Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle

Location: 145 Camp Road, Larnach Castle, Dunedin. Historic Place Category: 1

Built by Mr Larnach, a prominent businessman and NZ politician. The land was purchased in 1870 with the 1st foundation stone for this mock castle being laid in 1871. Construction began with over 200 workmen building the main structure. It took 3 years to complete with a further 12 years of interior construction. The Ballroom was erected in 1885 and completed in 1887. The stables were built in in 1874 as it was important for Mr Larnach to house his horses well as they were the means of transport for him to reach business in town.

The Castle itself has had multiple uses over the years. After William Larnach's death, it remained in the family and was used as a Nun's retreat. The family sold the castle in 1906 to the government who utilised it as an insane asylum for the overflow of patients from Seacliffe mental asylum.

It fell into disrepair and changed hands a couple of more times until 1941 when it was purchased by a Mr Purdie and used to billet over 80 US soldiers from WW2. Again, it changed hands until 1967 when the Barker family purchased the home and set about lovingly restoring it. It remains in their family today.

Scandal and tragedy surround this family. William Larnach and his 1st wife, Eliza Jane Guise had 6 children together, Donald, Douglas, Kate, Colleen, Alice and Gladys. Unfortunately Eliza died on 8 November 1880 aged 38 years from apoplexy (a stroke) when Gladys was just a baby. It is rumoured she died in the castle, alone as William Larnach was away on business in Australia.

The burial was then delayed for a week so he could return. He was said to be devastated and erected a mausoleum to house his beloved wife in Dunedin's Northern Cemetery, which is still there today (Block 100, Plot 4).

A member of the Quantum Foundation has undertaken substantial research into this family and details have been confirmed by death records. However it is interesting to note that the mausoleum was not built until 1881 so Eliza would have been interred elsewhere until it was complete. This was not unusual during that era.

In 1882 William Larnach married Eliza's half sister, Mary Alleyne. Mary had been living with her sister and brother in law in Dunedin since 1867. Incidentally, Williams bedroom in the castle was located in between the two sisters which staff remarked on as being rather strange. Mary was rumoured by the staff to be a 'drunken wench' and the children of the family did not approve of the union.  It appears to have been a marriage of convenience with Mary doting on the infant Gladys. The marriage lasted for 5 years with Mary dying in Wellington Hospital after contracting blood poisoning whilst being operated on for a cyst on her womb. She is interred alongside her sister in the Larnach family mausoleum.

William Larnach then went on to marry his 3rd wife, Constance de Bathe Brandon on his 58th birthday - 27th January 1891. She was much younger than him being only 37 years old at the time. It is rumoured that Constance and William's younger son Douglas began an affair. With William away in Parliament Buildings all week, it is suggested Constance and Douglas struck up a friendship which developed into more, although there is no proof known to substantiate this. She did not remarry after Williams death. Constance died at the ripe old age of 86 years old and is buried at The Friends of Bolton Cemetery in Wellington (Plot 3210).

Newspaper reports state some incorrect facts which have, unfortunately been repeated elsewhere on the internet. It has been said Constance and William's older son Donald had an affair. Donald is actually buried in the family tomb and had this been true, this would have not occurred. We have found further multiple reports that state Douglas, William's younger son, and Constance were rumoured to be having the affair.  We think it is safe to say this appears correct.

Eliza Jane (Guise) Larnach Mary Cockburn Alleyne Larnach  Constance de Bathe Brandon 
Born: 10 May 1842 Born: 31 December 1847 Born: 1856
Died: 08 November 1880 (38 yrs)  Died: 11 January 1887 (40 yrs) Died: 11 September 1942 (86 yrs) 
Buried: Dunedin, 15 November 1881  Buried: Dunedin, 15 January 1887 Buried: Wellington, 15 September 1942
Cause of Death: Apoplexy (Stroke)  Cause of Death: Blood Poisoning  Cause of Death: Unknown

Further tragedy struck the family when William's eldest daughter, Kate, contracted typhoid and subsequently died. She was 29 years old and is interred within the family tomb in Dunedin's Northern Cemetery.  We would like to correct 3 urban legends surrounding this family:-

1). The Waikato Times, Critic and many other publications and websites have stated that the castle ballroom was built and gifted to Larnach's oldest daughter, Kate on her 21st birthday. This is an unfortunate case of inaccurate research. Based on Kate's birth date, she would have been 21 years old in 1883. The Ballroom construction did not even begin until some 2 years later in 1885 with completion in 1886/87.  At the time of the completion of the ballroom, Kate was 24/25 years old so it is impossible that this building was gifted to her on her 21st birthday.

2). The Ballroom was actually gifted to all the children, at Colleen's coming of age party (21 years old) in 1886.

3). Kate is also incorrectly reported to have died shortly after her 21st birthday, or if you read other reports, at age 26 years old after having contracted typhoid. While it is true she did contract typhoid, after locating her confirmed birth and death records, it is very clear she did not die until she was 29 years old.

William Larnach himself was plagued with tragedy and misfortune. His business affairs were in trouble, with land and bank investments failing and heavy borrowing, it is said he was depressed for a time before his death. Upon receiving a letter with what appeared to be upsetting news, he retired to his chambers at parliament buildings and having purchased a pistol some 3 weeks before, shot himself through the head. It is rumoured that the letter contained news of the affair between Constance and Douglas but we will never truly know. You can read the newspaper article announcing his death. 

Williams oldest son Donald married an actress and had 3 daughters. 2 lived in New Zealand and 1 lived in England with her mother. Tragically, he also committed suicide by shooting himself in the head and is interred in the family tomb along with his father, mother, stepmother and sister. The remaining family members are buried elsewhere. You can read about the announcement regarding his suicide in the local papers of the time period.

Kate Emily Larnach  William James Mudie Larnach  Donald G Larnach 
Born: 10 May 1862 Born: 27 January 1833 Born: 27 July 1861
Died: 27 July 1891 (29 yrs) Death: 15 October 1898 (65 yrs)  Death: 14 July 1910 (49 yrs)
Buried: Dunedin, 29 July 1891 Buried: Dunedin, 17 October 1898 Buried: Dunedin, 16 July 1910 
Cause of Death: Typhoid Cause of Death: Suicide by gun Cause of Death: Suicide by gun

William's youngest son was Douglas and the son that was accused of having the affair with Constance. It is interesting to note that William died intestate, which meant under the law at the time, the wife would get 1/3 of the estate with 2/3 being divided between the children. But this was not enough for older brother Donald, who rallied his siblings around him and took Constance to court for her inheritance. And shockingly won!

Douglas was the only child that stood up for Constance stating he knew they would attempt to do her out of what was rightfully hers. One could be forgiven for thinking that maybe a word here and a rumour of an affair dropped there, could have only strengthened Donald's case for a favourable outcome.

Douglas did marry but we have been unable to track down any confirmed children from the union.

Colleen was the Larnach family's 2nd oldest daughter and was married with 2 children, a boy and a girl.

Alice was the 5th child of William and Eliza Larnach and was married twice. She married William Francis Inder and bore him 2 children, Lyall and Daphne. He died at age 47 and she then married for a 2nd time to Frances J Devine.

Douglas John Larnach  Colleen Shawn (Larnach) Home   Alice Jane (Larnach) Devine
Born: 27 August 1863 Born: 31 October 1865 Born: 27 November 1868
Death: 30 June 1949 (85 yrs) Death: 4 September 1951 (85 yrs) Death: 29 January 1941 (83 yrs)
Buried: Rotorua, Date unknown Buried: Nelson, Date unknown Buried: Australia, Date unknown
Cause of Death: Unknown Cause of Death: Unknown Cause of Death: Unknown

The last of the children was Gladys. She married Robert Hope Moncrieff Aitken and is documented as giving birth to 2 boys, 1 named after his father and the other called James Dennis. She is also said to have died in childbirth but we have located information that results in her having survived childbirth for 1 month after the birth of her son Robert - born October 6th 1900. The birthdate for her 2nd son James is August 12 1919 - we are still trying to find concrete evidence of this 2nd child - after all - she had been dead for 19 years when she supposedly gave birth to him! She was recorded as being a mere 23 years old when she died.  Picture below - Gladys (left) Douglas and Constance.

Gladys Beryl(Mudie Larnach)Aitken  The Larnach Family  Larnach Castle 
Born: 02 November 1877   Snapshot of the castle in the early days
Death: 07 November 1900 (23 yrs)     
Buried: Christchurch, Date unknown    
Cause of Death: Unknown    

There are a few reputed hauntings at Larnach Castle. The first would be of Eliza who is said to haunt the landing near her bedroom where it is said she died. The oldest Larnach daughter, Kate, allegedly haunts the ballroom and Mr Larnach himself supposedly roams within the castle walls.  The New Zealand TV programme Ghost Hunt, filmed an episode here and got a photographic of what is thought to be Mr Larnach himself.

Two of the Quantum Foundations team members were privileged enough to get to investigate this location over a 2 night period and stayed onsite in The Stables.  EVP sessions were conducted on both evenings which yielded unmistakable voices answering directly asked questions.  Contamination by other customers staying on site were ruled out as we had sole occupancy, as was others walking around The Stables due to the ungodly hour these sessions were conducted. While heading outside alone in the early hours of the morning, upon walking through the ground floor of The Stables, one of our investigators had a personal experience.  All of a sudden she felt an unmistakable presence right next to her which made her jump and distinctly heard the swishing of a dress. Another investigator captured an EVP of a males voice clearly speaking a short sentence from the same location.

In the ballroom, the sounds of dishes or glasses being moved around was captured while no one was present in the room. Our video camera's confirmed that all investigators were accounted for elsewhere in the castle. Upon investigating, there seemed to be no logical explanation for this as nothing had been moved or altered. There was nothing visually captured on video.

Whilst conducting an EVP session in Constance's bedroom (which houses many of her personal items including her wedding dress), our investigator asked if Constance had indeed had an affair with Douglas as they personally did not believe this was the case. The 2 investigators present did not audibly hear a response. However on reviewing the EVP session shortly thereafter, a soft whispery female voice can be heard stating "I did not do it" in direct response to their question.  We considered this to be a 'Class A' capture.

It is our investigators personal opinion, that this castle definitely warrants a series of extended investigations in the hope of trying to determine exactly what these disturbances can be attributed to, or perhaps who exactly is roaming the grounds and buildings of this stunning location.

Research Status: Complete

Have you experienced something you can't explain at this location?  Leave us a comment below.  Your email will not be published.


  • I visited this castle in 2018. I experienced something on the upper floor, in what I think was The Nursery or the Nanny's room. It had a single bed and a dresser near the windows and a small wardrobe. When walking down the hall toward the room the feeling was "normal". When I entered the room it was like I crossed an invisible line and the air was thick and heavy. I left the room and the feeling was normal again. I stepped back inside the room again and the thick air was evident again. It wasn't scary, but fascinating. The air was heavy and I was intrigued as my husband said he didn't feel a single thing! I reported this event to the lady in the souvenir shop. It was a surreal and exciting thing to experience in such an amazing location.
    Posted: 2024-01-28 23:46   by Lisa

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