This is the story of New Zealand’s only castle, built in 1871 by William Larnach, a merchant and politician. Everyone in this story hated each other and also the castle.
That’s a slight exaggeration, but very slight. The castle is some distance from the city of Dunedin and has some very impressive grounds and views. It was fairly remote in the 1870s-80s, which is why the family ladies didn’t really like living there to begin with. William Larnach himself was not home much, as far as I can tell, so its deficiency as a residence for people who depended on social calls to avoid going insane with boredom probably escaped him. He didn’t escape much else though!
Briefly, the story of the castle and the Larnach family goes like this: William built it for his first wife (whatever that means, exactly), sparing no expense. Of course, we now know what sort of harbinger that is because we’ve all seen “Jurassic Park.” William, unfortunately, pre-dated that morality tale.
First wife Eliza had six children, but died at 38. William then married his wife’s sister, Mary, which the castle’s history room helpfully tells us was legal due to “The Deceased Wife’s Sister Marriage Act” of 1880. The fact that a whole-ass law had to be passed to make this sort of thing permissible also indicates that a lot of people thought it was gross. Some people who definitely thought it was gross were William’s children. There was some serious inheritance at stake. We’ve also all seen “Hamlet.”
The disapproving kids didn’t kill Mary or Polonius or anything like that, but they did also didn’t stick around. Neither did William, who was in Wellington for politician stuff for months on end. Mary was left with a big ol’ house and a drinking problem. She also died at 38, five years later.
Various properties and holdings had been put in Mary’s name because William’s business was going south, and Mary left the children everything, as she had agreed to. This was probably fine with them but it sure suddenly sounded like a terrible idea to William, who did not have control over his own assets anymore. What does a reasonable man do in this situation? He forces his adult children to sign some papers without letting them see what the papers say, naturally. These papers were an agreement to relinquish their newly-inherited stuff. Family dinners were probably really great.
William married a much younger woman next, Constance (we see you, tired cliche). His business deals went wholly belly-up and there were rumors that Constance was sleeping with his youngest son. Ruined and humiliated, William killed himself in a Parliament building in 1898. The surviving family fractured itself further fighting over his will, illustrating that once again, family fortunes mainly get inherited by lawyers.
The castle fell into ruins and went through several owners before the current ones, who’ve spent years restoring the place. The castle now has guest quarters, a cafe, and gift and garden shops. It operates as a museum and hosts events and is a fine way to spend an afternoon.
There was a children’s quiz and bears to spot when I visited, which is a fun way to keep little ones engaged throughout the self-guided tour. Should you find the bears too adorable to leave behind, they’re available in the gift shop.
The whole thing is interesting enough and the grounds really are lovely. I was rather puzzled by one particular room’s presentation, though. All the other rooms were restored to something like how they would have been in their time of use, in line with the numerous other old houses and palaces I’ve been to. Except Constance’s.
Contance’s room–or boudoir, if we must–does contain a number of personal effects, such as clothing. But then some parasols are just floating around:
And also there’s a ghost?
And an old lady?
As far as I know, Constance didn’t grow old in the castle–she was much younger than William and the family sold it in 1906. So what is happening here? If there was an explanation anywhere, I missed it. It’s just so tonally different from the rest of the house. It’s wild.
Anyway, you can have a pleasant walk around the gardens, and the food in the cafe was very good. The views really are something else, especially from the tower.
Finally, I have no idea which room this book was in but I really loved it.
Larnach Castle is a nice place to visit and have lunch or tea (and presumably also stay overnight). It’s open 365 days a year and relatively pricey to go, so do take your time and get your money’s worth. Check the website for all sorts of availability, reservations, and pricing.