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History of the Liverpool Society of Anaesthetists

by: PME Drury


At a meeting of the Anaesthetic Board of the Clinical School of the University of Liverpool, on 24th June 1930, it was resolved to form a Society of Anaesthesia in Liverpool. A meeting was convened via a letter dated 9th July 1930 signed by RJ Minnitt. The first meeting of the Society was held on 16th July 1930 at the Liverpool Medical Institution (LMI) when sixteen people were present. It is clear from JB Hargreaves’ Presidential Address in 1961 that Minnitt was the moving spirit behind the Society’s formation. He became the first Honorary Secretary and remained in office until he became President in 1951. His minutes were always written in impeccable longhand (minutes were first typewritten in 1963).

It has been claimed that the Society was the first Provincial one of its kind. Existing Societies, such as the Section of Anaesthetics at the Royal Society of Medicine (1908), and the Scottish Society of Anaesthetists (1914) are regarded as National Societies.


Objects and Aims

These were to promote fellowship, mutual help, encouragement, co-operation, professional discussion and scientific advances, and to make recommendations for the furtherance of the role of specialist anaesthetists. It should be recalled that there were very few full-time anaesthetists in 1930 (only one in Liverpool). Anaesthesia was almost totally in the hands of general practitioners, who were not represented on Hospital Medical Boards.



This was to consist of the President, Vice-President and three others. The President’s term of office should be two years; the others were to retire after one year but could be re-elected. The four Teaching Hospitals should be represented, and at least one member should be a woman.

The first committee members were AJ O’Reilly, Bennett Jones, PH Gardiner, G Royden-Smith and Christine Hansen. The committee met every two months. For many years, the meetings were in the President’s house, though occasionally at the LMI, and on one occasion on a Crossville bus (hired for a joint Manchester meeting).

It is noteworthy that the addresses of the Presidents in the early years were much closer to the City Centre, eg Pembroke Place, Gambier Terrace, Canning Street.

In 1958 a member from North Wales was proposed, and in 1968 a junior doctor sat on the committee for the first time.



The first President was AJ O’Leary, in office until January 1932. He was then re-elected in January 33, 35, and 37. The minutes state that he would not be re-elected after 1939; he was however then proposed for another two years. He then mysteriously disappeared from contact and played no further part in the Society’s activities. He was reported as alive and well in 1947, but died in 1950.

Meetings resumed in 1942 after a suspension at the outbreak of World War II. There were no subsequent re-elections.

The list of Presidents includes national and international figures such as RJ Minnitt, T Cecil Gray (62-64), G Jackson Rees, JE Riding, JE Utting and Norton Williams.



The membership fee was set at half a guinea at the outset. There was no increase until 1949 when it was put up to 25 shillings. Current membership is £50.

25 people attended the first AGM in January 1931. In 1956 the membership was 86. It was originally confined to those who held appointments in the Liverpool area. This was soon extended to Birkenhead and Southport, and eventually of course to Chester and North Wales.



These were normally at the LMI, except for the occasional demonstration in a hospital theatre. From time to time there were discussions about other venues, usually when the LMI put their charges up, or when a new postgraduate centre opened.

The general pattern was to have an AGM in January and ordinary general meetings in July and October. By 1951/52 the frequency of meetings had increased to five or six per year, with the AGM at the end of the session.

The first joint meeting with the Manchester Medical Society was in 1948, now held annually in Warrington. A prize for Registrar’s papers was introduced in 1955. (Note that the winning paper in 1960 was on the use of halothane with adrenaline in tonsillectomy).

Recent AGM’s have ventured further afield, eg North Wales, the Lake District and Cork, (a joint meeting with the South West of Ireland Society followed by a return visit). One factor in the success of this meeting was that many Irish members had done some of their training in Liverpool.

Proposals for meetings with Provincial Societies other than Manchester have never really taken off.


Content of Meetings

Besides papers from members there has always been a strong tradition of distinguished visiting speakers. These include: AC King (Anaesthetic machines), Ivan Magill (demonstration of blind nasal intubation), HW Featherstone (1st President of the newly formed Association of Anaesthetists), Professor RE Kelly (Surgery, Liverpool, technique of insufflation anaesthesia), Langton Hewer (Editor of Recent Advances), RR Macintosh (holder of the 1st chair at Oxford), AD Marston (1st Dean of the Faculty of Anaesthetists), EA Pask (Professor at Newcastle), WW Mushin (Professor at Cardiff), JA Lee (originator of the famous Synopsis), WD Wylie & HC Churchill-Davidson (Textbook), and MD Vickers (Mushin’s successor at Cardiff). They were usually offered Honorary Membership.

Other meeting formats used occasionally were an update on the work of the University Department of Anaesthesia, and a Brains Trust with a panel of four.

Although important advances in anaesthesia were first presented elsewhere they were not neglected by the Society. Obvious examples are Minnitt (Self-administration in Obstetrics), and Gray (Curare). In 1954 JR Esplen spoke about artificial ventilation in polio. He had visited Ibsen’s unit in Copenhagen and had designed the Aintree and Fazakerly Ventilators. HJ Brennan (Manchester) spoke about halothane just after its introduction. TC Gray was unimpressed with halothane (just another smelly agent), and it is recorded that a ‘lively’ discussion ensued.

Developments in the specialty and working conditions are recorded in the minutes. These include the formation of the Association of Anaesthetists (1932), the inception of the DA (1936) the 1st British Chair of Anaesthesia in Oxford (1937), and RJ Minnitt’s delegation to the Goodenough Committee which made recommendations for the future of Medical Schools. The need to improve teaching of medical students is mentioned more than once, and there was a proposal for a postgraduate medical course as early as 1937. The low level of fees was regretted, and emergency duties of Honorary Anaesthetists were discussed.

Entertainment featured occasionally at AGMs, for example a film (Whisky Galore), and a piano recital.

Social niceties were observed. Those present stood in silence to commemorate the deaths of both King George V (1936) and King George VI (1952). Achievements of members, such as RJ Minnitt’s Honorary FRCOG, and TC Gray’s award of the Sims Travelling Fellowship were acknowledged. One committee member was congratulated on his marriage.

Less appropriately, from a contemporary point of view, was the expression of thanks for a member who had arranged refreshments (not at the LMI), these included cigarettes.

Last updated: 9 November, 2011 LSA