Truby King House (Former)

Manchester Terrace, Melrose, Wellington

  • Truby King House (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: J. Taylor. Date: 1/04/2006.
  • Truby King House (Former) .
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: J Taylor. Date: 1/04/2006.
  • Truby King House (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: J Taylor. Date: 1/04/2006.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4427 Date Entered 16th November 1989 Date of Effect 16th November 1989


City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 2 DP 12692 (RT WN47B/601), Wellington Land District


Truby King House (Former) in Wellington was designed by the pre-eminent architect William Gray Young in 1923 for the founder of the Plunket Society, Frederic Truby King [1838-1938].

Born and raised in New Plymouth, King trained as a doctor in Edinburgh, England. While in England, he married Isabella Cockburn Millar. The Kings moved to New Zealand in 1887 and together established the Plunket Society in 1907. Named after its patron, Lady Victoria Plunket, wife of the then Governor-General, the society aimed to reduce the high infant mortality rate through the promotion of breastfeeding, domestic hygiene and strict adherence to routine. Plunket clinics and 'Karitane' hospitals were opened throughout the country and by 1930, 65 per cent of all non-Maori infants were under the care of trained Plunket nurses. By 1947 this figure had risen to 85 per cent. Truby King was awarded a Companion of St Michael and St George in 1917 and was knighted for his services to health in 1925.

Between 1924 and 1932 Truby and Isabella King lived in the house, with their daughter Mary. The house, located on the top of a hilly section at Mount Melrose, was constructed by Wilson and Johnson of Kilbirnie, in 1924. The design of the single storey timber building shows influences of the American bungalow and colonial styles. The house included a formal public wing for entertaining dignitaries to the west, and private living spaces to the east. The geographic positioning and spatial layout of the house maximised sun and light exposure to the northern elevation, illustrating King's ideas about the importance of the environment on people's lives.

The house included a study for King, which featured a specially designed sliding window that allowed King to set up a telescope and take full advantage of the spectacular views over Wellington. The study was also home to King's vast personal library, which included thousands of books that covered a vast range subjects and authors:

almost every topic is represented, from opera to classical mythology, all the great authors, many travel books, one New Testament and a child's bible. There is no 'light' reading. The only novels are serious classics, and there are no books on sport.

The books provide a fascinating insight into some of the influences on King, especially medicine and health, and also plant husbandry.

While the house provided spectacular views, it was also at the mercy of the natural elements - particularly the wind, and Mary King relates stories of visitors to the house having their umbrellas turned inside out during visits! To deal with this, King designed and constructed a number of wind screens around the house, made of a mesh material which alleviated the wind, but did not break the views, leading King to claim 'there was always one side of the building that was totally sheltered.'

In 1924 the Kings commissioned Young to erect a Karitane Hospital down the hill on the site of their former tennis court. Their four hectare [10 acre] section was developed into a blossoming garden with brick paths and pergolas to 'provide an intangible sense of refreshment, regeneration and recreation' for the mothers staying in the hospital.

In 1927 Isabella King died, and in 1932 King announced that he was gifting his house to Plunket Society. He then shifted into a flat at 42 Sutherland Crescent. He then moved back into his former house, where he spent a short time under the care of a nurse until he passed away in February 1938. King was buried in the Melrose garden on an elevated section that had originally featured a pergola. On the suggestion of the then Minister of Health Peter Fraser, he was honoured with a state funeral, the first private citizen in New Zealand to receive such a tribute. The remains of Isabella King, the mainstay behind King's work, were transferred to the Melrose site from their original resting-place in a cemetery in Porirua.

Upon King's death the Plunket Society took over the house and land. The house was used by Plunket Society initially, and was commandeered by the army during World War Two. In the 1960s it was used as a convalescent and nurses home for a period, before being reused by Plunket Society as an office for their Deputy Director of Nursing.

The house remained close to its original condition, though a number of small modifications were made over the years. These included the construction of a garage under the west side of the house in 1935, the filling in of part of the northern verandah and the southern porch, and the combining of two of the bedrooms. In 1979 a caretaker's flat was built in the former service rooms in the south-west of the house.

During the 1970s, as the Plunket Society faced increasing financial difficulties, the house became increasingly run down and suffered neglect. To remedy this, in the late 1970s Plunket Society tried to raise money for maintenance and restoration work, and began making repairs - though there were questions over the authenticity of the work being done.

By 1988 Plunket Society had sold all the land and buildings of the original Mount Melrose estate, bar Lot 2 DP12962 which encompassed the house and mausoleum, which it seems Plunket Society had been intending to further subdivide. In August 1988 at a public meeting it was suggested the Wellington City Council purchase the remaining parcel of land, and negotiations began between the City Council, Plunket Society and the owners of the adjacent land. In 1990/91 the Wellington City Council purchased Lot 2 DP 12692 from the Plunket Society, taking possession of the land containing the house and mausoleum, to go with the other parcels of land that make up the current historic reserve. The Council undertook much needed repairs on house, including fire proofing improvements in 1993/94, and new roofing in 2005. The paths and driveways around the house were also re-graded and re-asphalted, and the brickwork was repaired with original bricks made in Miramar in the 1920s. In 1991/92 there was a period of public consultation and research to devise a draft management plan, and there were a number of suggestions put forward for use of the house during consultation phase. However, the house remained in Council possession and has since been leased to various tenants. While major restoration work on the house has not yet gone ahead, it remains in good condition.

The Truby King House is recognised for its architectural and historical significance.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Sir Frederic Truby King (1858-1938) was born in New Plymouth. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University, married, and returned to New Zealand in 1888. As Medical Superintendent of Seacliff Mental Hospital he had introduced innovative ideas in patient care. Sir Truby is best known as the founder in 1907 of the Plunket Society which promoted his beliefs concerning infant welfare. Under the patronage of Lady Plunket, and the leadership of Sir Truby and his wife Bella, the movement caught the imagination of the New Zealand public. In 1922 Truby King bought a large site on an exposed ridge in Melrose. Having introduced a range of infant milk products, in 1923-24 he then built a factory for the Plunket Society. His house nearby dates from the same period. Truby King was knighted in 1925.

When Sir Truby died in 1938 he was buried with full State honours in the grounds of his property. Since then the house has been retained by the Plunket Society.


In contrast to the extensively landscaped gardens the house is relatively unassuming. The free and informal design is uncharacteristic of the generally more formal, solid and symmetrical domestic architecture of Gray Young. The house cannot be fully appreciated separately from its superb, if now somewhat neglected, gardens which are noteworthy for their arches and walls in brick and extensive paving.


The house itself has no significant townscape quality, but it does have an impressive landscaped approach.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Young, William G

William Gray Young (1885-1962) was born in Oamaru. When he was a child his family moved to Wellington where he was educated. After leaving school he was articled to the Wellington architectural firm of Crichton and McKay. In 1906 he won a competition for the design of Knox College, Dunedin, and shortly after this he commenced practice on his own account.

He became a prominent New Zealand architect and during a career of 60 years he designed over 500 buildings. His major buildings include the Wellington and Christchurch Railway Stations (1936 and 1954 respectively), Scot's College (1919), Phoenix Assurance Building (1930) and the Australian Mutual Provident Society (AMP) Chambers (1950). At Victoria University College of Wellington he was responsible for the Stout (1930), Kirk (1938), and Easterfield (1957) buildings, and Weir House (1930). Gray Young also achieved recognition for his domestic work such as the Elliott House Wellington, (1913).

His design for the Wellesley Club (1925) earned him the Gold Medal of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1932. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute in 1913, served on the executive committee from 1914-35 and was President from 1935-36. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and achieved prominence in public affairs.

Wilson and Johnson

Wilson and Johnson, of Kilbirne, were responsible for the construction of Truby King House (1924) in Melrose, Wellington.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The former Truby King House is an unpretentious single storey timber-framed building with matai weatherboarding and a corrugated iron roof. The design incorporates features of the American bungalow and colonial styles, which are characterised by low-pitched roofs, the incorporation of in-built amenities, wide halls, the use of inglenooks, and a general simplicity of decoration.

The house is set amidst a large garden and is encircled by the driveway. The main, north elevation features a long verandah, a section of which has since been enclosed. The low-pitched iron roof slopes over the verandah, and is supported on timber columns. There is no formal entrance to the building. The northern elevation features a main door that leads into the hallway, and two set-back French doors. The larger of the two French doors opens into the living room to the west, and the other, into a converted office to the east that was formerly two bedrooms. The geographic positioning and lay out of these doors, and of the large casement windows, allows for maximum sun and light exposure as well as sweeping views of Wellington.

The entrance way divides the house - to the west are more formal dining and entertainment spaces, to the east are the private living spaces. The interior fittings and construction materials become more intricate and of a higher quality from the informal to formal spaces.

The east side has two bedrooms; the converted office, two toilets and a bathroom. The bedroom to the south-east was Truby and Isabella King's, the other was a linen room. Also to the south-east is Truby King's former study with Jarrah flooring, timber cupboards and shelves. The eastern side features a large window, which could be lowered and raised, and is where Truby King had a telescope set up. Moving back west through the house is a passage that separates the bathrooms from the former bedrooms, and has two windows filling in what was once a porch. The passageway exits outside to the west-wing caretaker's flat, which was formerly another porch, bedroom and laundry. The west side of the house contains the living room, which also features Jarrah flooring and rimu panelling along with an inglenook fireplace. This leads through to the formal dining room, which also has rimu panelling, cupboards, shelves and a gas fireplace. The kitchen makes up the rest of the west wing. The exterior is generally unremarkable, though a garage was added on the bottom level of the western elevation in 1935.


This single storey house with garage below has an unpretentious exterior. The study has an aura with Sir Truby King's wide interests in reading reflected in its design and finishing. Of particular interest is the specially designed downward sliding window which provided for his study of astronomy.

The living-room with its inglenook fireplace and leadlights is another room of character. The character of the house is informal despite the use of a colonnaded verandah. Free planning produces an interesting interior with elements of Californian bungalow style.


Addition of garage in basement

Enclosure of east corner of verandah

Removal of walls to form boardroom

Conversion of south-west corner to a self contained caretaker's flat

Notable Features

Specially designed downward sliding window in study.

Construction Dates

1923 -
By William Gray Young

Original Construction
1924 -
By Wilson and Johnson

1935 -
Construction of a garage; filling in of part of the northern verandah and the southern porch; combining of two bedrooms.

1979 -
Caretaker's flat constructed.

Construction Details

Single storey, timber framed with matai bevelled bracket weatherboarding; corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

17th November 2006

Report Written By

James Taylor

Information Sources

Burdon, 1945

RM Burdon, New Zealand Notables. Series 2. Christchurch, 1945



Death of Well-Known Architect, 23 April 1962

King, 1948

Mary King, Truby King the Man: A Biography, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1948

Wellington City Council

Wellington City Council

Plan (Manchester Street, Antico Street, Antico Street [19, 21A Manchester Tce, Duncan Tce]- Dwelling and Factory, 00055:21:A2027- Building Permit A Series)

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Boffa Miskell Partners, 'Truby King Park Conservation Plan', Wellington, 1993

Other Information

A copy of this report is available from the NZHPT Central region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.