Story: Larkworthy, Falconer

Page 1 - Larkworthy, Falconer

Larkworthy, Falconer

1833–1928

Banker, financier

This biography was written by G. R. Hawke and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Falconer Larkworthy spent only a few years in New Zealand but was a significant figure in the country's economic development. His career illustrates the importance of New Zealand's links with the London financial community. According to family information he was born on 22 March 1833 at Weymouth, Dorset, England, the son of Ambrose Larkworthy, surgeon, and his wife, Amelia Rose Ann Cooke, and was baptised on 4 April 1833. He was first married in Melbourne on 29 December 1857, to Mary Agnes Balston. The marriage produced one son but ended with the mother's death in childbirth in 1860. On 9 April 1863, in London, he married Elizabeth Anne Clover. This second marriage produced two sons and four daughters. He died on 14 May 1928 in London.

Falconer Larkworthy was educated at minor public schools in Scotland and Liverpool. When he was 16, family connections assisted him to join a London firm of merchants trading with India, from where he moved to the Oriental Bank Corporation. He was posted to Mauritius and, after a period in Cape Town, to Australia. He gained experience in banking on goldfields in north-east Victoria. In 1860 he was promoted to manage the Oriental Bank's branch in Auckland.

Larkworthy had not been long in Auckland when the Oriental Bank decided to withdraw from New Zealand. At the same time, some colonists were dissatisfied that all bank profits were going to overseas corporations. Consequently, in 1861 the Bank of New South Wales took over much of the business of the Oriental Bank and the Bank of New Zealand was founded.

Even a local bank needed an office in London and Larkworthy agreed to join the Bank of New Zealand as its manager there. But since gold discoveries in Otago in May 1861 proved to be substantial, Larkworthy agreed to defer his departure, using his Australian experience to help the Bank of New Zealand compete for goldfields banking business. He left New Zealand in mid 1862.

Most of Larkworthy's career in New Zealand banking was spent in London. He soon earned respect in the London financial community, being recruited to the board of directors of the Commercial Union Assurance Company Limited in 1863.

Like other banks, the Bank of New Zealand formed an associated mortgage company, New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company, to engage in arbitrage between interest rates in Britain and regions of settlement. Larkworthy had urged the formation of the company and was closely associated with it for many years. In 1888 he resigned his position with the Bank of New Zealand following a restructuring of the directorate, but continued as managing director of the loan company. In the 1880s the company faced financial difficulties, and in 1893 it went into receivership. By then Larkworthy had been displaced as managing director in a boardroom struggle, but gave honest evidence about the company's dealings, which is now regarded as well judged.

The problems of the company were intimately associated with the financial difficulties of Thomas Russell. Larkworthy in his memoirs regretted that he had become associated with Russell. However, his correspondence shows that during the New Zealand years, their relationship had been friendly. Larkworthy and Russell had had similar interests and had both been members of a circle of businessmen keen to develop the colony and make their fortunes.

After the demise of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Larkworthy continued with the Commercial Union. In 1898 he joined the Ionian Bank, becoming its chairman in 1900 and receiving recognition for his services from Greece in 1903. He maintained some of his London business interests until near his death.

Larkworthy visited New Zealand in 1880 to sell an estate which was causing him financial difficulties. In 1881 he published a book, New Zealand revisited, in which he prophesied a rosy economic future for the colony. He visited again briefly in 1888–89. Towards the end of his long life he wrote his memoirs. Although dogmatic and partisan in places, they give a valuable account of events relevant to New Zealand's economic history. They also reveal much of Larkworthy's bold and forthright personality.