Truby King

Truby King

Sir Frederic Truby King CMG (1 April 1858–10 February 1938), generally known as Truby King, was a New Zealand health reformer and Director of Child Welfare. He is best known as the founder of the Plunket Society.

Early life

Born at New Plymouth on 1 April 1858, Truby King was privately educated by Henry Richmond and proved to be a keen scholar. After working for a short time as a bank clerk he travelled to Edinburgh to study medicine. In 1886 he graduated with honours with a M.B., C.M, and later completed a B.Sc. in Public Health (Edinburgh). Although his interest was in surgery it was the demonstrations of Charcot on hysteria and neurological disorders that influenced his choice of career.

Medical Appointments

In 1887 Dr Truby King was appointed resident surgeon at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary before becoming Medical Superintendent of the Wellington General Hospital. By 1889 he was in Dunedin as Medical Superintendent at the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and as a lecturer in mental diseases at the University of Otago.

At Seacliff he introduced better diets for patients and more discipline for staff. The 'villa' style of treatment, with smaller and more open wards, was also one of his innovations. These reforms and King's own intransigence to those who opposed them led to a Commission of Inquiry, which completely vindicated his methods.

Establishment of Plunket

Over the next eight years Dr Truby King had interests in psychology, medicine, nutrition, child care and alcoholism. But it is the establishment of the Plunket Society in 1907 for which he is best known. Set up to apply scientific principles to nutrition of babies, and strongly rooted in eugenics and patriotism [ Gene Dreaming: New Zealanders and Eugenics] , Hilary Stace, "Professional Historians' Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa (PHANZA)", September 1997,] , its 1917 "Save the Babies" Week had the slogan "The Race marches forward on the feet of Little Children". [ [ New Zealand’s Infant Welfare Services and Maori, 1907–60] , Linda Bryder, "Health and History, Volume 3, Number 1, 2001] ,

Truby King's methods to teach mothers domestic hygiene and childcare were strongly promoted through his first book on mothercare, "Feeding and Care of Baby", and via a network of specially trained Karitane Nurses and a widely syndicated newspaper column, "Our babies", written by King's wife Isabella. Apart from nutrition, Truby King's methods specifically emphasised regularity of feeding, sleeping and bowel movements, within a generally strict regimen supposed to build character by avoiding cuddling and other attention.

His methods were controversial. In 1914 the physician Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd Bennett publicly opposed his stance that higher education for women was detrimental to their maternal functions and hence to the human race. [ [ Bennett, Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd (1872 - 1960)] , "Australian Dictionary of Biography] . He also excited controversy during his efforts to export his methods to Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, with particular debate associated with his views on infant feeding formulas. He believed in "humanized" milk with the protein reduced to 1.4% to match breast milk, against the general paediatric consensus at the time in favour of high protein feeds.Philippa Mein Smith, "King, Sir (Frederic) Truby (1858–1938)", "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004 [ accessed 4 Nov 2007] ]

The work of the Plunket Society was credited with lowering infant mortality in New Zealand from 88 per thousand in 1907 to 32 per thousand over the next thirty years, though it has since been argued that this was due less to its specific methods than to its general raising of awareness of childcare.

Public Service

Truby King was appointed to represent New Zealand in 1913 at the Child Welfare Conference in London and was invited to assist in the establishment of a child public health service in Britain. Following the First World War he was one of the British representatives at the Inter-allied Red Cross Conference and travelled through Europe for the War Victims Relief Committee.

Back in New Zealand, by 1921, King became Director of Child Welfare in the Department of Health and by 1925 also Inspector-General of Mental Hospitals. Until his retirement in 1927 he continued to develop and organise mental hospital services in New Zealand. His work was recognised by the award of a CMG in 1917 and a knighthood in 1925.

Later years

Sir Frederic Truby King died in Wellington on 10 February 1938. He was the first private citizen in New Zealand to be given a state funeralNigel Benson, "Seacliff asylum's painful and haunting history" Otago Daily Times, Dunedin 27 January 2007] .

Twenty years later he was the first New Zealander to feature on a New Zealand postage stampNigel Benson, "Seacliff asylum's painful and haunting history" Otago Daily Times, Dunedin 27 January 2007] .

His babycare method continued in popularity, finding favour in post-war Britain at least until the 1950s. [ Dr Frederic Truby King's Strict Routine Method] , Channel 4 "Bringing up Baby" microsite]

It featured, controversially, in the 2007 Channel 4 documentary series, "Bringing Up Baby", which compared it with the 1960s Benjamin Spock and the 1970s Continuum concept.


*‘It is better to put a fence at the top of a cliff than to station an ambulance at the bottom’—(attributed) reference to infant mortality prevention
*'I am King of Seacliff, and I do not like that colour' (attributed) complaint to a railway worker painting the Seacliff station (the worker's reply, sadly, is not recorded)


External links

* [ Biography] of Sir Frederic Truby King from 'An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966)

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