The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 9 (December 1, 1936)
Famous New Zealanders
“There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd: the soldier, the sailor and the shepherd not infrequently; the artist rarely ….; the physician almost as a rule. He is the flower (such as it is) of our civilisation …. Generosity he has, such as is possible to those who practise an art, never to those who drive a trade; discretion, tested by a hundred secrets; tact, tried in a thousand embarrassments; and, what are more, Heraclean cheerfulness and courage.”
Robert Louis Stevenson in his dedication of “Underwoods” to his doctors.
Stevenson's tribute to the altruism of the doctor applied to the profession in general; it was addressed to the general practitioner. The debt that the people owe to their skilful and hardworking and generous medical men can never be paid in full or even told in full. Every doctor must be something of a philanthropist at heart, otherwise he would never have adopted such a calling. But there are exceptional men, who stand out like king-trees of the forest above their fellows; men whose love for humanity, devotion to duty, and indifference to selfish considerations invest them with a saint-like character; Sir Frederick Truby King is pre-eminently one of these Father Damiens of the medical world. As I write this Sir Truby lies very ill, his body worn out in the service of the suffering and the weak; his life's work done. He is seventy-eight. His brain is as keen and bright as ever, but there is no need now for him to concern himself about the future of the duty to which he devoted all his powers and all his resources. The work goes on, the helping of women and children, the salving of infant life.
The world-famous system of the Plunket Society, with which the name of King of Karitane is associated, has saved many thousands of infant lives, and it will save many thousands more. It has given an enormous stimulus to better health for the young, it has educated the community in parenthood; its influence is widespread in the building up of strong and healthy men and women, wisely nourished and protected against disease.
The Truby King Karitane Hospital on Melrose Heights, Wellington, where mothers and infants are cared for and where a factory manufactures health food for the little ones, is a wonderful monument of toil and skill and self-sacrifice. With Sir Truby's name is, of course, associated the late Lady King's. For forty years that noble lady shared her husband's work and shaped with him the splendid institution and the methods of nutrition that went to reduce the infant death rate in New Zealand until it is the lowest in the world.
Sir Truby's Early Career.
New Zealanders are proud to remember that this great and wonderful man is a native son. He was born in New Plymouth in 1858, the son of Mr. Thomas King, a bank manager. Young Frederick Truby worked in the uninspiring field of figures for some years, but fortunately for his country he was attracted by the doctor's profession, and when he was twenty-two he went to Edinburgh to study medicine. There he found his place and his soul. He was a distinguished student, he graduated as a doctor and took his B.Sc. degree. The study of public health also engaged him. After graduating he spent some time in gaining experience in private practice as well as in hospitals, before returning to New Zealand in 1888. In Edinburgh he married Isabella Millar—the late Lady King. The care of the insane was one of his most absorbing studies, and for a year he was surgeon superintendent of the Mental Hospital at Porirua. Then the Government appointed him to take charge of the large hospital for the insane at Seacliff, on the Otago Coast, and there he spent many years, afterwards becoming Director-General of Mental Hospitals in the Dominion. He also was a lecturer and professor at Otago University.
The enthusiastic young doctor instituted many reforms at Seacliff, in the more rational treatment of the mentally afflicted. He made a great success of the large farm and orchards belonging to the Hospital, and he bred stock on scientific principles. It was in this asylum that he realised how closely mental trouble was associated with early malnutrition, and his study of cause and effect set him experimenting with the rearing of infants. That was the beginning of his long and increasingly useful efforts for the improvement of the human stock from babyhood.
The Original Karitane.
One of my memories is a first transient meeting with Dr. Truby King in 1903, near the scene of his child-saving activities in its early stages. That was at Puketiraki, the railway station nearest to now-famous Karitane, where the doctor and his wife had a summer home, a few miles from Seacliff. It was an introduction, a few words, and a passing-on at the station; the doctor was bound to Dunedin and I was on the way to explore a place of history and ethnological interest, the massive ancient entrenchments of Te Pa-a-Te-Wera, on Huriawa or Karitane Peninsula. Dr. King was an earnest, thoughtful man, of pleasant, kindlypage 20
manner, but clearly not a man of robust health. His thoughts all his life were for others, not himself. I met my friend Tame Parata, the Maori member for the South Island electorate, and we walked from his Puketiraki home down to the shore at Karitane, a mile away. That shore of the wide Waikouaiti Bay and its neighbourhood is the most beautiful part of the Otago coastline. The grassy fields go down to the edge of the white sand and the sparkling sea. It is a place of old-time story, the scene of Johnny Jones's whaling station a century ago and of the missionary labours of the Revs. Watkin and Creed. On hilly Huriawa Peninsula, the southern head of Waikouaiti Bay, we explored the olden fortifications. Just at the entrance to the Peninsula, on the sandy neck of land, Mr. Parata showed me Dr. King's house and garden, partly surrounded with tall manuka fences as a sand-barrier and breakwind. It certainly was a well-sunned spot, albeit breezy, a delicious place of warmth and kindly air, I thought, when the winds were at rest. Close by were the massive earth parapets of Te Wera's Pa; there the great gateway called the “Lips of Toretore” stood.
It was there in that sun-drenched corner on Karitane neck that Dr. Truby King carried out his first experiments in the rearing of infants on modern hygienic and dietary principles.
Karitane—a note about that name of fame. It was the name given to the mission establishment of the Rev. Mr. Creed, facing the bay, on a sandy terrace alongside the Maori village and the marae or green called Hau-te-kapakapa. Both words, “Kari” and “tane” are good Maori, but they are meaningless in this conjunction. Enquiry has elucidated the origin. It is a composite name, made up of an abbreviation of “Kariti,” the Maori pronunciation of “Creed,” and “tane,” meaning man. We may, therefore, translate Karitane as “Creed the man”—or, say, “Mr. Creed”—a linguistic memorial to the early-days preacher and teacher.
Baby-rearing at Karitane.
Many boarded out infants in a condition of sickness and semi-starvation came under Dr. King's observation when he was in charge at Seacliff. Wherever he had an opportunity he tried to remedy these blunders in child-rearing. He and Mrs. King resolved to make their Karitane home a little hospital for ill-nurtured babies. They took in a number, treated them with scientific attention to each one, and restored them all to health. The good work went on and gradually spread over a wide field. Dr. King engaged nurses and taught them his methods, and prominent people in New Zealand were interested in the crusade to save the children. He preached the gospel of ante-natal care; it was necessary to educate the mothers as well as tend the children.
The Plunket Society.
He organised a Society for the Health of Women and Children. Lady Plunket and her husband, the Governor of New Zealand at that period, warmly supported the movement, and the new Society was named in their honour. The work went on; the right dietary treatment of babies was extended over New Zealand, and the health-rate of infant life steadily rose. Generous donors in Otago and elsewhere gave assistance, and the first Karitane Hospital was established in a house at Anderson's Bay, near Dunedin. Humanised milk, the necessary of life in the rearing of the infants, was prepared in large quantities under the supervision of the doctor's assistants. Then the work grew Dominion-wide, and eventually the present beautifully-situated Karitane Hospital was built on the sunny and airy hilltop of Melrose. There are sometimes as many as twenty infants in the institution, besides a number of mothers receiving ante-natal care. “Any baby suffering from malnutrition,” says Sir Truby, “is our care.”
The Food Factory.
(Photo. courtesy “Evening Post.”) The Traby King Karitane Hospital on Melrose Heights, Wellington, New Zealand.
The factory makes three tons of emulsion a week and one ton of sugar of milk a day. The emulsion is nutritive; the sugar furnishes energy. Large quantities of this prepared food are sent to England and elsewhere. Sir Truby's system of infant-feeding has been adopted in England, Germany, Canada, South Africa, and Australia; and it is extending.
Distinctive names have been coined for the infant food; they preserve the story of its origin. The emulsion is called “Kariol” and the sugar of milk is “Karilac.”
The example of New Zealand, the noble system of infant salvation that owes its foundation to the doctor and his wife, is a light to the civilised world. Sir Truby himself went to England—his services were lent to the cause there by the New Zealand Government—to organise the Plunket system, and the benefits of his campaign of instruction were soon apparent.
Honours came to this most retiring of men. He was made C.M.G., and in 1930 he was knighted. He was left a poor man by his constant expenditure on the cause nearest to his heart. That was the great joy of his life, to spend all he had in energy and in every other way on the building up of a happy, healthy young generation. His reward is in the visible fruits of his long and tireless toil for the cause, and in the knowledge that he is honoured and revered as the friend and saviour of the babies. Tens of thousands of young New Zealanders are, or have been Plunket babies. That is the wonderful fruit of the tiny beginning on the shore of Karitane.