Built in 1871 at a reputed cost of about £150,000 by William Larnach, the castle shows the extremes to which the earlier settlers could go to enjoy their „breath of the Old World in an infant land“. Larnach had the means to indulge his taste in housing on a truly magnificent scale.
Though the extravagant building is said to have been designed in Scotland, it reflects the architecture so much a feature of Dunedin, and its construction was supervised by R.A. Lawson, the architect for First Church and several other notable buildings. More accurately a baronial hall rather than „castle“, it includes a ballroom of 250.8 square metres, a Georgian hanging staircase that relies for support on complex curves, and a spiral staircase leading to battlements which give a wide view of the district. The outstanding features are elaborately decorated ceilings, some carved by an English workman brought here to spend 12 years at his craft, and others moulded by two Italian plasterers, also specially imported for the task. Set into the ceramic tile floor of the impressive entrance hall is Larnach’s crest and the self-effacing title he gave his grandiose home – The Camp.
Much of the wood, tiles, bricks, glass and marble was brought from Europe, a final extravagance being Italian marble fireplaces throughout and a massive solid marble bath. Some of the original furniture is still in the castle and the rooms are generally furnished with early New Zealand furniture to reflect the epoch of the building.
A walk in the attractive grounds, around the building, is rewarding and leads past greenhouses, stables and the dungeons used by Larnach for storing firewood.
William James Mudie Larnach (1833-98) was born at Castle Forbes, Hunter River, New South Wales, the son of a wealthy station owner. He rose to be Geelong manager of the Bank of New South Wales, coming to Dunedin in 1867 to be chief manager of the Bank of Otago. Elected to Parliament eight years later, he was only two years in the House before he succeeded in unseating the Atkinson ministry and in turn became Colonial Treasurer, Minister of Public Works, and Minister of Mines. Overwhelmed by a series of financial disasters that culminated in the collapse of the Colonial Bank in which he had invested heavily, and possibly by marital problems, Larnach shocked the country by committing suicide in a committee room in Wellington’s Parliament Buildings. His private misfortunes tend to obscure the very real ability he demonstrated in public life. On his death The Camp faced an uncertain future; the farm around it was sold off in small lots and the Crown acquired the homestead block of about 14 hectares to use the castle as a psychiatric hospital. Later used as a cabaret and tourist resort, it was auctioned in 1940 for a meagre £1,250. More recently the subject of restoration after generations of neglect, the castle once more asserts its original bold concept, first conceived when the Otago settlement was little more than 20 years old.