Sir Frederic Truby King 1858-1938
Dr Frederic Truby King (later known as the founder of the Plunket Society) was appointed Medical Superintendent of Seacliff Asylum in 1889.
Throughout his tenure as Medical Superintendent, he reformed the treatment of mentally ill patients. He advocated the benefits of good diet, exercise, fresh air, work, recreation, and rest to both avoid and to treat mental illness.
Truby King developed the Asylum into a working farm, fishery and established extensive gardens both to supply food for the Asylum and as a way to provide therapy for patients - some patients would spend part of their time working in the gardens, farm, and fishery.
He was also instrumental in improving the buildings and site, in particular the drainage, sanitation, and ventilation. The improvements to the grounds and buildings also made to make the Asylum a more pleasant and uplifting place to be in.
The quality of the nursing staff was also important. Truby King formalised working procedures and strictly insisted on staff discipline, particularly with respect to patients.
However, in 1891 the Inspector General of Ayslums instituted an inquiry into Truby King's management of Seacliff. The Inquiry arose because of criticisms of his reforms and his personality. The 1891 Commission of Inquiry vindicated him. Truby King supplies very detailed responses to the criticisms. The evidence illustrates his reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill and the changes he made in all aspects of the management of Seacliff. The report is published in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand (AJHR 1891 Session II H29) and a digital copy of the Report is included on this website.
Truby King was instrumental in the formation of the Plunket Society, which was established in 1907 primarily to improve the care and welfare of children and mothers. He published the book on infant care called: Feeding and Care of Baby and established a network of Karitane nurses to support mothers caring for their babies. He emphasised good nutrition, regularity, and strictness in raising children.
In 1921 he became the Director of Child Welfare in the Department of Health and by 1925 also Inspector-General of Mental Hospitals. He was knighted in 1927.
Truby King's passion for gardening continued throughout his life. The home and garden where he lived in Manchester Street, in the suburb of Melrose, in Wellington, is part of the Truby King Historic Area and is listed on the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Register.
He was also a keen photographer and it is likely that he took photographs of patients. The photographs are included in patient records in the Medical Casebooks.
The National Library of New Zealand's image collections have other photographs relating to Truby King's life and work.
Truby King also had extensive interests in fishing, goldmining, and dairying ventures. He had shareholdings in the Argyle Gold Dredging Company Limited, the Lauriston Timber Company Limited, and the Railhead Dairy Factory Company Limited.
For more information see the Wikipedia articles on Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, Frederic Truby King or the biographical essay from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
The biography of Frederic Truby King, In a Strange Garden: the life and times of Truby King, by Lloyd Chapman, is available online on the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre's website.
[Archives Reference: DAHI/20271/D266/520a]