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Dunedin's Buried History

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LARNACH, ELIZA

Eliza Larnach (née Guise) 1842-1881

Eliza was born in Australia into a wealthy family in 1842. She was named after her mother. Her father was Richard Guise. The Guise family believed that they were descended from a noble refugee from the French revolution. Eliza's father died in 1844 when she was two years old. Her mother then married Robert Alleyne. Eliza's half-sister Mary was born when she was seven. The two sisters became very close, and spent a lot of their adult lives together.

Victorian girls were encouraged to marry at a young age, and Eliza was no different. She was considered a beauty in her youth. She met William Larnach in 1857, when she was fifteen years old: he was a young Melbourne banker whose father owned a homestead near her family's. Eliza married William in 1859, when she was seventeen years old, and a year later, in 1860, they had their first child, Donald. They then had Kate in 1862, Douglas in 1863 and Colleen in 1865. Alice was born in Dunedin in 1868 and Gladys in London in 1878. The young couple spent a lot of time apart because William went to the Victorian goldfields representing the Melbourne Bank, while Eliza stayed in Melbourne. Isolation was something that Eliza was used to, as she had grown up on an outback farm.

William realised that Eliza's stepfather Robert Alleyne was filching her inheritance from her father and took him to court in 1861. The case depleted Eliza's inheritance, with the result that she didn't bring as huge an amount of money to the marriage as expected. Her dowry was £11,000, which was substantial but not a fortune.

Eliza travelled out of Australia for the first time when she and William went to London to visit his uncle Donald. At this time she had four children under the age of six, but she was only twenty-four and thought London was exhilarating.

In 1866 William was offered the position of manager of the Bank of Otago. Once he was established in Dunedin, Eliza and the children followed, and they took up residence above the bank. It was quite cramped, especially when Mary came to live with Eliza. She had chosen to live with her sister rather than her father.

In 1875 the family moved into 'Larnach Castle', a grand Scottish baronial mansion on the hills of Otago Peninsula. Eliza, being an Australian, was used to a warmer climate. She thought the 'castle' was cold. She wrote in one letter: 'I never felt anything like the cold. I used to have three or four hot water bottles at night as well as a great fire, the wind used to blow me almost out of bed. For days it was impossible to go outside the door'.

The household staff thought the layout of the castle was unusual because Larnach's room was between Eliza's bedroom and Mary's. For Larnach the castle was a chance to get away from a hectic life, but for Eliza it was very isolating, so William rented a townhouse in Manor Place for her to be closer to the city. The lives of the two sisters were centred around the children, clothing, education, ponies, the servants, and the local Presbyterian church.

In 1878, when Eliza was thirty-eight, she gave birth to Gladys. Eliza wrote about Mr Kitchings, a servant at the castle, and Gladys: '[he] will soon not be able to see out of his eyes, with all the hair on his face. Baby loves him, as long as he doesn't kiss her'. Eliza's other children were studying in England, and so she lavished affection on her last child. However, Gladys was only two when tragedy struck and Eliza died suddenly of an apoplectic fit, in 1880. William and the children were devastated. The older children, in England, had to hear of their mother's death by letter. William had a replica of First Church built as a tomb for Eliza.

-- See: Fleur Snedden (1997) King of the Castle: A Biography of William Larnach.

-- Other recorded burials at this site: Mary LARNACH d. 1887 (sister of Eliza), Kate LARNACH d. 1891 (daughter of Eliza), William LARNACH d. 1898 (husband of Eliza), and Donald LARNACH d. 1910 (son of Eliza).

Amanda Kennedy

Monumental Inscription


LARNACH

‘Sans Peur’

Eliza Jane Guise

Born 10th May, 1842 died 8th November 1880

[Monument is a miniature Gothic tomb which can be entered. Tiled floor and very high spire. Designed by R.A. Lawson.]



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