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.
King was born at New Plymouth on 1 April 1858, the son of Thomas and Mary King. He 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 and Paris to study medicine. In 1886 he graduated with honours with a M.B., C.M, and later completed a BSc 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. While training in Scotland he married Isabella Cockburn Miller.
In 1887 Dr Truby King was appointed resident surgeon at both the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and 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, more discipline for staff and improvements to the hospital farm. 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.
Developing interest in infant care and nutrition
Over the next eight years Dr Truby King had interests in psychology, medicine, agriculture, horticulture, child care and alcoholism. He began to realise that principals of nutrition applied across many disciplines. He spent a winter in Japan during the Russo-Japanese War and returned with his dream clarified, having noticed how healthy infants were due to 12 to 18 months of breastfeeding. On his return he began to use his access as a Justice of the Peace to licensed baby-boarding homes where typical conditions moved him to establish such a boarding facility himself at his Karitane residence.