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In a Strange Garden: The Life and Times of Truby King

Chapter Four: An asylum by the sea

Chapter Four: An asylum by the sea

Lunacy and troubles of the mind have never been easy topics. The early days in the colony of New Zealand saw gaols as the repository for society's misfits. Lunatics took their place alongside military deserters, convicts, delinquents, debtors, drunkards, vagrants and prostitutes.

Early gaolers apparently tolerated lunatics. There is no reported instance of the mentally disturbed being punished while in gaol. Those who became violent were restrained by irons, fetters and occasionally straightjackets. However, the imposition of the insane on the prison system was seen as unsatisfactory, leading to demands for separate housing and proper treatment for those of troubled mind. Prior to the 1870s, asylum-keepers noted that nothing could be done for many patients, except to watch them 'at the full of the moon'.1 Humoral treatment (relating to the four bodily fluids) was still in page 50 vogue, as were techniques like head-shaving and bowel control. It is possible that Truby King's famous obsession with bowel regularity in children, frequently encountered in Plunket literature, derives from this.

Fear of lunatics, prompted by celebrated cases both in New Zealand and abroad of their murdering attendants, was reflected in public concern, culminating in the 1876 Act of Parliament to have asylums run by central government. This predated the centralisation of Education (1877) and Prisons (1880).

The first Inspector of Lunatic Asylums, Frederick Skae, was a Scot, establishing a tradition that would find ready acceptance in Truby King, who would exhibit a near-obsessive Caledonian bias. Skae's initial problem was that of overcrowding. He was required to accommodate nearly 800 patients, yet had institutional room for only 270. His long-term solution was the development of rural asylums, of which Seacliff was to be the largest and grandest. This afforded the removal of the disturbed from the purview of society, with their incarceration in the country away from prying eyes. The further appeal was undoubtedly the measure of self-sufficiency, achieved through institutional farming, which offered both employment of the (unpaid) inmates and provision of food from the asylum farm, all of which helped keep costs under control.

Situated some forty kilometres north of Dunedin, on the isolated Otago coast, Seacliff was an ideal spot to house the unwanted victims and dregs of Victorian colonial society. The twisty coastal road was arduously primitive, but the main trunk railway gave easy access to Dunedin and the north. The Seacliff Lunatic Asylum was designed by Lawson, who was the architect for Dunedin's brooding Knox church. It was to be New Zealand's largest building, an imposing Scots baronial edifice of three storeys, 225 metres long by sixty-seven metres wide, with an 'observation tower' nearly fifty metres tall. The Victorians may not have wanted their lunatics living in close proximity to them, but they certainly housed them grandly. The design was based on the Norwich County Asylum in England. Using local clay, over 41/2 million bricks were manufactured on the asylum site. Work page 51 commenced in 1878, but by the next year reports began to emerge of 'site slippage'. James Hector, director of the Geological Survey, was called in to report. He noted that the site sloped ten degrees towards the sea, with the North Wing situated on a different geological formation to the rest of the building. He cast doubts as to the wisdom of the location and recommended drainage work. The architect refused to reconsider the site, and amidst a public outcry, building continued. As the main building neared completion, grave anxiety was expressed at the continual movement in the foundations, plaster was constantly falling and alarming noises were heard in the timbers of the roof. And this without any lunatics in residence!

Seacliff was the country's largest mental institution, with fifty staff and 500 of the country's 1600 inmates, of which 37 per cent were women. In 1886, Duncan MacGregor, Inspector of Mental Hospitals, would describe Seacliff as 'inexpressibly dreary and dispiriting'. 2

He would become one of Truby King's greatest allies and supporters in the years to come. Dr MacGregor, a forthright Scot, then recently retired as Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy at Otago University, held views coincident with King's. MacGregor was a Social Darwinian, believing that New Zealand was rapidly becoming contaminated with low-quality immigrants and their offspring. He was an advocate of hard work for mental patients and would be a consistent mentor to Truby King.

Following a major slip in 1887, when all female patients were evacuated from the North Wing, a Royal Commission concurred with Hector, citing poor drainage and unequal settlement. They were scathing in their condemnation of both architect and builder. The resignation of the Medical Director next year was hardly surprising.

Against this background, it is interesting to ponder Truby King's application for the position. His academic qualifications far exceeded the requirements, although his knowledge of care of the insane was 'only a fortnight's post-graduate training in psychiatry at Edinburgh University' as a cynical commentator tartly observed. Truby would have been well aware of the terms of reference of the job, and should have been able to comprehend what it offered him in terms of page 52
Seacliff, the grand baronial asylum

Seacliff, the grand baronial asylum

personal and professional development. Medically, it could only have been a backwater. Orthodox medical men of the time (there were no women) regarded the choice of psychiatry as 'evidence of eccentricity more appropriate to a patient'.4 His work at Wellington Hospital could hardly have been called unorthodox, and there is evidence, in the form of a glowing testimonial from his hospital staff, that his tenure there was satisfactory. So why did King turn away from the conventional practice of medicine in Wellington, to become director of the country's largest asylum in the remote South Island countryside?

The salary was larger, the title grander, the responsibilities broader. We shall see that money meant little to King, who died a pauper and invariably gave away more than he earned. With the appointment came a number of other grand titles: Lecturer in Mental Diseases, Examiner in Public Health and Examiner in Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Otago (then New Zealand's only medical school) in Dunedin. While these may have been flattering to his ego, the page 53 main thrust of his chosen occupation was to be the care of people loosely classified as 'mentally ill'. Did he have a vocation for this?

His colleague, successor and long-time admirer, Dr Gray saw it thus:

Truby King was, I think, the only person I have known intimately who could, without any reservation, be called a genius, and exemplifying the unexpectedness of genius, although he held the position of Medical Superintendent of a mental hospital for thirty-two years, his real interests lay, not in mental hospitals or patients, but in the nurture and care of infants, in which field of medicine he became an international authority. I have no doubt that Truby King could have excelled in almost any career, as an actor he would have reached the top flight, as a criminal lawyer in the wider scope of the English bar he would have without doubt have attained eminence.5

What prompted King's career change, we'll never know. All we can do is to examine his modus operandi and judge him from his results.

The hospital that Truby King inherited was structurally unsound and the inmates mentally unsound. Truby's task was to impart harmony and to foster soundness. Historian Frank Tod reported thus:

In a matter of months, the entire landscape surrounding the hospital was changed. The virgin bush rapidly cleared to make way for lawns, flower gardens and playing fields. For inmates whose liberty was more restricted, recreational grounds were specially prepared to enable them to enjoy the outdoor scenery and benefit from the fresh air. These grounds, or recreational yards as they were later called, were surrounded by brick or wooden walls, but care was taken in their construction not to obstruct the view.6

Over a period of years Truby King would articulate and develop his holistic beliefs in a healthy environment, in exercise and fresh air; themes that he would revisit, restate and refine. The environment in which he worked was flexible and unfettered. The guidelines for running the institution were few, beyond the need to satisfy the page 54 Inspector of Asylums. King had a virtually free hand in his treatment of the insane, and in the management of a large agricultural enterprise.

Initially he set about correcting some of the outstanding deficiencies. Firstly, the water supply was replaced, with an elaborate piped system from a distant spring. Sanitation, drainage and ventilation came under scrutiny, were rectified and upgraded. King could do little but complain at the overcrowding, but with the resolution of the North Wing's problems, the physical environment became more tolerable.

The farm came in for considerable scrutiny, to produce the right dietary ingredients to fulfil his idea of what a patient should eat. The previous 'three meat meals a day' regime was drastically reviewed to a more balanced healthy diet. Patients, unless physically incapable, were turned into farm workers, neatly achieving King's goals of improved fitness and exposure to fresh air, as well as occupying minds with healthy outdoor pursuits.

Dr MacGregor's 1889 annual report to parliament is instructive. He noted 'greatly improved appearance and health of the inmates, all but forty-eight males out in the open air, 217 males working on the farm, much higher than any other New Zealand institution'.7 A year later his report was more effusive: 'Seacliff is no longer a prison where crowds of men and women are confined in close courtyards doing nothing but brooding over their morbid feelings.' He observed that: 'The administration is vigorous and careful. The farm is steadily being cleared and is increasing yearly in its productiveness . . . the best spirit prevails among the staff... I have offered King an assistant but he prefers for the present to keep the whole of the medical treatment in his own hands.' Here, perhaps, is the first clue that Truby was unwilling to have anyone meddling in 'his' social experiments.

Of the 142 patients committed to Seacliff in a typical year (1905), the reason for their interment were given as:8

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Reason total women men
Congenital & heredity 27 9 18
Unknown 22 4 18
Epilepsy 21 3 18
Alcoholism 16 3 13
Senility 15 5 10
Domestic troubles 7 7 0
Masturbation 5 0 5
Childbearing 4 4 0
Climacteric 4 4 0
Injury 3 1 2
Adolescence 2 2 0
Diabetes 2 2 0
Overwork 2 2 0
Puberty 2 2 0
Syphilis 2 2 0
Apoplexy 1 1 0
Chorea 1 0 1
Dissolute 1 1 0
Fright 1 0 1
Ill health 1 1 0
Influenza 1 0 1
Surgical operations 1 0 1
Worry 1 0 1

A 'lunatic' as defined in law was someone 'judged unable to manage their own affairs.'9 King had no control over who was committed. Aside from the genuinely mentally ill, he had to cope with the aged, alcoholics and those committed by unscrupulous families.

He instituted a number of employment changes. The privileges regarding priority assignment of food were withdrawn, with staff eating the same meals as patients. 'Inferior Chinese tea' was replaced by 'good Ceylon tea' for staff and patients alike. Staff were subject to instant dismissal for any acts of violence against patients. Democratically, the billiard table that was previously reserved for staff was made available to patients by day, with staff access only when patients were in bed.

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Inevitably, King's reforms met with some dissent, culminating in complaints from a disaffected staff member, via The Globe, and newspaperman W. F. Kitchin, whose complaints prompted a parliamentary inquiry. Truby King's replies to the ten charges, although lengthy, are worth reading. His character resonates through the eloquent, carefully worded retort, which is reproduced in full in Frank Tod's history of the Seacliff district.10 With a measure of gravity, tempered with wit, Truby King analysed and demolished the charges brought against him. Naturally the Department stood firmly behind their Doctor King, the charges all being dismissed.

Barbara Brookes noted:

Truby was, above all an individualist, 'not a clubman' and as superintendent of an isolated asylum aiming for self-sufficiency, he was able to develop his theories to the full, untrammelled by the constraints of collegiality. He refused an early offer of an assistant, preferring to keep the whole of the medical treatment in his own hands. Seacliff became his personal fiefdom in which he attempted to create a world based on the principle of 'hygiene for the body, hygiene for the mind'. This implied external improvements to the living conditions of the patients, and close attention to their moral welfare. The former could be achieved by improvements in plumbing, ventilation and diet, while the latter relied on exercise, suitable recreation, rest and the greatest amount of liberty consistent with safety.11

Not content with solving the building's shortcomings, King set out to extend the scope of the asylum. Realising the untapped potential of the sea, he established a fishing station at Karitane, some six kilometres north of Seacliff. The resident attendant and three patients caught over 31/2 tons of fish, of which half was smoked and used at Seacliff, the balance going to other public institutions. King used his own money to provide a cottage for his fishermen. Ten years later, the fishing boat had increased in size, and doubled as a pleasure boat to amuse patients. The annual catch had grown to over 100 tons. This would approximate three kilograms of fish per patient per week, so one assumes King managed to turn the other institutions in Otago page 57 into compulsive fish-eaters, all of this before the advent of refrigeration. The inspector's report for 1903 details a month's production of four tons being distributed to: Christchurch Asylum (1675 lb), Burnham Asylum (120 lb), Caversham Industrial School (150 lb), Dunedin Hospital (100 lb), Ashburn Hall (100 lb), Orokonui Home (60 lb), Benevolent Institution, Dunedin (200 lb), Salvation Army Refuge (10 lb), Old Men's Home, Ashburton (100 lb), Samaritan Home, Christchurch (100 lb), after providing two days dinner per week for Seacliff patients and staff. He insisted that fish was dispatched fresh, which meant the day it was caught. A recent (2001) article in the Otago Daily Times suggests that Truby King was responsible for the development of Karitane's fishing industry, which at its peak saw sixty fishing boats working from the town.12

Now aware of the scope of his job, King saw no difficulty in including property development within his portfolio. Recognising the need for staff accommodation in the Seacliff village adjacent to the asylum, he bought land and erected houses. Where a lesser person would have first sought approval from his superiors, he adopted the direct approach. Land was purchased, eight cottages erected, staff installed, and repayments deducted from their wages. Sometimes the simplicity of King's methods defies contradiction. As an afterthought, he bought adjacent land as a park for the attendants' children. Today, faced with Crown Health Enterprises, District Hospital Boards, Resource Consents and local council mandarins, King might well be driven insane.

His thoughts for his staff extended far beyond his responsibilities as an employer. His medical position gave him access to all employees, and he would think nothing of invading a worker's house at any time of day or night. Kath Lonie recounted to me how he was well-known for appearing in the small hours of the morning, to demand a stamp for the letter he had just written.13 Truby King's staff belonged to him.

After five years at Seacliff, King had the asylum running efficiently. Bursts of feverish activity were, however, punctuated by long periods of poor health. The family curse of tuberculosis continued to hang over him, to his continual anxiety. Deaths from tuberculosis in the page 58
Truby and Bella in the Seacliff garden, 1890s.

Truby and Bella in the Seacliff garden, 1890s.

family were a grim reminder. Francis had died at eighteen months, Mary his beloved sister at eighteen years, younger brother Herbert had recently succumbed at the age of thirty, and Truby himself had lost most of the sight in his left eye with tubercular complications some years earlier. He had long spells confined to bed — six months in 1892, running the hospital by proxy, doubtless driving Bella and his acolytes madder than usual.

Between bouts of illness, Truby still managed to achieve a lot, both at the hospital and elsewhere. In 1893 he and Bella went on a tour of the Catlins, in remote South Otago, where later he would buy property and indulge himself as a farmer, sawmiller and goldminer. The following year he and Bella returned to England for Truby to study brain pathology, and to qualify as a member of the Psychological Society. On his return to Seacliff he was once more confined to bed for the winter. Late in 1896 Truby and Bella took extended leave, returning to Edinburgh, coming back via Queensland. Despite his frailty, Truby managed to travel extensively. His mentor, MacGregor, Inspector of Asylums, looked after him handsomely. In May 1904, he wrote:

page 59

I have the honour to inform you that the Cabinet has granted you six months sick leave on full pay. Arrangements will be made to relieve you of duty as soon as possible, and I shall be glad if you will remain in charge until these can be effected. I deeply regret the cause which has rendered cessation of work on your part necessary, and trust that at the end of the period you will return to your duties with fully restored health.

With an often unwell King in sole charge of the asylum, it's a credit to the staff that it functioned at all. That the Inspector sought cabinet approval for six months' paid sick leave suggests remarkable sympathy on behalf of his superiors.

In August Truby and Bella set sail for Japan. Despite the convalescent intent, it was hardly a relaxing trip. Stopping in Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin, then on to Manila and Hong Kong, they finally arrived in Japan. The autumn heat was trying but Bella and Truby saw all the tourist sights. They subjected themselves to a strenuous regime, travelling from one end of the country to the other, staying not always in tourist hotels but frequently in Japanese accommodation. In four months they saw and experienced more than the average healthy tourist might have attempted. Truby managed to interview professors of agriculture, visit hospitals, see nurseries and obtain seeds of new plants. Being a keen photographer, he managed to infiltrate Japanese photographic studios to develop his plates, this being before the days of modern cameras and processing. Nothing apparently was too difficult for him.

As a relaxing health cure it was a disaster, but as a window on another culture it was enlightening. Bella and Truby King were impressed with the degree of 'natural' feeding practised by the Japanese, with every baby being breast-fed, generally far more than six months, often to two years. They were also impressed with the fitness of the Japanese, taking note of the diet that apparently contributed to their wellbeing. King, the inquisitive intellectual, managed to absorb enough of the Japanese culture for the experience to remain with him forever. He accumulated a large number of Japanese prints, artefacts page 60 and mementoes, and even managed to acquire an ornate Japanese musical instrument. It is unclear how this seriously unwell man even contemplated a trip of such magnitude. Tuberculosis would have substantially diminished his energy. A more sane, less frenetic person might have contemplated a health resort, or a quiet convalescent holiday with a pile of books.

Shortly after returning from Japan, Truby, who was then aged forty-seven, and Bella, forty-five, adopted Mary. This was an event that would set him on a new path of infant nutrition, and would eventually lead to the formation of the Plunket Society. It had its genesis at Seacliff, but is covered in later chapters.

Notwithstanding his enforced leisure due to recurrences of poor health, King wrote prodigiously. Not long after his return from the Japan trip, he published The Feeding of Plants and Animals, which by itself would have ensured lasting fame. The next year came one of his more extreme works, The Evils of Cram. This was a particularly odd and trenchant attack on 'over-pressure' in schoolchildren's study, which he believed responsible for adolescent insanity. In a later chapter, this theme is explored at length.

Back at Seacliff, King's classification of mental patients advanced, allowing better tailoring of treatment and rehabilitation. One of his goals was to get patients ready to be discharged out to a job. He recognised early in his career that 'unless a patient was discharged within six months he was there for life'.14 Those ready for discharge would go out with a letter describing what they were suited to, and what they should avoid. It was favourably commented upon by his inspectors that King always knew every patient, and could recite their symptoms, treatment and prospects without reference to notes.

King's attitude to alcoholism was unequivocal. He had read widely and considered alcoholism a vice, not a disease. While his father kept alcohol in the home, Truby is believed to have been virtually teetotal. He advocated the compulsory detention of alcoholics, believing that recovery inside twelve months was unlikely. He did not believe that alcoholism was inherited. His distaste for alcohol, and for alcoholics, was marked. 'It is a commonplace of medical experience that men page 61 often give up drink after years and years of habitual excess, and when all hope of reformation has been abandoned, but that this hardly ever takes place in the case of women' noted Truby in a letter to Mrs Cracroft Wilson of the Plunket Society in Christchurch.15 His views of women's differing abilities extended to their susceptibility to alcohol.

With the passing of the Voluntary Boarders at Mental Hospitals Act, King instituted the Orokonui Home for Inebriates at Waitati, some ten kilometres south of Seacliff, staffed with special attendants, hand-picked from Seacliff for their staunchness and insensitivity to the perceived habits of alcoholics. This sounded like an early form of alcoholic Tough Love. King had patients referred to him from all over New Zealand, and is recorded as never having refused entry to anyone.

Was he a good and conscientious doctor to the insane? Undoubtedly, yes. The annual reports to parliament from the various inspectors who supervised his thirty-two years at Seacliff were always effusive in their assessment of Truby King's work. He treated his staff more than fairly, going out of his way to ensure their housing and ongoing education were looked after. He went to considerable lengths to improve the conditions that his patients lived under, with accommodation that was bright and cheerful, and grounds that were inspiring in their beauty. He provided fresh, nourishing food, with due consideration to the best nutrition and most appropriate ingredients.

There are many instances of King's creativity. He replaced the drab institutional decor with more cheerful colour schemes. He ensured that the gardens produced adequate supplies of fresh flowers for the wards. He developed staff training schemes where attendants could advance their qualifications and therefore salaries. He introduced the nursing of male patients by women, which had a measurable soothing effect. He was liberal in giving patients restricted liberty. He developed the library and persuaded newspapers to donate their daily organs. He built, at his own expense, cottages where patients nearing release could live more normal lives. He encouraged patients to dress not in drab institutional garb, but in clothes more akin to those worn page 62 by 'normal' people. In essence, his was a very 'Kiwi' approach. He rejected the mumbo-jumbo of early psychiatry, opting instead for down-to-earth, common-sense treatment of his inmates as people to be helped with holistic natural treatment.

Mention should be made of King's most famous patient at Seacliff, one Lionel Terry, poet, author and artist. Terry was Eton and Oxford educated, emigrating to New Zealand in 1901 after roaming the world. He was an imposing man of six feet four inches, towering over the diminutive Truby. Terry was King's most celebrated patient, and a genuine eccentric. He embarked on a walking tour of the country, covering 900 miles in forty days, giving lectures in every town he came upon, camping at night in the sleeping bag that always accompanied him. His first New Zealand publication16 warned against the 'yellow peril': the advent of the Chinaman and alien immigration to the colony. In Wellington, in an act of premeditation, he shot and killed an innocent Chinese before dramatically turning himself in to the police. The case aroused much public interest, and Terry was found guilty and sentenced to death. Public interest was intense, and a petition of 50,000 signatures sought his release. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, and Terry eventually found his way to Seacliff, having dramatically set fire to his prison cell and serially escaped from the Sunnyside asylum. An habitual escaper, he led the authorities a merry chase, refusing King's offer of the freedom of Seacliff in return for his word not to escape. Truby King eventually resorted to giving Terry his own exercise yard, in which he was always accompanied by two guards. At his most difficult, Terry had tp be force-fed by a tube, which necessitated six men. After a spell in gaol following yet another escape, Terry relented and accepted King's offer, giving his word that he would not escape. Thereafter he lived a rather exalted life, with his own suite, his own guards, and meals specially prepared to his instructions. Truby King took a personal interest in Terry, often inviting him to his house for a meal and game of cards. A later Medical Superintendent offered the opinion that Truby King did not realise the unique difficulties that Terry posed.17 page 63Two of Terry's poems are worth review:

Emotional Insanity
Oh let us sing the praises of the Medical Profession!
Those sleek, silk-hatted gentlemen of smiling self-possession!
It doesn't matter who you are, nor what you do or say,
They'll diagnose your symptoms in a most amazing way.
For instance, if a blackguard cheats your daughter or your wife
And you seize a handy shooting-iron and end his little life.
Rash man! Your actions won't accord with Mercy or Humanity!
You prove yourself a victim of Emotional Insanity!
Or, if a swarm of Jews or Chows, invade your native land
And spread a few diseases of an extra special brand.
And if they teach your boys and girls the latest thing in vice,
And gen'rally prevent your getting peace at any price.
And if, at last, you rise against a state of things chaotic,
And give foul play to feelings which, are mainly patriotic.
Alas! Such conduct won't conform with Modern Christianity!
Most clearly, you're afflicted with Emotional Insanity!
Then let us bow our heads in awe, and crawl in abject meekness
Before these wondrous Medicos who probe our mental weakness!
They'll analyse the minds of men, of highest reputations
And prove that all are victims of some awful aberration!
In fact, although it seems to smack of blasphemy and libel,
Anent a little tragedy that's mentioned in the Bible.
They'll glance above their spectacles and state with bland urbanity,
That Holy Moses suffered from Emotional Insanity!18

Truby King himself suffered Terry's poetic jibes. This poem addresses his Plunket period:

Hark the Herald Angels sing
Glory to our Truby King.
He has humanised the cow;
She will feed our babies now.
Joyful all ye people rise,
page 64 Fattest brat takes Plunket prize.
Hear his lectures, read his tracts,
Study all his latest facts;
Then unite with us and sing
Glory to our Truby King.19

King, not noted for his sense of humour, commented that 'I was more interested in bone and muscle than fat'.20 Whether Truby had the ability to laugh at himself is captured in a story found in the memoirs of Eleanor McLagan, one of the first women doctors, who Truby employed briefly at Seacliff.

Later, Sir Truby left Seacliff and was promoted Inspector of Asylums. On one occasion he visited Seacliff on an inspection. Sir Truby was accommodated in two semi-detached rooms near the entrance to the asylum. A conscientious nightwatchman noticed the door unlocked, looked in, saw someone sleeping and locked the door. In the morning Sir Truby found himself locked in. He called and called, he banged and banged. An attendant came by, heard the row and unlocked the door. A furious King cried 'Let me out! Let me out! I'm Sir Truby King'. The attendant who didn't know Sir Truby by sight, thought he'd got a particularly raging lunatic here. 'Yes, yes,' he answered soothingly, 'We've got two more Sir Trubys upstairs,' and locked him in again. Later the Superintendent came to see why Sir Truby hadn't turned up for breakfast, and rescued him. Sir Truby could not see any humour in the situation.21

Did Truby King succeed at Seacliff? Undoubtedly, his patients were better fed, fitter and very likely happier. In the context of mental health, the answer is less clear, and as far as the curative record is concerned, the results are more equivocal. Statistics from the annual reports to parliament, over the most significant period of King's tenure (1889-1907) show that nationally the average recovery rate of patients in all asylums other than Seacliff was 9.4 per cent. The Seacliff recovery rate of 6.7 per cent is substantially lower. Significantly, Seacliff never exceeded 7 per cent discharge:recovery, page 65 while other asylums frequently exceeded 10 per cent. Previous commentators have claimed King's success rate was much higher but this is not supported by the facts. As King was in charge of more than a quarter of New Zealand's insane, this statistic must be seen as significant, notwithstanding the high number of residents who for a variety of reasons were unlikely ever to be released. Given the continual overcrowding pressure on asylum space, it's unlikely that King would have been permitted to allow his patients to stay longer than in other institutions. A more robust analysis of statistics from the twenty-year period from 1902 to the year he left Seacliff, shows that Truby King's Seacliff was the least successful of all major mental institutions, as measured by the dischargeirecovery statistics reported annually to parliament through the Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives. Over that period, the four major institutions reported:

Auckland 1781 11 % recovered or discharged
Wellington 1547 9%
Christchurch 1077 8%
Seacliff 1033 6%

The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that under Truby King Seacliff had the poorest record of major New Zealand asylums of curing or discharging its inmates. Curiously, in all the annual reports to parliament, this statistic was never amplified or remarked upon, despite annual tabulation of a variety of indicators of performance. It should, however, be noted that Truby King always enjoyed the effusive confidence of every Inspector of Mental Asylums.

Seacliff finally ceased to be an asylum in 1970. The unstable baronial mansion was demolished in 1959. Its patients were transferred to the new facility nearby at Cherry Farm while treatment of patients in the other Seacliff facilities continued. Much of the land and newer buildings have gone back into private ownership. The Otago Regional Council now maintains some of the land as Truby King Park. It has a serene and haunting atmosphere.

Dr Eleanor McLagan recalls her time working at Seacliff:

page 66

Seacliff's beautiful farm not only supplied much of the asylum's food, but also provided occupation for patients who were able and happy to work under supervision but unable to look after themselves in the outside world.

Sir Truby's brilliant mind and catholic interests rapidly made him a master of many aspects of farming — particularly in the breeding of prime stock, in which he succeeded so well, and the asylum took so many prizes, that the farmers objected to the competition as unfair. After that, asylum stock went to shows 'for exhibition only' and for sale as studs. If one wanted a pamphlet on how to rear calves, for instance, the Agriculture Department gave one written by Dr King. How to get a good percentage of eggs — ditto. When the potato blight first hit New Zealand, his was the pamphlet on how to combat it. All this interest and the knowledge gained on rearing young animals was afterwards switched to babies. But exactly why he switched to babies is not altogether clear.22

In truth, Truby's greatest success came as a farmer, as we shall see in Chapter Six.

page 67

1 Dr Brunton, in The Seylla-Charybdis Syndrome', quoting the first keeper at Oakley Hospital, 1853, p. 3, the Crozier collection.

2 Appendix to Journals of the House of Representatives 1886, section H.

4 Cheryl Caldwell, Truby King and the Seacliff Asylum 1884-1907, University of Otago, BA Hons thesis, 1984, p. 48.

5 Gray, The Very Error of the Moon, p. 98.

6 Frank Tod, Seacliff, A History of the District to 1970 (Dunedin), 1970, p. 29.

7 AJHR 1889, section H.

8 AJHR 1905, section H.

9 Caldwell, Truby King and the Seacliff Asylum, p. 4.

10 Tod, Seacliff, A History of the District to 1970, p. 29.

11 Barbara Brookes, 'Frederic Truby King and the Seacliff Asylum', New Perspectives on the History of Medicine, (Melbourne: University of Melbourne), 1990.

12 Ian Church, Truby King's initiatives, modernised fishing in Karitane', Otago Daily Times, 20 October 2001.

13 Kath Lonie, former resident of Seacliff village, personal communication, 2000.

14 Dr Brunton, The Seylla-Charybdis Syndrome', 1893, p. 11.

15 Letter to Mrs Cracroft. Wilson, Christchurch, Plunket archives, Hocken Library.

16 Lionel Terry, 'God is Gold", quoted by Frank Tod, Seacliff, A History of the District to 1970, p. 78.

17 Dr Charles Moore, Medical Superintendent, Seacliff 1960-70, personal communication, 2000.

18 Lionel Terry, quoted by Frank Tod, Seacliff, A History of the District to 1970, p. 92.

19 Lionel Terry, quoted by Gordon Parr)', A Fence at the Top (Dunedin: John Mclndoe, 1982), p. 51.

20 Ibid., p. 51.

21 Eleanor McLagan, Stethoscope and Saddlebags (Collins, 1965).

22 Ibid.