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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


LARNACH, William James Mudie, C.M.G.


Politician and banker.

A new biography of Larnach, William James Mudie appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

William James Mudie Larnach was born on 27 January 1833 at Castle Forbes, Patrick Plains, Hunter River, New South Wales, the son of James Larnach, of Rosemount, in the Hunter River district, and of Mary, née Mudie. His father, who had arrived in the colony as a cadet and later became a wealthy station owner, was a brother of Donald Larnach, who was for many years London manager of the Bank of New South Wales. Larnach was educated at the Rev. Irvine Hetherington's High School, Singleton, and at Sydney College. Early in 1851 he joined the Bank of New South Wales in Victoria and served in various capacities until 1862 when he became manager of the Geelong branch of the bank. At the beginning of 1867 he visited Europe and, shortly after his return, was offered the chief managership of the Bank of Otago. He arrived in Dunedin in September 1867 and remained with the bank until 1875, a year after its merger with the National, when he joined Walter Guthrie in the hardware, timber-working, and mercantile firm of Guthrie and Larnach. The firm languished during the depression of the 1880s, and in 1887 Larnach went to Melbourne where he intended to start a business with Montague Pym, the auctioneer. Finding that conditions in Melbourne were not as suitable as he had hoped, Larnach returned to New Zealand a few months later and became a director of the Colonial Bank. He held this position until the bank merged with the Bank of New Zealand.

On 20 December 1875 Larnach was elected to represent Dunedin City in Parliament. In 1877 he moved the motion which unseated the Atkinson Ministry and, as a result, Normanby asked him to form a government. Because he was a comparatively new member of the House, Larnach realised he would have little chance of winning support for a ministry with himself as Premier and he accordingly invited Grey to lead the new ministry. The Grey Government took office on 15 October 1877, with Larnach holding the key portfolios of Colonial Treasurer and Minister of Public Works. He remained in office until March 1878, when the Government sent him to London to negotiate a £3,000,000 loan. While there he arranged for the Bank of England to act as New Zealand's agent in this and similar financial transactions – an arrangement which ensured that New Zealand loans would receive the best possible treatment on the London financial market. He also acted as one of New Zealand's Commissioners at the Paris Exhibition and was awarded the C.M.G. for his services. On his return to New Zealand he found that his expected elevation to the Legislative Council had been prevented by the dispute involving Grey, Normanby, and Robinson and he remained out of Parliament until 1882.

In the latter year he successfully contested Peninsula against Bishop Moran and represented the constituency until 1890. In November 1884 Stout invited Larnach to join his ministry. Although he was unwilling to take office, Larnach subsequently agreed to do so upon condition that he was given a free hand with the Mines portfolio. He administered his Department with considerable success and gave the then languishing mining industry a much needed impetus. In this connection, his 1887 Mines Statement was the first comprehensive survey of the industry. Between 1890 and 1894 Larnach was out of Parliament; however, Ballance appointed him chairman of the Royal Commission which inquired into the Public Trust Office in 1891. In July 1894 he succeeded Pyke in the Tuapeka constituency, which he represented until his death. During his last term in the House Larnach gave the Liberal ministers much helpful advice on financial matters and showed Ward how he could finance his “advances to settlers” scheme without charging more than 3 per cent.

In his final years Larnach, who had invested heavily in the Colonial Bank, was constantly preoccupied with private financial difficulties which, on 12 October 1898, led him to commit suicide in one of the committee rooms of Parliament House. His tragic death came as a great shock to his many friends, both in and out of Parliament, for he was deservedly popular, being by nature openhanded and generous. Despite the story of his own private misfortunes, he was a most competent Minister of Finance and of Mines.

Larnach was married three times: first, in 1859 in Victoria, to Eliza Jane (died 1880), daughter of Richard Guise, of New South Wales; secondly, on 7 January 1882 at Warrington, Otago, to Mary Cockburn (died 1887), daughter of R. J. Alleyne, of Murrumbidgee, New South Wales – a half-sister of his first wife; and thirdly, on 27 January 1891, at Wellington, to Constance de Bathe, daughter of Alfred de Bathe Brandon. He had two sons and four daughters by his first marriage.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

Larnach and His Castle, Reed, A. H. (1950); Evening Star (Dunedin), 13 Oct 1898 (Obit); Otago Daily Times, 13 Oct 1898 (Obit); New Zealand Times, 13 Oct 1898 (Obit).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.