Report - - Cargill Castle, Dunedin - February 2015 | European and International Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Cargill Castle, Dunedin - February 2015


Is this the future?
Regular User
Cargill Castle is one of two castles in New Zealand, and is the only abandoned one in the country. Cargill Castle, also known as ‘The Cliffs’, was built by Edward Bowes Cargill in 1876, on the sea cliffs above St. Clair. Edward Cargill, the son of Captain William Cargill, was born and raised in Edinburgh and moved to Dunedin (The Edinburgh of the South) in 1857, at the age of thirty four, to join other family members in New Zealand. Cargill was something of an entrepreneur, and his skills became recognise when he joined his brother and brother-in-law in a general merchant venture. Success in as a merchant, alongside a number of charitable donations, gained Cargill a position of leadership in Dunedin, and in 1898 he was elected Mayor during the city’s 50th Jubilee year. It was reported, at the time of his death in 1903, that people referred to him as an “old colonist who has played a by no means small part in the history of the Otago region, and the colony”.

Construction of Cargill Castle began in 1876, to symbolise Cargill’s success and growing prominence in the area. The castle itself was based on an Italianate styled building, and was designed by one of New Zealand’s most reputable architects, Francis W. Petre (Lord Concrete). Petre also designed other important buildings in New Zealand and Dunedin, including St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Petre was recognised as a pioneer for his use of strong concrete in his building designs. Indeed, the concrete remains are largely all that stand to this day; the wooden components of the structure have subsequently fallen to time. The building was based on an unusual design, owing to Cargill’s involvement in creating an initial plan. For example, all of the main rooms in the building faced away from the sun and there was a toilet positioned by the front door because, as Edward Cargill said himself, “it was a necessary function, nothing to be ashamed of”. In total the building had over twenty one rooms, two large gardens (one of which was a croquet lawn) and a shelter belt (trees to protect a building from the elements). Over the years the winds on the cliff top have been so strong the shelter belt has grown at a peculiar angle. The castle also included a lookout because there were fears of a Russian invasion of the island. Certainly, the lookout was used in later years; in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese war, and throughout World War One.

By the late 1800’s, Petre (Lord Concrete) had fallen love with the eldest of Cargill’s daughters, Margaret, and, despite strong controversy and Cargill’s disapproval, they were both married in the drawing room of the castle. Subsequently, by 1908 the castle had fallen into the hands of the Petres, and they decided to sell the property to Frederick Lyders, one of two twins who were both reputable builders in Dunedin. The Lyder family resided in the castle until 1922.

In the 1930’s John Hutton purchased the castle and redeveloped the interior to open up a restaurant, tea rooms and a cabaret. During the Second World War Cargill Castle was the heart of Dunedin’s nightlife for visiting servicemen. In 1945, however, Hutton fell dreadfully ill and his condition worsened until 1946, when, miraculously, he made a sudden full recovery. Assuming it was an act of God, Hutton converted the castle once again, this time into an evangelical Christian Centre. To Hutton’s great surprise, the idea did not catch on quite as well as he imagined, and by 1949, having resigned himself to the fact that the initiative had failed, the castle was sold and reconverted back into a cabaret which soon became popular among visiting sailors from the port.

Once again, the building changed hands several times from the early 1960’s to the mid 1970’s, and an attempt was made to develop the property into an international opera and fine arts centre. This project failed and, consequently, as ideas dwindled, the building was left to deteriorate in the strong winds atop the sea cliff. In 1974, John Simpson made an attempt to turn the site into a hotel for the area, however, he was immediately refused planning permission owing to the structural unsoundness of the castle. In disappointment and a fit of resentment, Simpson commenced with demolition plans, to remove what has quickly become a decaying concrete monstrosity. Nonetheless, Simpson did not get much further than removing the windows of the site, before work ceased completely. Cargill Castle has deteriorated rapidly since the early 1980’s, and although there were still traces of peeling wallpaper, ornate ceilings and extravagant woodwork as late as 1996. The current owner, Dave Collett, has, however, since demolished the ballroom and had originally planned to finish the demolition process.

In 1997, after arousing public concern, a meeting was held in the St. Clair Surf Club in an attempt to save the crumbling castle. Following this meeting, negotiations were made with Collett and the Cargill’s Castle Trust was formed. Many people in Dunedin find Cargill Castle to be an important piece of their heritage, and plans have since been developed to preserve the ruin rather than restore it. At present the site is considered dangerous and, allegedly, strict regulations are in place to prevent people from trespassing on this site.

As wonderful as this ruin was – being a noteworthy piece of New Zealand’s history –; and as easy as it might have been to gain access, it was an absolute nightmare. We set off up the hill to reach the old castle that I’d been told about so many times before since I’ve been here, and we reached the top without difficulty. Skirting around the edges of the site, through the long grasses to avoid the mansions nearby, we made our way along the cliff edge towards the ruin. Managing to get beyond the fence, we suddenly found ourselves within the perimeter of the ruin; with an awesome tranquil blue sea backdrop behind us. But, the tingling in the nose started… Then a sneeze… Then another… Hayfever is a right bastard… But, knowing people on 28dayslater would want to see New Zealand’s only abandoned castle, I muscled on and battled through the sneezes. As you might expect, the whole excursion was cut much shorted than we’d anticipated, so I didn’t quite get as many shots as I would have liked. It was way brighter in there than I took into consideration too, and I didn't adjust the camera settings properly, so regrettably some of the images didn't turn out quite as well as I'd hoped. There are still a few bits to see inside, but it seems I didn’t capture many of them either. In the end, after finishing up rather quickly, we decided to head to the shop for some pollen relief, then the pub because beer fixes hayfever remarkably well. We spent the afternoon there instead, got drugged up on hayfever medication and drank some fine tasting beer. I want to make this last point very clear though: everywhere else in New Zealand I’ve had no hayfever whatsoever, not a jot, so I’m not sure what sort of pollen is on that cliff top, but it’s fucking lethal. Perhaps I’ve uncovered Hutton’s mystery illness?

Explored with Urbex Central NZ.


1: Cargill Castle Front Entrance Shot


2: Cargill Castle Side Shot


3: Former Out Buildings


4: The Bathroom


5: One of the Function Rooms


6: One of the Bedrooms


7: Main Surviving (sort of) Function Room


8: Sea View - Next Stop Antarctica?


9: The Roof - In a State of Disrepair


10: The Main Porch


11: The Main Tower


12: Former Staircase


13: The Less Weathered Roof


14: The Back Garden


15: A Breath of New Zealand Sea Air


16: Warning Signage