Truby_King.jpg Truby King Street sign (2013). Mike Gooch. Word on the street image collection.

Truby King Street pays homage to the late Sir Frederic Truby King. Known as Truby, he was born in 1858 in one of the earliest houses in New Plymouth, a homestead in Mangorei.

Truby was about a year old, when the First Taranaki War of 1860 disrupted his family’s settled life. In an attempt to escape those dreadful times, his mother fled to Nelson with her five children. Truby, an already sickly child, almost died during this experience. The family returned to New Plymouth when the war ended, moving to a house on the corner of Dawson and Vivian Streets.

Truby lived in New Plymouth throughout his teenage years. He initially followed his father into banking before pursuing medicine at Edinburgh University, completing the degree first in his class. After meeting and marrying Isabella Miller, Truby migrated back to New Zealand and took up the superintendant post at Wellington Hospital.

In 1889, Truby King applied for the position of Director General at Seacliff Mental Hospital where he remained for thirty years. This was perceived as an unusual choice. At the time it was believed that the only doctors who wanted to treat the mentally ill must be slightly mad themselves. Throughout his life, Truby was considered to be rather eccentric. His ideas were enlightened and he often blurred the line between madness and genius.

Truby King is best known for his establishment of the Plunket Society in 1907 which focussed on the health of women and infants by promoting breast feeding, family hygiene and regular appointments with nurses. Plunket has since grown to become an iconic New Zealand institution.

Truby King was devoted to seeking prevention rather than finding a cure for illness. Regarding the issue of infant mortality, he adopted the saying “It is better to put a fence at the top of a cliff than to station an ambulance at the bottom.”

Truby King died in 1938, at age 80. He was the first citizen in New Zealand to receive the honour of a state funeral. He was also the first to grace a New Zealand postage stamp in 1957, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Plunket Society. That year also marked the date that Truby King Street was approved by the New Plymouth City Council.

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