History of anaesthesia
The word anaesthesia is coined from two Greek words, "an" meaning "without" and "aesthesis" meaning "sensation".
Anaethesia refers to the practise of administering medications or gases that block the feeling of pain and other sensations, allowing medical and surgical procedures to be undertaken without causing undue discomfort to the patient.
While many herbs, drugs, gases and vapours have been used to minimise pain, modern anaesthesia is widely accepted to have originated from the work of William Thomas Green Morton, who ushered in a new era of painless surgery with a public demonstration of ether anaesthesia in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 16, 1846.
News of Morton’s demonstration quickly spread around the world. On December 18, the Liverpool Mercury in England reported: “A method of mitigating pain in surgical operations by the inhalation of certain ethers has been discovered in America and it is said that successful experiments have been made."
On December 19, doctors Francis Boott and James Robinson performed a tooth extraction in London and two days later Robert Liston performed an amputation using ether anaesthesia.
For the news to travel to Australia and New Zealand, it had to follow trade routes. In 1846, the journey from England was one of the longest in the world; it was hazardous, uncomfortable and took about four months to complete.
News of Morton’s demonstration eventually arrived in Australia on board an English ship, The Lightning, which docked in Port Adelaide on May 3, 1847. The South Australian published news of ether anaesthesia the following day.
The Mount Stuart Elphinstone arrived in Sydney on April 28, 1847, carrying copies of Bell’s Messenger dated December 21, 1846, which described the Boston anaesthetics and Morton’s apparatus. Extracts from Bell's Messenger were published in the Maitland Mercury on May 8. The Sydney Morning Herald did not publish news of anaesthesia until May 17 after the arrival of two further vessels: The Prince of Wales on the May 10 and the Niagara on May 15.
On June 7, 1847, William Russ Pugh administered ether for surgery and John Belisario performed anaesthesia for dentistry in Sydney. Belisario would go on to administer anaesthetic to 40 patients by June. David John Thomas followed, performing anaesthesia in Melbourne on August 2, 1847, the same day the first advertisement for anaesthesia apparatus appeared in the Australian Medical Journal.
Benjamin Kent followed in Adelaide on September 30, 1847. Both Pugh and Belisario record that their anaesthesia equipment was copied from the sketch of Francis Boott's apparatus from the Illustrated London News of January 9, 1847.
The first news of ether anaesthesia arrived in New Zealand on July 4, 1847, in a consignment of mail from Sydney that had been posted in Britain seven months earlier.
Three days later, the Wellington Independent newspaper published news of the use of ether vapour for painless surgical operations in a brief item written by its editor, Dr I.E. Featherston, a practising physician. A second news item describing the use of ether in Boston appeared in another Wellington newspaper, the New Zealand Spectator and Cook Strait Guardian, following the arrival of the Lady Leigh from Hobart, which brought Hobart newspapers containing British news dated up to January 29, 1847.
Ether was first used in New Zealand on September 27, 1847, when colonial surgeon Dr J.P. Fitzgerald performed a dental extraction on a prisoner at the Wellington jail. While Fitzgerald didn't know it, he was following a tradition in choosing a dental extraction for New Zealand's first trial of ether. The same technique was used by William Morton (Boston, September 30, 1846), James Robinson (London, December 19, 1846) and John Belisario (Sydney, June 7, 1847).
The same day, Fitzgerald performed New Zealand’s first general surgical operation on an anaesthetised patient when he excised a fibrocartilaginous tumour from the shoulder of a mid-aged Maori named Hiangarere at Wellington Colonial Hospital. During both procedures the ether was administered by James Marriott, an optical instrument maker and engraver, using a vapouriser he had designed.
Ether was not used for anaesthetic purposes in Auckland until March 15, 1848, when Walter Lee, a surgeon acting as his own anaesthetist, administered ether using a bladder-type inhaler before amputating a patient's finger.
Anaesthetists originally were members of organisations representing physicians and surgeons, but as anaesthesia developed as a specialist field, so did the need for specific education and qualifications.
In 1952, the Faculty of Anaesthetists was created within the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons with 69 foundation Fellows.
By the time the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) was formed 40 years later, in February 1992, anaesthetists formed Australia's third largest specialist medical group with more than 2100 Fellows and 500 trainees.
ANZCA's objective is to cultivate and maintain the highest principles and standards in the training, practice and ethics of anaesthesia, intensive care, pain medicine and related sciences and branches of medicine. The College is directly responsible for the examination and qualification of anaesthetists and the standards of anaesthesia practice in Australia and New Zealand.
The College has a significant role in the advancement of anaesthesia in south-east Asia and the Pacific, and assists with anaesthesia training in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and other neighbour nations.
The College now has 5000 active Fellows around the world. In Australia, there is more than one anaesthetist for every 7000 people and the proportion is similar in New Zealand. College policy aims for a reasonable ratio of anaesthetists in rural and remote areas, and the College works closely with hospitals and other authorities to encourage this.
There are around 2000 anaesthetists in training in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and the College has some 198 hospitals accredited for training throughout these countries.
Click here to see a timeline showing the history of ANZCA.
The College headquarters building, a gracious two-storey mansion with a distinctive tower and L-shaped verandahs and balconies, is located at the southern end of Melbourne's famous St Kilda Road. Its name, Ulimaroa, is an early 18th century name, possibly of Polynesian origin, for the Australian continent. The College retained the name when it bought the property in 1993.
The completion of ANZCA House, adjacent to Ulimaroa, in 2001 marked a significant milestone in the growth and status of anaesthesia, intensive care and pain medicine in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.
The new building was designed as a partner building to differentiate between the old and new. It provides an architectural backdrop while allowing the mansion to be the "main character" on stage.
The expansion set up the College as an
international centre for the exchange of ideas and information
essential to the continuing improvement of anaesthesia's performance and
As well as providing top quality facilities for conferences, meetings and examinations, ANZCA House enabled a significant expansion of the College library and also holds the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History, an excellent collection of anaesthesia-related artefacts and equipment.
A 200-seat auditorium on two levels has state-of-the-art audio-visual presentation facilities, while a bi-fold wall offers flexibility so the space can be used for industry displays or networking during meetings.
Ulimaroa is listed as being of historical significance by the State Historic Buildings Council.
A booklet about Ulimaroa has been written. To read it, click here.
Andreas Vesalius, on the left of the College arms, was the first person to record the use of artificial ventilation to sustain life. He is holding a bellows to signify this, and looks outwardly to indicate the widespread place of artificial ventilation in anaesthesia and intensive care.
William Harvey, on the right of the College arms, was the first person to record the circulation of blood. He is holding a book displaying a heart to signify this, and is looking towards Vesalius, whose earlier anatomical description had contributed to the discovery. Harvey received his medical education in Italian medical schools of the time.
Vesalius and Harvey represent the heritage of anaethesia based, as it is, on respiratory and cardiovascular physiology, together with anatomy and physiology. Pharmacology is addressed by the botanical specimens shown on the shield.
The supporters stand on land separated by water signifying their two different nations, but also the separation of the new world of Australasia from the old world of Europe, the significance of sea travel in the transmission of anaesthesia around the world and the separation of Australia and New Zealand by sea. The Cootamundra wattle (Acacia baileyana) illustrated on the land where Vesalius stands represents Australia, while the silver fern tree - ponga (Cyathea dealbata) illustrated on the land where Harvey stands represents New Zealand.
The coat of arms
The helmet is affronte, or facing with a closed visor, to indicate readiness for action. The type and position of the helmet is similar to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, and links us with this fraternal organisation. The colours of the College gown are incorporated into the wreath on the helmet and its lambrequin.
The rising sun indicates the place of the College in the east, next to the international date line. The rising sun also links to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, each of which has a similar rising sun. The hand of the carer rising from the Lord's Cloud representing Almighty guidance links to the Parisian medical influence and symbolises the Fellow's hand guided by the Lord in caring for a patient's life.
The hand holds an ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life, linking the major responsibility of College Fellows with the roots of western medicine in Egypt. The snake of Aesculapius entwines the ankh to symbolise the medical links as well as the heritage to Greek medicine.
The chief of the shield contains the Southern Cross indicating the College's position in the southern hemisphere. The five stars are represented, with the number of points representing their brightness.
The lower part of the shield contains the St George Cross indicating the links to the English Faculty (now Royal College of Anaesthetists) and the Christian heritage of the College. The torch of glory indicates the link to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and their motto, Fax mentis incendium gloriae - "The torch of glory inflames (inspires) the mind". The charges in the four quadrants symbolise the plants, which together form the basis for the pharmacology fundamental to anaesthesia and intensive care.
Upper left: Opium poppy flower (Papaver somniferum) signifying analgesia - white to very soft pink with reddish purple blotches on base, large leaves and a stiff hairy blue/grey stem. Upper right: Mandrake plant (Mandragora officinarum) including roots and blue flower signifying sedation and anaesthesia. These charges also symbolise the old world plants. Lower left: Curare vine (Chondrodendron tomentosum) has a brownish shade bark with orange/yellow cross-sectional pith together with a leaf signifying neuromuscular paralysis. Lower right: Cocaine leaf and red fruit (Erythroxylum coca) signifying local anaesthesia. These charges symbolise the new world plants.
Corpus curare spiritumque is translated as "To care for the body and its breath of life" and summarises the main aims of Fellows of the College.
The ANZCA archives document the history and administration of ANZCA and its predecessor, the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, from 1952 until the present. The archives also hold records of the Faculty of Pain Medicine.
The archives include small collections of papers relating to founding educators in anaesthesia training in Australia and are kept as a resource for staff and Fellows of the College. Researchers seeking access should apply in writing to the archivist giving details of their research topic.
Hours of operation: Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9am to 4.30pm.
For further information, please contact archivist:
Phone: +61 3 8517 5342
Founded in 1935 by Dr Geoffrey Kaye (1903-1986), the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History chronicles the history of anaesthesia, intensive care medicine and pain medicine. It is one of the largest and most comprehensive anaesthetic history collections in the world.
Geoffrey Kaye as a young man, water colour by Norma Bull.
ANZCA Archive Collection.
Through its many activities, the museum explores the important impact the specialty of anaesthesia has had on society and its continuing contribution to the advancement of medicine.
The nucleus of the collection was amassed by Dr Kaye between 1935 and 1955 and includes rare items dating back to 1846. Items include a 1870s nitrous oxide gasometer and rare research material, such as Dr Joseph Clover’s 1846-1853 Lecture and Case Notes.
Dr Kaye's vision was: "To cultivate an interest in anaesthesia and promote the development of the practice among students, physicians and the general public through the display and use of a wide variety of anaesthetic equipment."
A pioneering Melbourne anaesthetist, Dr Kaye promoted the development of research and teaching in anaesthesia in the 1930s and 1940s. He forged strong links with prominent international anaesthetists in the emerging specialty, establishing a scientific basis for a specialty that had hitherto been entirely practical.
The collection continues to grow and now contains over 8000 items gathered from companies, hospitals, donations and exchanged with other anaesthetic collections. Click here to see items in the museum's collection or click here to see items from the recent exhibition All in a Day's Work.
Visitors can see the collection during business hours and may arrange a guided tour by contacting the curator.
Phone: +61 (3) 8517 5309