Historic Place Category 1
William J M Larnach was born in New South Wales of a banking and merchant family. He came to Dunedin in 1869 as manager of the Bank of Otago, and started a milling, building and hardware form with Walter Guthrie, which did well during the 1870s boom but went into receivership in 1882 during the 1880s depression. Larnach was a leading businessman with shares in many companies and was a director of several. He was a member of parliament between 1875-8, 1883-90, and 1894-98. He was involved in various ministries from 1877 onwards and pulled the Department of Mines into the modern age of large scale mining and proper reporting procedures.
During the 1880s and 1890s Larnach ran a small kingdom on the Peninsula centred on the castle. As well as his family the castle had 46 servants. There were 35 acres of grounds, including a vinery, and a home farm of 300 acres with its own farmstead including a cow byre for 300 cows, stables, and quarters for farm workers. Tenant farmers on about 100 acres of land nearby also provided produce to the castle. The farm was regarded as a model for the local farming community.
It is the most grandiose private home in the southern part of the South Island and unique in its combination of styles. Stacpoole comments on the 'confused planning and awkwardness of the main elevation. The main elevation is ruined by the awkwardness of the tower which conflicts with the strongly horizontal emphasis of the verandahs, is clumsily fenestrated and penetrated by an absurd entrance at first floor level. Without the tower even the mind-boggling combination of glazed cast-iron verandahs and crenellated parapets would be acceptable' (Stacpoole 1976).
The castle crowns a hilltop on the Peninsula and is visible from many places on the harbour and local hills.
The sheer size of the building with its 34 rooms covering 43,200 square feet of floor space, the stone carvings by the Godfrey family, especially the animals flanking the main entrance, the quality of the materials used throughout and extensive gardens.
R A Lawson supervised the building work, and may well have produced the basic design for the building. The clumsiness of execution suggests that Larnach interfered so much that Lawson disowned the design. No other architect's name is linked to the original design, though Larnach may have obtained the plans from England. Wales of Mason and Wales designed the billiard room/ballroom wing. The engineer must be considered to be R A Lawson.
Nathaniel Wales was partner to William Mason and tends to be overshadowed by him. They designed Bishopscourt (Columba College) together.
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (Style):
The style is Victorian Scottish Baronial with a Neo-Gothic tower and colonial styled two storied verandahs round three sides.
The exterior of the main building is relatively unmodified and much of the grandeur of the interior remains, though the original furnishings were dispersed when the Larnach family sold the castle in 1907. Various of the outbuildings have been destroyed (such as the abattoir) or modified.
- Other: 1871 (circa)
- Original Construction: 1873 (circa)
- Other: 1874 (circa)
- Other: 1875 (circa)
- Other: 1876 (circa)
- Modification: 1887 (circa)
Much of the stone used for the Castle came from a basalt quarry nearby. Other materials included yellow brick, Oamaru stone, Port Chalmers basalt, Cornwall blackstone, Italian marble, Marseilles cobbles, Catlins timber, North Island Kauri and local Caversham sandstone for the ballroom.
- H. Knight, The Ordeal of William Larnach, Allied Press, Dunedin, 1981
- John Stacpoole, Colonial Architecture in New Zealand, Wellington, 1976
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration
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