Martha King (c.1803 – 31 May 1897) was New Zealand's first resident botanical illustrator. She was a prominent figure in early Wanganui and New Plymouth as a founder of schools in both districts. She was a talented gardener and schoolteacher.
|Died||New Plymouth, New Zealand|
|Known for||Botanical Art|
Martha King was born in Ireland. She emigrated to New Zealand in December 1840, arriving at Wellington on board the barque London. She travelled with her eldest sister Maria and her brother Samuel Popham King.
From Wellington, the Kings sailed to Wanganui on board the Elizabeth, arriving on 27 February 1841 and become foundation settlers of the new town. They had purchased a section from the land acquired by Colonel William Wakefield. Samuel built two houses, and King and her sister opened Wanganui's first school in soon afterward. One source claims the school was popular, with the sisters balancing discipline and kindness well.
In December 1847 the King family moved to New Plymouth, sailing on board the Ralph Bernal. King opened a school with her sister, Maria, and her sister-in-law, Mary Jane, while living in New Plymouth. This venue was also used for other functions, such as cultural activities, which reflected the Kings prominent presence in New Plymouth's public life.
King died at her New Plymouth home on 31 May 1897.
King was one of the early British and Irish settlers who turned to botanical illustration to 'eke out a livelihood in rough conditions'.
In September 1842 King was commissioned by the Wellington Horticultural and Botanical Society to prepare two sets of drawings of interesting indigenous botanical specimens, one to be forwarded to the Directors of the New Zealand Company and the other to the London Horticultural Society. Exactly why King was chosen for this commission is unknown. The first set of forty watercolours were completed by January 1843, reaching the New Zealand Company in London in September 1843; it was acquired by the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1981. The second set has disappeared without trace.
In 1845, four of King's lithographs appeared in EJ Wakefield's Illustrations to Adventures in New Zealand.
Apart from the botanical watercolours, all that remains of King's work are sixteen pencil sketches depicting scenes of Wellington, Wanganui and New Plymouth, dated between 1841 and 1859. Although King later exhibited at the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, no other examples of her work have survived.
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- Death, Taranaki Herald, 1 June 1897, p 2
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