Saving Cargill’s Castle

By Carolyn Enting

Saving Cargill’s Castle
It’s the stuff of fairy tales. Castle ruins crumbling on the cliff top of St Clair, Dunedin where once balls, and even a wedding, were held.

Now only the wind is a frequent visitor to The Cliffs, known locally as Cargill’s Castle.

Cargill’s Castle Trust is hoping to change that and open up the castle walls to visitors once more but not before necessary strengthening is done to ensure its safety.

The intention is to preserve the ruins, rather than a complete restoration, Cargill’s Castle Trust chairman Steven De Graaf says. The vision also includes creating a walkway from the Castle to Tunnel Beach along the cliff tops, and a second trail to St Clair beach – both would command stunning vistas.

Until recently access to the Castle has been blocked by a private subdivision, however, the Council has since bought land adjacent to the Castle to enable public access. The next step for the Trust is to raise the funds, an estimated $1 million, to complete the project which includes developing the accessway.

The Trust was formed in 1997 by concerned citizens who succeeded in saving the castle from demolition. The Castle’s then owner had received consent from the Dunedin City Council to demolish the whole structure. It had been in steady decline since the late 1960s and passed through the hands of several owners. In 1974 it was deemed structurally unsound and demolition began but then was halted, however, it meant that with its windows removed it was now exposed to the elements.

The 21-room ‘Italianate-styled’ Castle, which dates back to 1876 and is now owned by the Trust, was built by Edward Bowes Cargill (son of Captain William Cargill) who came to Dunedin from Scotland and had a successful business and political career. He was considered a member of the ‘new elite’ and described by historian Dr Tom Brooking as probably Dunedin’s most prominent businessman after William Larnach, who interestingly also built a castle in Dunedin.

Cargill’s Castle was designed by leading architect Frances William Petre, best known for his church architecture. Petre married Cargill’s eldest daughter Margaret in the Castle drawing room soon after its completion.

MiNDFOOD was recently granted access to the grounds by the Trust for a special fashion shoot with leading designer Tanya Carlson in the lead up to iD Dunedin Fashion Week in April.

To make a donation to Cargill’s Castle Trust visit


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