Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Larnach (1805–1869)

by Bernard T. Dowd and Averil F. Fink

This article was published:

John Larnach (1805-1869), settler, was born at Auchingill, County Caithness, Scotland, the son of William Larnach, naval purser, and his wife Margaret, née Smith. In July 1823 he arrived at Sydney in the Andromeda as a free settler. He became overseer first to John Bowman near Newcastle and then to James Mudie of Castle Forbes, Patrick's Plains, Hunter River. Later he became a partner of James Mudie and on 8 August 1827 at Newcastle married Emily, Mudie's eldest daughter. Larnach took up a near-by property, Rosemount, and lived there with his wife.

On the then remote Patrick's Plains transport was difficult, supplies were erratic and costs were high. Isolated settlers suffered from the frequent depredations of Aboriginals and runaway convicts. One of the shepherds on Bowman's station had been killed while Larnach was there, and in August 1826 he accompanied a party of mounted police when an Aboriginal guide was brutally treated and shot on suspicion of being involved in the spearing of two fencers. Larnach spent more time than Mudie at Castle Forbes, where some twenty assigned servants worked on heavy clearing and cultivation and were kept under rigid discipline. In November 1833 some of the convicts revolted, took to the bush and returned to plunder the property for food, clothes, guns, ammunition and horses. Larnach, who at the time was washing sheep in a near-by stream, was shot at but not injured, and he took refuge at the neighbouring home of Henry Dangar. A party of police and civilians including Larnach captured the absconders, six of whom were remanded to Sydney. After a dramatic trial in December 1833 three of the prisoners were executed in Sydney and two at Castle Forbes; the youngest was sent to Norfolk Island for life.

Accusations by the convicts at their trial caused such a public outcry that Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke ordered an inquiry by the solicitor-general, John Plunkett, and the police superintendent, Frederick Hely. They found that Mudie and Larnach had not been harsh or oppressive, but considered Larnach 'imprudent' in striking one convict and 'reprehensible' in bringing another before the local bench twice on the same day for the same offence so as to obtain two sentences of fifty lashes each. This report angered Mudie and Larnach who prepared a joint protest and asked Bourke to send it to London. Bourke refused because of its improper form, so in September 1834 they printed Vindication of James Mudie and John Larnach, From Certain Reflections on Their Conduct Contained in Letters Addressed to Them … Relative to the Treatment by Them of Their Convict Servants. They sent this pamphlet direct to the Colonial Office, where the governor's action was fully upheld.

Thereafter Larnach withdrew from public notice and after Castle Forbes was sold in 1836 carried on his agricultural and pastoral pursuits. He died at Rosemount on 10 February 1869, aged 64. His wife died at St Kilda, Melbourne, in April 1882 and was buried beside her husband in the Church of England cemetery at Singleton. Of their five daughters and four sons, William James Mudie Larnach became prominent in commerce and politics in New Zealand.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 12, 17
  • newspaper indexes and manuscript catalogue under John Larnach (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Bernard T. Dowd and Averil F. Fink, 'Larnach, John (1805–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Auchingill, Caithness, Scotland


10 February, 1869 (aged ~ 64)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.