Historical Significance or Value
The buildings and the land that make up the former estate are intimately connected with Sir Frederic Truby King. King was the founder of the Plunket Society and an historically significant New Zealand figure. At the time he lived at Mount Melrose he was the first Director of Child Welfare. Furthermore, the garden and associated, now privately owned buildings, represent King's ideas and philosophies about plant husbandry that were put transferred to his 'mothercraft' ideology and work on infant welfare. Thus the area is intimately associated with important ideas and ideologies which drove the Plunket Society, and had a tremendous influence on the lives of generations of New Zealand babies and mothers. Significantly, the house, factory, and hospital, were all designed by Gray Young, a historically important New Zealand architect.
The Truby King Historic Area has aesthetic value. There is a particularly striking use of the use of natural geography of the site to emphasise certain features, such as the maximum exposure of the house to sun and light, while the factory has a sloping design to take advantage of the hillside it was built on. Though the garden is no longer as spectacular as it was in the late 1930s and 1940s, due to disrepair and neglect, there have been plans mooted for the reconstruction of the garden.
Importantly, the Wellington City Council purchase in 1990 has seen the garden revitalised and replanted, and the unique brickwork repaired to high levels of authenticity. While not as exotic as it was during King's time, the garden maintains a pleasant, well maintained, ambience, and is a worthy part of Wellington's botanical gardens. Individual buildings and structures within the Historic Area, including the mausoleum and the KPS factory have aesthetic value in their own right, which adds to the overall beauty of the site.
The original house, KPS factory and Karitane hospital were all designed by William Gray Young, a pre-eminent and significant New Zealand architect. The designs of all the buildings are unpretentious, but of high quality design and construction. While there was no written plan or design of the garden, it does illustrate Truby King's ideas about plant husbandry, while the intricate brickwork has been repaired after decades of neglect, using historically authentic materials. While designed by Gray Young, the buildings also represent elements of Truby King's wider worldview - the geographic positioning of the house allowing maximum sun, a King favourite, while the design of the house, hospital, factory and hospital reflected his philosophy and ideas about plant husbandry, and the importance of the physical environment on peoples well being. The renovated art deco façade of the factory is also significant. The buildings maintain high levels of, especially exterior, authenticity- though renovations in the interior of the factory have been significant, and less so in the hospital.
The Truby King Historic Area includes the former house, and current resting ground of Sir Frederic Truby King, founder of the Plunket Society and historically significant New Zealander. King supervised the transformation of a windswept hill into a spectacular garden, which became the site of his personal Plunket Society empire, with the building of a house, food product factory and maternity hospital. The house hosted many dignitaries and members of New Zealand's social elite. The factory and hospital, while designed by Gray Young, would have been heavily influenced by King. The surrounding gardens were intended to be 'model' sites- places for people to find refreshment from, but also as an example for people to follow- the ideals of which represent the driving force behind King's work and later legacy. The grounds and buildings both illustrate and illuminate the significant influence Truby King had in early twentieth century New Zealand health, medical and more general history, while their current use as a public reserve is an appropriate memorial to a New Zealander who spent much of his life, for better or worse, serving the public.
The area is held in high esteem by the public. The suburb of Melrose, surrounding the estate, is where a lot of hospital and factory workers settled, while local residents have used the gardens for walking and recreation, giving the site an intimate association with surrounding suburbs. The Wellington City Council recognised it's municipal heritage values in the early 1990s, and it has been gazetted an Historic Reserve, illustrating the esteem civic leaders hold it in. At a grass roots level, a Truby King House and Garden Trust was formed in 2002, with plans to restore the house and manage the conservation of the garden, further illustrating the esteem it is held in. There are plans afoot to have the house restored by 2007, in time for the centennial anniversary of the Plunket Society. Importantly, this will include the setting up of a Truby King/ Plunket Society museum in the former study of the house, providing visitors with knowledge, information and education about a voluntary organisation that was highly influential for a large part of twentieth century New Zealand history.
The Truby King Mausoleum, located on the site, is the resting ground of Truby and Isabella King, whose bodies were permitted to be buried in the location following the passage of special legislation. The imposing monument has been well maintained, and is an appropriate national monument to a significant and influential New Zealander. It illustrates the high mana and esteem he was held in by contemporaries.
Truby King and the Plunket Society
The Truby King Historic Area includes the former house and the mausoleum of Sir Truby King and his wife Isabella Cockburn Millar. The Kings moved to New Zealand in 1887 where King, with the help of Isabella, established the Royal New Zealand Society for the Health of Women and Children, or the internationally renowned '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 Society clinics and 'Karitane' hospitals were opened throughout New Zealand, as well as in other Commonwealth countries such as Australia. By 1930, 65 per cent of all non-Maori New Zealand infants were under the care of trained Plunket Society 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.
King's Purchase of the Mount Melrose Site
In 1921 the enigmatic, charismatic and eccentric King was at the height of his power, having been appointed New Zealand's first Director of Child Welfare. King, Isabella and his adopted daughter Mary then shifted to Wellington, initially living in Tinakori Road, Thorndon. In 1922 King purchased 10 acres of land on a barren windswept rise, overlooking Lyall and Evans Bays, in the Eastern Suburb of Melrose. While preparations were made for the house and factory that would be eventually built at the site, King and his daughter Mary would travel to the site 'for a heavy day's planting [of] trees intended to form break winds (sic), the only vegetation on the property being gorse and wild bloom'.
Construction of the House, Gardens and Karitane Products Society (KPS) Factory
In September 1923 advertisements appeared in the local press for a tender placed by William Gray Young's architectural firm for 'the erection of a large house and cottage in wood, and small factory, Manchester Street, Melrose, in reinforced concrete'. Designs and plans for both the factory and house were finalised and construction, by the builders Wilson and Johnson of Kilbirnie, began shortly thereafter. The unpretentious house, designed in the American bungalow style, was constructed during 1924 and the family shifted in at the end of that year while workmen were still at the site - with the Kings spending the first few weeks in their new house without electricity! With the building of the Karitane Products Society factory, which produced formulas to 'humanise' cow milk for babies, the construction of the house, and excavation of the surrounding land complete, King took on a team of gardeners, including his head gardener Daniel Russell, and began developing a spectacular garden which he 'planned, designed and personally supervised', and featured an intricate walkway system, brickwork and hundred of varieties of imported and locally-sourced exotic plants. The garden, which featured what was said to be the finest Rhododendron dell in the southern hemisphere, did not have a set plan or design, rather 'any planning was in the mind of Truby King and then talked over with [the] permanent gardener, Mr Russell... like topsy the garden just grew'. Despite this, the overall design of the garden, and also the house and 'model' factory illustrated King's interest in, and his ideas about, gardening and plant husbandry and the relationship between the lived environment and individual psychology (or pathology) that were developed during his time in charge of the Seacliffe asylum and which were later crystallised in the ideologies of child welfare and 'mothercraft' that drove the Plunket Society.
Construction of the Karitane Hospital
The connection between the Plunket Society and Mount Melrose was solidified in 1925, when King donated land to the south-east of the house, which had a tennis court on it, for a Karitane Hospital, something conspicuously absent in the capital city. Subscriptions were raised from public donation organised by the Rotary Club, and in 1927 the new 'model' hospital - like the house and factory, designed by Gray Young - was opened by the Duchess of York. Again, King supervised the development of an intricate garden and network of walkways to 'provide an inspiration and incentive which would cause [Plunket Society] delegates from all over New Zealand and from overseas to return to their localities with fresh, stimulating and helpful ideas'.
King's Decline, Death and Burial
Any joy for King during the hospital's construction was beset by the illness that struck Isabella, who had worked closely with King in the development of the Karitane Hospitals. Isabella's death in January 1927 greatly affected King and most commentators agree it was 'the beginning of the end' for him, as mental decline set in and he became increasingly irascible. In 1932 at the annual meeting of the Wellington Plunket Society branch, in what would be one of his final public appearances, King announced that he was gifting his house to Plunket Society. He then shifted into a flat at 42 Sutherland Crescent, before moving back into his former house shortly before his death in February 1938. He was awarded a state funeral, the first private citizen granted such an honour, and buried in a section of his garden at Mount Melrose that had formerly housed a pergola - a burial site that was allowed with special legislation passed in 1936. In 1941, following fundraising by the Plunket Society, and a Government contribution, the Truby King Mausoleum was unveiled by the Governor-General Sir Cyril Newall as a national monument to his life and work. King was joined again with Isabella, whose remains were exhumed from Porirua Cemetery and buried with him.
Administration of King's Estate
King's estate was administered by the Public Trust as he died a bankrupt, having personally financed the publication of his books, spent ₤5,600 on the construction of the house and factory, and thousands of pounds on planting and developing the garden, amongst many other ventures. King was known to be profligate with money, and as Chapman points out, 'how [he] existed in a state of financial disarray speaks volumes for his mana, and for the tolerance of his bankers - [h]e appeared to survive in a constantly mortgaged state.' King's will originally specified that the Plunket Society should receive his house, and that the rest of his chattels and land were to be bequeathed to Mary King. However, this was overruled, and instead an agreement was reached between Mary King, the Public Trustee, and Karitane Products Society (KPS), whereby KPS carried into effect the house, which was then transferred to Plunket Society with a ₤3,000 mortgage. This debt was then to be liquidated by Plunket Society via the regular grants KPS provided them with from the profit of the factory's products. KPS took possession of all the other mortgaged land, and Mary King received most of King's immense library, his diplomas and degrees, pictures and copyright to all his printed works.
Alterations to King's Estate
Despite this, KPS possessed the land in legal terms only, with the hospital still run by Plunket Society, and final decisions about the KPS factory were left to the Plunket Society executive as well. Following King's death, the house was used by Plunket Society and also leased to various tenants, and a number of small modifications and changes were made. Dan Russell, King's head gardener was kept on by Plunket Society, and by the 1940s, at which time the house was commandeered by the Army during World War Two (until 1942), the Garden was in its best condition. However, Russell retired in the 1940s, and from that period on the garden and brickwork around the estate began to suffer from neglect and disrepair. By the 1950s the Tetteroo brothers (Yoop and Jan) had taken over, and attempts to clear the unkempt garden resulted in the loss of most of Truby King's original plantings. Grass was sown and trees were planted in the cleared areas, changing the character of the garden. The driveway rose hedge was removed, as were many plants in the rhododendron dell. This resulted in erosion on the banks around the walkways and so stone walls were constructed around them to try to contain the problem.
The factory continued to produce Kariol, Karil and Karilac, but it also underwent a number of significant renovations. In 1938 the north facing façade and entry hall was removed, and extensions were made to the building and the distinctive Art Deco entrance façade was constructed, while in 1942 air raid shelters were installed in the building. The Karitane Hospital remained little changed until the 1960s when, following an increase in Government funding, a three storey nurses' home was built and opened in 1963.
Impact of Changing Ideologies
The new nurses' extension would mark the final high point in Plunket Society's association with the area as the 1970s became an increasingly tough time for the Society. The changing nature of society meant that Plunket Society nurses, and the wider organisation, were no longer as influential as they had been - King's prescriptive mothercraft ideology seemed increasingly foreign to a new generation of parents. The Society began to suffer serious financial difficulties, as the Karitane hospitals drained money and resources and Government funding began to dry up, with the Wellington hospital alone $70,000 in debt by the late 1970s. In December 1977 the Plunket Society executive passed a motion closing New Zealand's six Karitane hospitals. In July 1978 Wellington's hospital was closed down, and later that year it was put up for sale. The hospital failed to sell, and instead was leased until an eventual buyer was found in 1982. While parts of the estate had been subdivided and sold off, this would mark the beginning of the period when the Plunket Society, and KPS, which was wound down, divested itself of much of the Truby King Estate. In 1988 the KPS factory, and the land and associated buildings were sold. Machinery was removed from the factory and it was leased it as a design studio, and has since been sublet into five individual titles.
Creation of an Historic Reserve
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, and 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 Society's 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, and Lot 3 DP 12692 from G. L. Reeves, to go with a 1975 land purchase, Lot 2 DP43888 from E and K. M. Huxford, with an idea towards redeveloping the overgrown and rundown garden as a 'period piece', and restoring the house, garden and dilapidated brickwork. Public consultation began for the Park's Draft Management Plan, and Council resolved to rezone the newly purchased land from Residential A1 to Open Space D. This was confirmed in 1992, and thus made the land a historic reserve, and part of Wellington's protected town belt. The land was gazetted a Historic Reserve in 1995.
The Draft Management Plan was finally approved in 1993 following extensive research on the area, particularly the garden, and included plans for its reconstruction. The draft management plan stated that 'Council not only recognised the opportunity of extending the town belt but also saw the opportunity of acquiring and reconstructing an important part of the city's heritage.' The Wellington City Council employed a team of gardeners who set to work clearing the property and small scale replanting was begun, along with the removal of some trees and dead wood. In 1994 fireproofing measures were undertaken at the house, and it received new roofing in 2005. The paths and driveways around the house have been regraded and re-asphalted, and the brickwork has also been repaired, using the same bricks as the original, made nearby in Miramar in the 1920s, ensuring a high level of historical authenticity. While progress has been made on restoring the house and garden, the last of the machinery from the factory, in private hands since 1988, has been removed.
Towards the end of the 1990s work and the plans for the house began to stagnate, and redevelopment has not occurred to the scale of what the Draft Management Plan suggested. However recently there have been a number of positive developments that suggest a sound future for the historic reserve. In 2002 the Truby King House and Garden Trust was formed, with its central aims being to conserve, restore and maintain the house and garden; encourage public use of the space; and the organisation of an annual open days at the park. There are also plans afoot for a museum in King's former study in the house. The Wellington City Council has committed to spending money on the house and gardens, and the Park is now firmly ensconced as one of Wellington's botanic reserves.
Truby King has a somewhat mixed reception today - his reputation is not as high as it was when he was alive, and there has been a considerable historical debate and revisionism about the role of Plunket Society in reducing infant mortality, and of King's character and motivations. Despite this, Sir Frederic Truby King was an important and influential historical figure whose life work (some would say obsession) influenced and affected the lives of generations of New Zealanders. Although King's formerly grandiose estate has dwindled, and the hospital and factory has fallen into private hands, there are firm plans in place for the restoration and renovation of the house, and the area maintains high levels of architectural and aesthetic significance, and historical and social value. In Mary King's book on her father she recounts a visit to her father during his last days by George Bernard Shaw, who told her he ' was the greatest man in New Zealand, and should have the most imposing monument New Zealand can build to commemorate him.' The Truby King Historic Area is indeed an imposing memorial, to a historically significant New Zealander.
The Garden was originally planted and developed by Truby King, head gardener Daniel Russell and a team of gardeners in the early 1920s and mid 1930s. Situated on approximately two acres of land that also contains the Truby King mausoleum and house, the hospital, and parts of the factory land, the garden included walls, gates and paths, glasshouses, and many trees along with a significant rhododendron dell.
Like the buildings constructed for King, the layout of the garden, with its paths and walls, is influenced by its geographic location and the natural environment, and has expansive views from multiple elevations over Wellington City, harbour and the surrounding mountains and hills.
The entrance to the house and mausoleum is provided via a long driveway off Manchester Street, that turns off to the right and allows access to the former KPS factory, and branches off to the left, for access to the former Karitane hospital. The main driveway then loops around the main knoll that contains the house and mausoleum. There is a series of secondary pathways within this main loop, with a smaller looping pathway around the mausoleum, and a larger loop around the house, which itself has secondary paths coming off it. On the eastern and southern elevations are brick walls, which include an intricate 'moon-gate' brick entrance at the south-west corner of the house. The pathways and driveway, which was completed following excavation at the site, was most likely designed by Truby King, and the brick walls were constructed to frame the view shafts from the house, as well as providing shelter.
The garden has been modified since the time King lived on the property. However, the basic structure of the garden and paths remains, with the only major additions being the stonewalls constructed in the 1950s. When the Wellington City Council took possession of the site in the early 1990s there was a major stock take and inventory of the garden and brickwork undertaken. A number of significant historical trees were noted, but only four rhododendrons that were probably planted by King remain. At this time the garden was suffering from years of neglect, but since the Wellington City Council took over possession of the land much remedial work has been done, and it has recovered from the neglect it suffered, and is in a good condition - though planting to the degree envisaged in the Conservation and Management Plan has yet to occur.
12th May 2006
Report Written By
Boffa Miskell Partners, 1992
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Boffa Miskell Partners, 1992 (2)
Boffa Miskell Partners, Landscape Inventory and Assessment Report, prepared for the Culture and Recreation Division, Wellington City Council, as part of the Truby King Park Conservation and Management Plan, Wellington, 1992.
Boffa Miskell Partners, 1993 (2)
Truby King Park, Wellington: Conservation and Management Plan, Prepared by Culture and Recreation Division Wellington City Council in association with Boffa Miskell Partners, December 1993
Linda Bryder, A Voice for Mothers: The Plunket Society and Infant Welfare, 1907-2000, Auckland University Press, 2003
RM Burdon, New Zealand Notables. Series 2. Christchurch, 1945
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Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
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Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, Wellington, 1966
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New Zealand Historic Places
New Zealand Historic Places
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New Zealand Journal of History
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A fully referenced version of the registration 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.
Historic Area Place Name
Garden Walls, Gates and Paths, Glasshouses and many trees planted by Sir Truby King
Karitane Maternity Hospital (Former)
Karitane Products Society Building (Former)
Truby King House (Former)
Truby King Mausoleum