Martha King

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Martha King
Died (aged 94)
New Plymouth, New Zealand
ResidenceNew Zealand
Known forBotanical Art

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.[1][2]


The taua, a large forest-tree, drawn by King in 1842

Martha King was born in Ireland.[2] 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.[3]

From Wellington, the Kings sailed to Wanganui on board the Elizabeth, arriving on 27 February 1841, and became foundation settlers of the new town. They had purchased a section of the land acquired by Colonel William Wakefield for the New Zealand Company.[2] Samuel King built two houses, and Martha King and her sister opened Wanganui's first school soon afterward. One source claims the school was popular, with the sisters balancing discipline and kindness well.[1]

In December 1847, the King family moved to New Plymouth, sailing on board the Ralph Bernal.[2] King opened a school with her sister, Maria, and her sister-in-law, Mary Jane King, 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.[2]

King died at her New Plymouth home on 31 May 1897, aged 94 years.[3][4]


A watercolour of New Zealand Rata by Martha King (1842)
A watercolour of New Zealand rata by King, dated 1842

King was one of the early British and Irish settlers who turned to botanical illustration to "eke out a livelihood in rough conditions".[5]

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.[3][6] Exactly why King was chosen for this commission is unknown.[7] The first set of 40 watercolours was completed by January 1843, reaching the New Zealand Company in London in September 1843; it was acquired by the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1981.[7] The second set has disappeared without trace.[3]

In 1845, four of King's lithographs appeared in Edward Jerningham Wakefield's Illustrations to Adventures in New Zealand.[8]

Apart from the botanical watercolours, all that remains of King's work are 16 pencil sketches depicting scenes of Wellington, Wanganui and New Plymouth, dated between 1841 and 1859.[3] Although King later exhibited at the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, no other examples of her work are known to have survived.[7]


  1. ^ a b Sampson, F. Bruce (1985). Early New Zealand Botanical Art. Auckland: Reed Methuen. p. 83.
  2. ^ a b c d e Long, Moira M. "Martha King". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Dawson, Bee (1999). Lady painters: the flower painters of early New Zealand. Auckland: Viking. pp. 13–27. ISBN 0670886513.
  4. ^ "Death". Taranaki Herald. 1 June 1897. p. 1. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  5. ^ Creese, Mary R. S.; Creese, Thomas M. (2010). Ladies in the laboratory III: South African, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian women in science: nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: a survey of their contributions. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 122. ISBN 0810872897. OCLC 659564120.
  6. ^ "Martha King". Royal Society Te Apārangi. 2017. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Brownsey, Patrick; Eagle, Audrey (2013). The essential Audrey Eagle. Wellington: Te Papa Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 9781877385902.
  8. ^ Dictionary of women artists. Gaze, Delia. London: Fitzroy Dearborn. 1997. p. 125. ISBN 1884964214. OCLC 37693713.CS1 maint: others (link)