Dr Geoffrey Kaye

Personal Details

Dr Geoffrey Kaye

Place of birth: Melbourne, Australia

Nationality: Australian

CRN: 715486

Previous/other family name: Born Geoffrey Kornblum, but changed to Kaye at an early (?) age.

Education and qualifications

General education

The family moved to England when he was very young and Kaye went to Peterborough Lodge (now Downsend) School, Hampstead and then Gresham’s School, Holt, Norfolk, but his final year of secondary education was in back in Melbourne. He attended Medical School there, winning a number of awards during the course and producing a wide range of non-medical literary works.

Primary medical qualification(s)

MB BS, University of Melbourne, 1926.

Initial Fellowship and type

Honorary FFARCS

Year of Fellowship



Other qualification(s)

MD, Melbourne, 1929; DA, RCP & S, 1939; Foundation FFA, RACS, 1952; FFA(Hon), RACS, 1973.

Professional life and career

Postgraduate career

After qualification Kaye was Resident Medical Officer at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, becoming interested in research at an early stage and finding, during an assignment, that he liked anaesthesia! In 1928 he took on two honorary positions, research assistant at the Baker Insitute of Medical Research and Clinical Assistant at the Alfred Hospital, working on the chemical reactions of urine, the subject of his MD. It was at this time that Kaye first became involved in anaesthetic mortality studies (later he was to review the outcome of nearly 400,000 anaesthetics) as the junior member of a group with Rupert Hornabrook and Fred Green. In 1929, Green was to present a paper at the Australasian Medical Congress, but was taken ill and Kaye went instead. At the conference he met Francis McMechan, Secretary General of the IARS, who introduced him to the scientific approach to anaesthesia and encouraged him to extend a planned trip to Europe to include North America as well.

Kaye met just about everybody who was anybody in anaesthesia at the time, but a visit to McKesson in Ohio was crucial because it started his interest in engineering and equipment. Returning to his posts in Melbourne in 1931 he not only became involved in both educational and the organisations of the specialty, but also established, in his own home, an engineering workshop where he did much development work. In 1937 he was appointed as lecturer and instructor in anaesthesia to both medical and dental schools of the University of Melbourne, and in 1938 made another tour of Europe and North America. Even before WW2 started, Kaye had begun devising modern anaesthetic equipment for the Australian Forces, and he was commissioned into the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1939. Wherever he was posted he set up workshops, trained staff to repair equipment, instituted educational programmes for clinicians, and undertook ‘outcomes’ research.

Transferred to the reserves in 1943 he returned to his posts in Melbourne, but continued with both engineering and educational projects for the army. After the war he was very active in promoting the specialty through training (undertaking another overseas tour in 1949, mainly to review training elsewhere) and developing its organisations. With the establishment of the Melbourne DA, and to ensure that all medical undergraduates received a grounding in anaesthesia, Kaye set up (within the department of physiology) a teaching department of two rooms, one for lectures and the other to display equipment, the beginnings of the museum now named after him. Unfortunately, his idealistic approach did not match that of others and, disenchanted, he gave up clinical anaesthesia in 1955. Between then and 1965 he was a member of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Melbourne University, designing monitoring equipment and teaching devices, before working for CIG, a company with medical equipment interests, until retirement.

Professional interests and activities

The early anaesthetic organisations in Australia were State sections of the BMA, but Kaye was the driving force in the formation of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists, becoming its first Secretary in 1934. He was instrumental in establishing DA examinations and, with the introduction of one by the University of Melbourne in 1946, he resigned from the ASA Secretary role to concentrate on teaching, but returned to the post in 1950. That year saw the first moves in the formation of a Faculty of Anaesthetists in the RACS, although it seems Kaye would have preferred a College, and the desire to establish a centre of excellence led him to personally fund a headquarters building for the ASA in Melbourne.

The lack of enthusiasm for this project displayed by others and their casual attitude to what he had provided were major factors in his withdrawal from anaesthesia in 1955. Kaye published widely throughout his career, and was closely involved in the production of the first two Australian anaesthetic books. The range of his subjects was wide, but the major feature throughout was equipment, and in parallel to this interest he became a serious collector, and not only of anaesthetic equipment, but antiques as well, these also being the subjects of his literary output. All of his collections were eventually donated to relevant organisations, with his anaesthetic equipment forming a key part of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists in Melbourne.

Other biographical information

Kaye came of a wealthy family, and for much of his life this enabled him to pursue his enthusiasms with little concern for the need to earn a living. Failure to realise that others had to balance idealism with hard economics was behind the disenchantment with anaesthesia that developed in 1955. As well as being a keen collector he was a linguist, a ‘bon viveur’, and an ardent correspondent with those who he had met on his travels around the world.

Author and Sources

Author: Prof Tony Wildsmith

Sources and any other comments: The definitive biography of Kaye was written (see Anaesth Intensive Care 2007; 35: 3-10) by Dr Rod Westhorpe, and I thank him for his assistance with this summary. Gwen Wilson’s “One Grand Chain”, a history of anaesthesia in Australia, puts Kaye’s contributions into the broader context, and also provides the definitive account of the strength (and dangers) of his Martini cocktails!