon the services of convict labour that the United Kingdom was sending to Australia in order to further establish the colony.

Convicts were being sent for “the term of their natural lives” to serve out their sentences.

Larnach Snr, a hard taskmaster, ordered the hanging of several convicts who had attempted to escape the family farm.

The subsequent abolishment of convict labour led to severe financial problems for the Larnach family as they struggled to come to terms with the new regime under which there was no convict labour.

In 1851, aged 18, Larnach sought counsel from his beloved Uncle, Donald Larnach (reportedly one of Australasia’s 200 wealthiest men), a successful Banker - on what he should do to become successful himself.

Larnach on Uncle Donald’s advice initially went to the goldfields of Victoria to seek his fortune as a prospector, before becoming a bank clerk.

On behalf of the Bank of New South Wales he opened several branches on the goldfields before being promoted to the Bank Managers position with the Bank of New South Wales in Geelong, Victoria.

A legacy of his time on the goldfields – where Bushrangers were rife and a constant threat, he had a dog, a strongbox and a pistol for protection - saw Larnach sleep with a revolver beside his bed for the rest of his life.

In 1859 he married Eliza Jane de Guise. She was 17 and he was 26. They were to have 6 children between them prior to her early death in 1880 at the age of 38.

In 1866 Larnach took a leave of absence from the Bank of New South Wales and along with his wife and 4 children ventured to the United Kingdom for a holiday where he stayed with his Uncle Donald in his magnificent home which later was to become the blueprint for his own house “The Camp” – Larnach Castle

Whilst in London, Larnach happened to become acquainted with the Directors of the newly formed Bank of Otago, New Zealand, and being suitably impressed by him, they offered him the prestigious position of  Bank Manager, based in Dunedin.

The family soon after traveled via Australia to pick up their possessions before arriving at Dunedin in September 1867.

Dunedin at this time was New Zealand’s wealthiest city, on the back of the gold rush - times were indeed prosperous.

Larnach was quick to establish himself within the inner circles of Dunedin business.

Within a very short period of time he was not only the Manager of the Bank of Otago but also the owner of several businesses (his business interests included farms, saw-mills, farm supply companies, sales and importing Companies of high end household effects), was on the Boards of many Companies as well as intermittently being a Member of Parliament.

He was highly regarded by his peers and his opinions held much weight.

In 1870 Larnach procured 40 hectares of land on the Otago Peninsula, of which he surveyed off 14 hectares, to establish the home block and building site, for what was to become “The Camp” – Larnach Castle.

“The Camp” as Larnach affectionately dubbed it, took 200 workmen 3 years to build but a further 12 pain-staking years for the Craftsmen Plasterers and Carvers from Europe to decorate and fully complete. It remains, to this day, a testament to the aspirations and creativity of the times.

In 1878, following a short stint in Parliament, where Larnach had been the Minister of Mines and, having recently lost his seat in the House, it was decided by the family to depart for the United Kingdom where the children were to be formally educated.

Soon after arriving in the United Kingdom, via San Francisco, and having just purchased a house, Larnach was given the bad news that several of his businesses back in New Zealand were failing. In an effort to salvage and resurrect them he returned to “The Camp” with his wife, her half-sister Mary and the youngest children.

Tragically a short time later, in November 1880, his beloved first wife Eliza Jane died of apoplexy (a stroke).

Distraught Larnach had a scaled down version of the First Church of Otago’s Steeple constructed as her grave. It still stands proudly today at a height of 17 metres (the original Steeple is 54 metres) in Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery and holds not only Eliza Jane but also Mary (his second wife), Kate (his favourite and eldest daughter), Donald (his eldest son) as well as himself.

In January 1882 Larnach married Eliza Jane’s half-sister Mary Cockburn (nee Alleyne). This union was not approved of by the children who saw Mary for the drunken wench she was.

In a strategic business move Larnach placed all the family property into Marys name so should the businesses fail (which was looking exceedingly likely) they would not be homeless and destitute.

In order to placate the children following this marriage, he had the elaborate Ballroom erected for their pleasure. This was gifted to them in 1885 on the occasion of his daughter Colleen’s “Coming of Age” (21st Birthday).

In 1887 Mary died (aged 38), following an operation to a cyst on her womb, having contracted blood poisoning.

The provisions of her Will (given she expected to well outlive Larnach) left everything to the children, effectively rendering him impoverished.

Larnach, realising this, quickly had papers drawn up and signed by the children, unbeknown to them what they were signing, so as he could regain lawful title to “his” property.

“By hook or by crook”, and ever the businessman, he was determined on getting back that which was rightfully his, He succeeded in his quest.

By now he had returned to Parliament and whilst based in Wellington he was married for a 3rd time in 1891 to Constance de Bath Brandon, who was the 37 year old daughter of a prominent Wellington Lawyer (Queens Counsel).

This was to be his undoing.

In the ensuing years financial matters continued to worsen for Larnach.

His children refused to acknowledge Constance as their new mother and betrayals in business frustrated him.

In 1898 following a trip to Australia where he was representing New Zealand in his official capacity as the Colonial Treasurer (Minister of Finance) at a World Expo he was to learn that his 2 travelling companions (Constance, his wife and Douglas his 2nd Son) had begun an affair.

Realising something was amiss Larnach had returned in August from this trip somewhat despondent and depressed.

In September he was rumoured to have purchased a pistol and on October 12 1898, having received an upsetting letter, that supposedly contained and confirmed all the sordid details of the affair between Constance and Douglas, Larnach retired to a Committee Room and shot himself - thereby ending the life of one of New Zealand’s most colourful, yet tragic, characters.

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