Kiwi as

This week’s keen individual who inspires and surprises is Frederic Truby King.

Hands up all those who were not “Plunket babies”.? Hmm, not a lot – probably born overseas, I guess. Quote:

Frederic Truby King, […] was born in New Zealand on 1 April 1858 on the Mangorei farmstead, just outside New Plymouth. […]?Truby King was a sickly child and continued as an adult to be plagued by tuberculosis; he eventually went blind in one eye. As a boy he was tutored at home until the age of eight. This was followed by short-lived attendance at two schools which he did not enjoy; he found his teachers lacking and his fellow students more inclined to sport than study. The Kings then hired Henry Robert Richmond, a mathematician, chemist and lawyer, to tutor their son. Richmond believed in the value of concentrating on one subject until it was fully mastered ? a system of single-minded concentration that was to mark Truby King’s career. His enthusiasm for study matched Richmond’s, and in later days King was to attribute much of his success in science to his inspiring tutor. […] End of quote.

After working as a bank teller, King decided that he wanted to pursue medicine and?left New Zealand in August 1880 at the age of 22 heading for the?University of Edinburgh.? He excelled in all things academic, got married in 1887 and returned to New Zealand.

His first appointment was as medical superintendent of Wellington District Hospital then medical superintendent of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, the country’s largest and most expensive asylum. King revitalised the asylum, promoting fresh air, exercise, good diet, work and recreation as the appropriate treatments for mental illness.??He was also appointed a lecturer in mental diseases and examiner in public health and medical jurisprudence at the University of Otago. Quote.

The Kings, now in their forties, were childless. Bella King had taken in an infant, Mary, from an attendant’s family, and not being satisfied with the child’s progress requested her husband to design a better feeding formula. […] He trained one of the Seacliff nurses in infant feeding, paid her himself, and sent her into Dunedin to give advice to mothers. Fellow medical men were unenthusiastic about this intrusion on their domain, so King turned to prominent women in the community. On 14 May 1907 he addressed a meeting at the Dunedin town hall on the promotion of health of women and children, and out of this the Society for the Promotion of the Health of Women and Children was born.

The society, which came to be known as the Plunket Society after Lady Victoria Plunket, the wife of the governor and an ardent supporter, spread rapidly. It aimed to ‘inculcate a lofty view of the responsibilities of maternity’, promote breast feeding, train nurses in maternal and infant welfare and educate parents in domestic hygiene. King was able to inspire upper-class women to devote their energies to promoting the cause of child welfare. Committees were formed throughout the country, local clinics were opened and nurses trained in infant welfare visited mothers in their homes. King also took ailing infants into his holiday home at Karitane, and thus began the first of a number of Karitane hospitals.

[…] His vision of babies saved through the application of science to motherhood was one that found wide appeal.

In 1912 King was seconded to the Department of Public Health for six months to travel New Zealand promoting infant welfare. […] In 1921 he took up the newly created post of director of child welfare, but found it much more difficult to pursue his enthusiasms within the government bureaucracy than he had working outside it with the voluntary Plunket Society. He continued to alienate the medical profession by blaming infant deaths and morbidity on unnecessary instrumental deliveries, and impinged on the territory of the school medical service with his pronouncements on inadequate school hygiene. […]

King […] experienced mental deterioration, and on 10 February 1938 he died at his Wellington home, Mount Melrose. He was the first private citizen to be honoured by a state funeral.

Truby King’s legacy, widespread in New Zealand, Australia and Britain, was the doctrine of feeding by the clock. Removed from the enthusiastic personality of its founder, the Truby King system became formalised into a set of rigid rules propounded by Plunket nurses. Yet King himself was a man who thrived on disorder. He ate at irregular times, paid no attention to the state of his attire, left travel plans to the last minute, was careless with money (once being declared bankrupt), talked interminably on his latest enthusiasm to anyone who would listen, and was impatient with opposition. There were many who found this total engagement with his latest mission attractive, while others found him irritating and eccentric. […]

Truby King was a singular man with a diversity of compelling interests. That he could arouse international enthusiasm for his infant welfare campaign testifies to his charisma. His status as a national icon was fittingly endorsed in 1957 when he became the first New Zealander whose image was inscribed on a New Zealand postage stamp. […] End of quote.