Laying Larnach to rest

Victorian funerals tended to be grandiose occasions, including processions of carriages, the hearse and many followers, and, knowing Larnach's love of display, this would probably have been no exception.

The coffin would have to have been stored somewhere cool, perhaps at the undertakers' premises, until the vault was ready to take it. The Larnachs' undertaking firm, H. Gourley, was incorporated into the present day firm of Gillions but they do not appear to have records of this time.

However, Derek Hope, whose family members have been funeral directors in Dunedin for four generations, confirms this would have been the case here as well. Prof Curl says it was illegal to remove a coffin from the cemetery after the funeral in Britain, although it is not certain whether this was the case in New Zealand as well.

In British cemeteries coffins could be stored in a temporary vault or a mausoleum, possibly at the undertakers' premises or in a temporary tomb or catacomb until the family vault was ready, he said. The record of Larnach's purchase of three adjacent burial plots was dated December 8, 1880, although the actual purchase may have been earlier.


Despite the 1972 brouhaha about the state of the tomb, which had been triggered by a letter to the editor of the ODT in the news doldrums of early January, it had obviously been damaged "some considerable time" earlier, according to newspaper reports.

In fact, the dilapidated state of the tomb had been mentioned in Parliament as early as the 1920s. This sparked a flurry of letters in 1927 between the Public Works Department on behalf of the War Graves Division of the Department of Internal Affairs and the Dunedin town clerk, about the work that needed to be done, including painting, cleaning, repairing broken stained glass and slates, and renewing fallen finials and rusted downpipes.

It appears not to have been desecrated at this stage. However, the city, which owned the cemetery, disclaimed responsibility for the upkeep of private memorials, there was no legal authority for spending public money on private monuments, the Larnach estate had no funds to repair it, there were no descendants in Dunedin, and the only remaining son, Douglas Larnach, was not in affluent circumstances, so nothing seems to have been done.

A report in the Evening Star (December 4, 1953) reports damage to the tomb - broken windows, the lid wrenched off one of the coffins and the railing outside badly damaged, although it had not been done recently.

According to Margaret Barker, Larnach's granddaughter, Colleen Pedersen, paid for some maintenance on several occasions, but could not afford to keep up with the continual damage caused by vandals.

She more than once paid for leadlight replacements of the original stained glass, which had been "of the same quality and style as the glass work in the castle", Ms Pedersen said from Auckland before she died, according to stained glass artist Peter MacKenzie, who has researched the tomb's stained glass for possible restoration.

Lack of funds for upkeep and repair is a continuing problem. Some work appears to have been done about 1950 or perhaps in the 1960s, although details are hard to come by.