Truby King’s Plunket helped save Kiwi kids
The man who founded the Plunket Society nearly died before his first birthday.
Evacuated during the Taranaki Wars of the 1860s Truby King fell sick and his doctor fed him arsenic and mercury to try and cure him.
He survived eight doses of the poison, but his health was never good.
It was in 1907 when he was working at the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum that he founded the Plunket Society.
His vision was to help mothers and save the babies who were dying from malnutrition and disease and he firmly believed nutrition and infant care were the way to do so.
The revelation came after he took in his first baby, a young Maori baby boy Tomas Mutu Ellison from Puketeraki Hill in Canterbury.
It was 1906 when, upon visiting the family on his way home, Truby King suggested he take the young sick infant with him to ‘build him up a bit’.
Shortly afterward King called a public meeting and succeeded in winning the support of influential Dunedin women.
They pledged to form a society to carry forward the vision for a new health regime based on the support and education of mothers.
The society, which came to be known as the Plunket Society
On Facebook Sandy Blakemore said her children went to Plunket in Cannons Creek andWaitangirua and 45 years later she still had their Plunket books. Annie Ferguson took her sons to Linden Plunket rooms where she said Sister Vera Balancewas the amazing ‘plunkie.’
after Lady Victoria Plunket, the wife of the Governor and a firm supporter, spread rapidly through the country.
Eight months later, the Karitane Home for Babies opened in Dunedin.
It took babies and children under two years who were not treated under the general hospital system.
By 1909 branches of the Plunket Society had been formed in all four main centres.
In 1912, after a lecture tour by King, a further 60 branches were formed, each employing a Plunket Nurse.
Mothers were educated in practices of ‘domestic hygiene’ and ‘mothercraft’ based on King’s ideology, which stressed regularity of feeding, sleeping and bowel habits.
The Plunket philosophy became parenting lore in New Zealand, and within three decades it was credited with giving this country the lowest infant mortality rate in the world.
Plunket Karitane Hospitals were the first of their kind and soon spread rapidly around the country.
Sir Truby King received a knighthood for his outstanding contribution to society in 1925.
He died in Wellington in 1938 and was the first private citizen to be given a state funeral.
Sir Truby King’s legacy lives on in Plunket today, even though the strict regime of many of his original teachings do not.
The formal advice from Plunket nurses of old has been replaced by a flexible care and support for parents and their children.
Taken in 1957, featuring little John Patrick Kelliher, only son of Mr and Mrs P Kelliher being weighed. The laughing 19-week-old boy is being watched by his mother and Plunket nurse, Miss MC Smart.