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Martha King

Botanical artist (1802/1803−1897)

New Zealand’s Government-sponsored botanical volumes of the mid 1800s  showcased the work of professional male botanists. Yet when the Wellington Horticulture and Botanical Society commissioned two sets of drawings of “the most interesting indigenous botanical specimens”1 in 1842, it was artist Martha King who got the job.

King is known as New Zealand’s first resident artist, arriving on board the London in 1840, then settling in Whanganui where she and her sister set up the town’s first school.

King’s work, here showing fruiting titoki, "excited universal admiration"2 but was also scientifically accurate and done in the style of scientific illustration.

The first set went to the directors of the New Zealand Company, which was sending settlers to New Zealand – four of the originals featured in Edward Wakefield’s Illustrations to Adventures in New Zealand. The second set was intended for the Horticultural Society of London, but no trace of it can be found.

ImageBranch of titoki tree showing leaves and red and black berries and seeds drawn by Martha King. Source: National Library of New Zealand

References:

1. Mary R. S. Creese and Thomas M. Creese, Ladies in the Laboratory III: South African, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian Women in Science: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Scarecrow Press, 2010), p. 82.

2. Charlotte Macdonald, Merimeri Penfold, and Bridget R. Williams, The Book of New Zealand Women (B. Williams Books, 1991), p. 357.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary