Founding of the NZSA
The Australian Society of Anaesthetists was established in 1934, and their first formal meeting was held in 1935, which may have been the stimulus which led Dr Jim Church of New Plymouth to write to leading anaesthetists in our main centres, in 1939, suggesting the formation of a similar society in New Zealand. Regrettably, we do not have a copy of his original letter, but we do have the replies from Drs Marion Whyte of Dunedin, Eric Anson of Wellington and F W Fullerton of Auckland.
All three supported the formation of a society, but the Second World War, which began on 4 September 1939, was the major stumbling block. There had been earlier attempts to raise interest in an anaesthetic society with Eric Anson stating: “Hudson of Auckland is a most important man to write to on this subject. He, as a matter of fact, some years ago approached me to try and start something of the sort in New Zealand but I am afraid I was rather too lazy to do much!”
Fullerton however, wrote: “I am afraid there is no enthusiasm in Auckland. Five or six years ago I called some meetings of the Hospital Anaesthetists, to try to form a society. I got it so far as to appoint officers but I was not appointed an officer myself. Since that night nothing has been heard of the Society and not a single meeting held.” So why didn’t something come of these early Auckland moves? Was there some rivalry between Hudson and Fullerton, or was Eric Anson mixing up Hudson and Fullerton? Perhaps it was just good old New Zealand apathy…who knows?
Two of the replies mention Geoffrey Kaye, so obviously Jim Church’s letter contained reference to this remarkable man, founder and first secretary of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists. Jim must have spoken or corresponded with him about forming a Society. Geoffrey Kaye was later to provide much help and guidance to our founders. The time was right because within the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association, a Section of Anaesthesia was formed in 1930, and a meeting was held at the BMA Conference in 1932 but then appeared to lapse.
Tony Newson believes the great American promoter of anaesthetic societies, Dr Francis McMechan, also had an influence. In 1926, he wrote to the NZ Committee of the Australasian Medical Congress to be held in Dunedin in 1927, suggesting a Section of Anaesthesia be set up, but it was decided in Australia that it was too late to do this, so it was included in the next Congress in Sydney in 1929. McMechan also visited New Zealand at that time and this may well have encouraged the formation of the BMA Anaesthesia Section the following year.
There were no local conferences during the Second World War, which ended in August 1945, but at the BMA Conference in Auckland in 1946 the Section of Anaesthesia was revived and these meetings continued two yearly until 1969. However, at that 1946 meeting a group of doctors interested in anaesthesia proposed the formation of a New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists and elected Dr Eric Anson, by then in Auckland, as Chairman, with Drs Alf Slater of Wellington, Tim Taylor of Christchurch and John Ritchie of Dunedin, to investigate ways and means of setting up such a Society. Throughout 1947 these four created great interest in their colleagues for this project, and received much useful advice from Drs Geoffrey Kaye and Bob Orton of Melbourne.
Before the war, it had been envisaged that New Zealand might join with Australia’s Society to form an Australasian group, but Kaye did not encourage this; he strongly supported New Zealand having its own society. In a long letter to Eric Anson, he wrote: “We come to the question of a New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists. You should certainly have one. You may not be strong enough numerically to be able to compete with, let us say, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (golly what a title!) but you will achieve an end equally important, viz., a stimulus to anaesthetic thought and practice in New Zealand a closer link with organised anaesthesia overseas.”
Following the work of that interim group, during the BMA Conference in Dunedin, in February 1948, a meeting in John Ritchie’s home unanimously agreed to form a New Zealand Society within the NZ Branch of the BMA. The proposed Constitution and Bylaws were read and approved. These gained approval from the BMA and our Society was formed, with Dr Eric Anson as President, Dr Alan Tennent as Vice President, Dr Alf Slater as Secretary-Treasurer, and four provincial representatives elected by local members in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. In fact, the other committee members turned out to be Drs Jim Church of New Plymouth, D Brown of Wellington, Charles Morkane of Christchurch and John Ritchie of Dunedin. The Society’s first Newsletter appeared in March 1948.
We became an incorporated society in 1969, our twenty-first anniversary year, but remained affiliated to the Medial Association. While we were really on our own from that time, we do owe a debt to the NZ Branch of the BMA, which provided administrative and clerical support when our numbers were small. The NZSA had an initial membership of 39, which rose to 64 by the end of 1949. By 1954 we had 100 members, 200 members in 1969, 300 members in 1985 and 322 at the time of our fiftieth anniversary in 1998. At the beginning our annual subscription was One Guinea which translates to $2.10. You all know what the fees are now, but a guinea was a lot of money then!
The aims of the Society, stated in the first constitution, remain much the same:
To improve the status of anaesthesia in New Zealand, to promote education in anaesthesia, to facilitate the exchange of ideas between anaesthetists, to encourage research into questions pertaining to anaesthesia and to encourage the publication of articles on anaesthesia.
Dr Basil Hutchinson, Retired Anaesthetist and NZSA Life Member
Past Presidents of the NZSA
|1964-1965||R.E. Rawstron||Palmerston Nth|
|1970-1971||P.H. Caldwell||Palmerston Nth|
|2002-2003||A.M. Turley||Palmerston Nth|
|2009-2010||N.J.G Waters||Palmerston Nth|