castle of my youth

I’ve lived in Australia for decades now but the first 17 years of my life were spent in Dunedin, New Zealand. It’s a pretty enough city with interesting architecture and gorgeous gardens but the weather is way too cold.

One of the attractions in Dunedin is Larnach’s Castle built in the 1870s by William Larnach.

Larnach was married three times and had six children. He was pre deceased by his first two wives and his eldest daughter, Kate. He took his own life in the New Zealand parliament buildings in 1898.

The Castle has its fair share of ghost stories, mostly based around the Larnach’s tragic lives. One of the stories is that Katie, Sir William’s favourite daughter, haunts the ballroom which was reputedly built for her as a 21st birthday gift. Kate died shortly after that birthday.


Larnach’s first wife Eliza Jane was supposed to have died of apoplexy at the age of 38  in what is called the South Bedroom. After his first wife’s death Larnach then married his wife’s sister. She too died unexpectedly.


This is Barbara Parkins, not one of the many Mrs Larnachs

Larnach married again, his third wife Constance was much younger than William, the match was doomed from the start. Constance had an affair with Larnach’s son Donald. Donald later took his own life in the Grand Hotel and Larnach himself committed suicide in his office in 1898.


In 1906 the New Zealand government bought the castle and used it as a mental hospital for shell shocked soldiers. Later it fell into a state of disrepair but has been restored by its present owners.


As a teenager I attended a party in the ballroom, of which I remember little except that my boyfriend and I ran around the parts of the castle that were open, holding hands and pretending to be Romeo and Juliet. I was wearing a long red velvet shift and had flowers in my hair. A group of med students dressed as court jesters had brought along cannisters of nitrous oxide and helium and were talking in high squeaky voices…..

angie and david

Angie and David weren’t there

It was the first time I smelled marijuana though I was busy with the mulled cider and didn’t take much notice of what people were smoking. In the early hours of the morning I leaned too far over the wishing well out in the garden and dropped a greenstone earring, one of a pair my romeo had found at a building site earlier in the week.

I still have the other one…..

greenstone 003

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 7:13 am  Comments (44)  
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44 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So much tragedy around that castle. I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, but I know that I can definitely feel a certain weird vibe from places with a negative history. It would be so exciting to attend a party there!

    • Did you click on the Larnach’s Castle link Scott? The view from the turrets is amazing

      • Yes I did and that view is spectacular. I’ve always wanted to see New Zealand, now I have to!

  2. The early romances of Nurse Myra? I love it. New Zealand is yet another place I would love to visit. Cool earing BTW.

    • “Romeo” is the father of my eldest son

  3. Was luckily enough to be invited to an amazing wedding there a few years back.. I have few story’s from that night that with the right amount of Maker’s Mark I might disclose one day

    • oh, I’d love to read one or two of those stories Mr Walrus

  4. So, the Larnach Castle is now also famous for Nurse Myra’s earing!!!! I sense a cult following 🙂

  5. beautiful photos and a sweet story… and if the college kids were hitting helium AND nitrous? lucky there weren’t a few more dead bodies that night…

    • I wonder if my memory is playing tricks on me? I definitely remember the squeaky voices. But at the same time I can recall a dental student attempting to get me to try the nitrous oxide…..

      • Maybe they weren’t doing both at once. Both could have been at the party being employed by different groups.

  6. Such a romantic tale.

    Tuesday’s Tales in Two Hundred – Going In Circles

  7. good post. true to your style and interesting…i live in dunedin florida no relation to your dunedin.. beautiful earring, too bad about the other.

    • I wear it round my neck as a pendant now

  8. What a cursed family. Or maybe just tragic. I hope your boyfriend realised how lucky he was to have you in the first flush of womanhood. Damn him.

    • No, I was just a clueless wannabe hippie back then. Ended up barefoot and pregnant before the year was out….

  9. You were probly too caugt up wit th cider & th wishin well to notice me & Atlas runnin around pretended we was Rosenkrantz & Guildenstern.

    • Goddamit!!!! Can we get together for a re-enactment? Maybe over here at King Willy’s castle with anaglyph as impresario

  10. That is a beautiful stone. Was it local?

  11. My husband is a kiwi and we have cousins in Dunedin – never heard about the castle before – I want to make a visit!

    • Dunedin is a lovely city. It even has its own albatross colony and penguins too

  12. Eliza Jane died of apoplexy in the South Bedroom. So many directions you can go with that, but I am more interested in the nubile NurseMyra running around a castle.

  13. And she died at 38 too, which seems awfully young for apoplexy. I sense a fantasy gone wrong.

    I love this tale, the way it begins in history and then wends its way to the present, tying in with real life and ending with the poignant earring. Just lovely.

    • You should put New Zealand on your list of places to visit HMH. You would LOVE the gardens!

  14. Delightful post, Nurse Myra! One of your best, I think. And thanks for adding me to your blogroll.

    • I have been eagerly awaiting the unveiling of your blog Ms. Eyeball. Your first two posts just make me impatient to see more

  15. It looks absolutely beautiful! Too bad the original owner had such a tragic life.

  16. So if I had to choose…which would it be. Australia or New Zealand. And both doesn’t count. We americans don’t get as much holiday.

    • New Zealand is more beautiful but Australia is more fun. Seeing both is still doable – it’s only a 3 hour flight across the Tasman.

      I once flew to New Zealand just for the day!

  17. good lord, you’re….you’re….you’re…a romantic!

    (i knew i liked you for more than your delectable looks)

  18. I love this story NM! Brilliant post:)

  19. That was most romantic story EVER!

  20. Nice. Thanks for sharing that.

  21. As long as you don’t reenact the end of Romeo and Juliet…

  22. i thought being apoplyxic was anger? his first wife died because she was angry?
    but awww. i love romance and ghosts. great story, nurse myra.
    you should go back and give katie the other earring, and see what amazing thing happens to you.

  23. Ghosts, meh. Banshees, YEAAAAAUGH!

  24. Sometimes I think I wished I had lived in those times instead of the present….Life was simpler and I didn’t know about a/c, computers etc….Lovely tale.

    • But people died of apoplexy at 38 back then…. and they had to wash their sheets by hand 😦

  25. The castle is incredible and your story is great. We don’t have anything like that in Arizona.

    • But you’ve got the original London Bridge haven’t you?

  26. OMG what a tragic life!!!

    Oh and do you have any pictures from that party? Would love to see how u looked… :p

    • No photos from that party. But I do have pictures of myself from that same year. If I ever get round to scanning them…..

  27. Loved your post. Don’t you wish we still had that desire to play and pretend as we get older? Life wouldn’t seem so damn serious all of the time.

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