William Larnach-Victorian Mastermind, Fraudster or Tragic Victim?

John H Farrar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


William Larnach of the Camp or Larnach Castle as it became called, was born in Australia of Scots parentage and came to New Zealand as a banker in 1867. He was later a promoter and director of many companies, a Member of Parliament, and a minister in the government. He committed suicide in Parliament in 1898. He was regarded by Richard Seddon as a mastermind. He has been described by Lord Normanby as a wild speculator and setter-up of companies, and accused of breach of duty as director and minister. He may have had all of these characteristics but may also have been a tragic victim.
New Zealand in the nineteenth century, like other colonies, was under-capitalised and to some extent exploited by the United Kingdom.
Capital was short. People relied heavily on debt capital and many business and professional men faced bankruptcy.
The gold rush was over by the 1870s and from the mid-1870s to the mid-1890s New Zealand was adversely affected by weak export prices and suffered net migration.
The collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1877 shattered confidence in the colonies. Wool prices recovered by the 1890s and new exports of meat and dairy produce developed through refrigeration. Larnach lived through some hard times.
This article traces his personal history and then considers his career as banker, director, a Member of Parliament and minister, and whether he acted in breach of duty, judged by the standards of the time and by modern standards.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-86
Number of pages10
JournalWaikato Law Review
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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