Over the past twenty days I have been interning at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History. I would firstly like to thank everyone who I have met along the way, especially my supervisor Monica Cronin. It has been an amazing experience and I am so excited to share what I’ve been working on!
To provide a bit of context, the Geoffrey Kaye Museum is located on St Kilda Road in Melbourne. It’s one of only a handful of anaesthetic museums around the world so we are very lucky to have it here in Australia. I find it a particularly fascinating museum because it combines medical and social history. So if you are like me and struggle to even pronounce what is written on some medications, it doesn’t matter. There is something in it for everyone.
My role over the past twenty days has been to familiarize myself with the forty Foundation Fellows. These were the original members of the Faculty of Anaesthetists, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Many of them have fascinating stories and I frequently found myself comparing my life to theirs and feeling incredibly inadequate.
To start the project, I digitized all forty ‘Exordium’, acceptance of nomination to the Faculty, forms. Once all forty had been completed I set my sights on digging into some research. For about 70% of them there was a lot of fantastic information available on the internet. War records especially shed so much light on the lives of these individuals. I was also able to access the archives of the College and scan what material I could find.
After completing the research, my next task was to find photographs and objects in the collection for each Fellow. The final step was to write a biography on each Fellow including their basic information, a longer biography and their photographs/objects. As this was a lengthy process I completed, to the best of my ability, around eighteen of the biographies.
That’s basically what I’ve been up to in the museum. Thrown in along the way was learning a bit of preventative conservation and how to properly scan slides and photographs. Overall, I gained an insight into the functioning of a small museum, I most definitely developed a range of skills across heaps of areas and I had way too much fun doing all of the above.
Taking my personal favourite anaesthetist, Dr Mary Burnell, out of the picture, it is impossible to say who I enjoyed researching the most. Burnell was just the most amazing ahead-of-her-times kind of woman. She was the first female everything to do with anaesthetics and clearly loved her job. I also quite enjoyed researching Dr Lucy MacMahon whose career could be traced through the social pages of the newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s. If there was a party she didn’t attend during that period it simply did not exist.
They all had their interesting points of information and little quirks I grew to appreciate. It is unbelievably fun poking your head into the past and listening in. The fact that this information will be available for the wider public to see makes it that much better.
I can’t wait for everyone to meet the forty Foundation Fellows (especially Burnell). Some of them you will seriously want to thank for transforming how anaesthetics have been administered. I’m sure next time I have an operation all of this will be comforting to know.
A huge thank you again to everyone at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum!
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