Old New Zealand

...William Larnach...

William James Mudie Larnach
(27 January 1833 12 October 1898)

William Larnach was a prominent businessman and politician who took his own life in parliament buildings in 1898. His family mansion which he had built on the Otago Peninsula has since become a popular tourist attraction. His tale is one of tragedy and woe.Larnach Castle

Larnach was born to a family of means in New South Wales in 1833. His father John Larnach was a station owner and his grandfather on his mother's side, James Mudie, was a prominent land owner and author. After early experience with farming and gold digging, he went into banking under the tutelage of his uncle, Donald Larnach. He married his first wife Eliza Jane Guize in 1959.

Larnarch came to New Zealand in 1867 after taking up the position of manager at the Bank of Otago in Dunedin. It was at this time that he acquired property on the Otago Peninsula and built his family mansion which he referred to as "the camp" but which became popularly known as "Larnach's Castle".

Political Career:

1875-1878 Dunedin (Independent)
1883-1884 Peninsula (Independent)
1884-1887 Peninsula (Independent)
1887-1890 Peninsula (Independent)
1894-1896 Tuapeka (Liberal)
1896-1898 Tuapeka (Liberal)

Larnach entered politics in 1875 first unsuccessfully contesting the Caversham by-election and then succeeding in the City of Dunedin electorate. Eliza passed away in 1880 from a stroke and two years later Larnach married her half sister, Mary Cockburn Alleyne. Mary herself died in 1887 of blood poisoning following an operation. Larnach's third wife was the much younger Constance de Bathe Brandon, the daughter of a Wellington solicitor.

Larnach took his own life, shooting himself in the head with a revolver in Parliament Buildings in 1898. He had been facing considerable financial difficulties and this is often cited as a reason for his suicide though it's also speculated that an affair between Constance and his son Douglas may have been the underlying cause of his distress.

Left: Larnach's Tomb in Dunedin's Northern Cemetary

Larnach's family tomb which is modeled on First Church in Moray Place, can be found in Dunedin's Northern Cemetery. Interred are Larnach, his first two wives and his daughter Kate Emily Larnach, whom also suffered an early demise. In 1910 Larnach's elder son Donald Guise Larnach was also buried there following his suicide.

Over the years Larnach's tomb has been the scene of numerous drunken parties and at least one black mass. In 1972 Dunedin student, now historian and curator Peter Entwistle, having come into possession of Larnach's skull, went up on charges of improperly interfering with human remains. The charges were however later dismissed.

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Otago Daily Times: 18 Nov 2015 - Laying Larnach to rest
The Northern Cemetary - Larnach biography