Mr. Bligh’s lecture in the Wellington Town Hall on 1 July, 1906 drew together some quite important people. Lord Plunket introduced Mr. Bligh and, as we know, Dr. King was there too. Shortly after this lecture Dr. King would found a childcare movement that would become known as Plunket.
Lord and Lady Plunket became Governors of New Zealand in 1904, replacing Lord Ranfurly. By August of 1904 Lady Plunket was giving interviews. She was reasonably pleased with New Zealand. Wellington was quite nice, but one thing displeased her about the city: “It does seem to me a pity that one should see troops of young girls – girls of 14 or 15 – parading the streets, apparently released from parental control.” There was a distinct lack of respect being shown from the young girl to the married lady:
I notice it here even more than in England. Girls do not dream of rising on the entrance of married ladies, and will even allow their mothers to get up and come to them on little trifles, instead of instantly rising and going to her.
The cheek. Lord and Lady Plunket had two young daughters and a son. Perhaps this gave them the feeling that they should make pronouncements about childcare.
Lady Plunket, Alexander Turnbull Library
At the time of the lecture on impurity Truby King had been the Medical Superintendent at the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum for eighteen years. Seacliff was the largest mental institution in New Zealand with 500 patients and 50 staff. Dr. King introduced a variety of measures that seem useful and humane. He was an advocate of fresh air, exercise and good nutrition. Curiously, despite all of his reforms Seacliff had the lowest cure rate of all the asylums in New Zealand at that time.
The most recent Truby King biography In a Strange Garden gives a list of the reasons for internment in the asylum in 1905. In that year there were five people committed for masturbation, four for childbearing, two for adolescence and two for puberty (are these different?). There was also a solitary chap who was in for “worry”. The largest groups were classified as congenital, epileptic, alcoholic or senile.
Seacliff, Alexander Turnbull Library
The thing that was really going to push Dr. King towards childcare and away from mental health was his interest in gardening. An interest that had seen him turn Seacliff into a productive farm supplying the asylum and other institutions in the area with fresh produce on a weekly basis.