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


Special Collections, University of Otago

Date Created

14 August 2015


Truby King was the greatest man in New Zealand, and should have the most imposing monument New Zealand can build to commemorate him.’ George Bernard Shaw, April 1934.

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 that were often unscientific and glaringly contradictory. Because of his wide interests, King was also a great reader. About 1933, King’s library numbered some 1680 titles. In 1938, he bequeathed many scientific titles to the British Medical Association. In June 1989 the remaining volumes – the so-called 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). A select number of books from King’s library have been used in this exhibition to highlight his life and activities: 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 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.



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