The Melrose Library: Reflecting the Life and Works of Sir F. Truby King

28 August - 27 November 2015

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Sir Frederic Truby King (1858-1938) was a scientist, farmer, gardener, doctor, and educator. He was single-minded to the point of obnoxiousness; an eccentric; and a financial incompetent who held beliefs which were often unscientific and glaringly contradictory. Because of his wide interests, King was also a great reader.

In June 1989 the Melrose Library arrived in Dunedin from the Truby King House in Wellington. This collection of some 1000 volumes was collected by King in his lifetime; some are signed; many are annotated. Two-thirds deal with the health of women and children, consisting of both professional and popular texts. The remainder is non-medical, comprising works of general reference and some fiction. Subjects covered include child health, nutrition, paediatrics, child diseases, psychology, horticulture and animal husbandry, gardens, especially rose and rhododendron books, and social issues such as race theory and education. As the collection stands, it has been called ‘the best general collection in New Zealand, of publications on the general subject of the health of women and children for the period of 1900 to 1938’ (Strachan).

The exhibition utilises a select number of books from his library (TK Coll.) that throw some light on King’s life: his early years, his education, his work at Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, and his pioneering work in child and infant care. The establishment of the Plunket Society in 1907 was but one of his most tangible and influential parts of his legacy. King died in February 1938. He was given a state funeral, the first private citizen in New Zealand to be given this honour. In 1957 he featured on a postage stamp celebrating the Plunket Society; again the first to be afforded this honour. All in all, Sir Frederic Truby King was a remarkable man.

de Beer Gallery, Special Collections, 1st Floor Central Library, University of Otago

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