Larnach Castle in Dunedin has a tragic past. 

Larnach Castle: clearing the ghost stories


There are many ghost stories attached to New Zealand’s only historic castle.

The sad history of the founding family and the 1870s Gothic Revival architecture of Larnach Castle lend themselves to supernatural tales, but none of the most repeated stories are based on fact.

“The stories around the castle are based on rumours,” says David Mills, one of Larnach Castle’s most experienced tour guides. “For example, there’s a legend about a blood stain on one of the baths upstairs. But the bath is original marble and there are no blood stains – there aren’t even any rust stains – so I don’t know where people have got that idea from.”

Many of the ghost stories tell of the restless spirits of William Larnach, his first wife, Eliza, and daughter Kate haunting the rooms where they supposedly died, but David debunks these, too. “No member of the Larnach family actually died at the castle,” he explains.

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Larnach Castle is one of New Zealand's most significant historic attractions.

The Larnach family history was undoubtedly tragic.

In 1871, William Larnach, merchant baron and local politician had 200 labourers build the castle for Eliza, mother to his six children. But his story is marred by the early death of Eliza, his two subsequent marriages, betrayal, infidelity, financial ruin and eventually his suicide at Parliament Buildings in 1898.

Once the Larnach family had left, it was used to house the overflow of patients from Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, as a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers and as a nuns' retreat.

It’s during this post-Larnach period that David suspects the only ‘confirmed’ ghost sightings originate. “There are stories told by two separate staff members of being out in the garden and having a young boy come and take hold their hand. Apparently, the boy then said to them ‘I’ve got to go in now’ and left. But it wasn’t a real boy,” David explains. “I have heard of two people having that same experience on different occasions.

“I’ve seen a photo of one of the nurses from the days when the castle was used as an asylum standing on the lawn with twin boys. I have always wondered if there’s a connection there.”

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Twin boys photographed outside Larnach Castle.

David has experienced uncanny coincidences at the castle himself. “I’m a fan of classical music and I drove to work one day listening to the Pearl Fishers Duet. It wasn’t finished when I arrived and turned off the car,” he says. “I came into the castle, clocked in and was doing some checks on the first floor. When I walked into the music room, that same song was playing at the exact place where I’d left it in the car. I think someone had left music playing from a dinner the night before, but it was a very strange coincidence.

“There have been moments like that where you get a bit of a feeling up the back of your neck.”

Many people have heard the spooky stories of Larnach Castle before they visit for a tour. “I will have people who say that they want to leave because they’ve got a bad feeling. That happens quite a lot,” David says. “Sometimes I get children who don’t want to go in because they’ve heard the house is haunted. I’ve sat them down and said ‘look, if there is a ghost here – and I haven’t seen one but I’m not discounting it ­– they’d probably be very pleased with what we’ve done to the house, so there’s nothing to worry about.’”


Story by Jo Percival for the Winter 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Jo Percival is the Digital Editor of AA Directions Magazine.

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