Dr Gilbert Brown

Personal Details

Gilbert Brown

14/08/1883 - 06/01/1960

Place of birth: Wigan, Lancashire

Nationality: Australian

CRN: 715506

Education and qualifications

General education Wigan Grammar School, then Waterloo High School, Blundelsands, Merseyside; Liverpool University, captain of Rugby football.
Primary medical qualification(s) MB ChB Liverpool 1908
Initial Fellowship and type FFARCS by Election
Year of Fellowship 1949


Professional life and career

Postgraduate career

Undertook house appointments at Liverpool’s Royal Infirmary (1908-9), Hospital for Women (1909) and Children’s Hospital (1911) before travelling widely as a ship’s surgeon. A reconnaissance of Australia in 1912 resulted in a decision to take up general practice in rural South Australia, acting also as travelling surgeon to three practices with his wife as the anaesthetist.

His medical neighbours had enlisted early in WW1 so he was left to cover three practices until 1918 when he had only reached Durban before the Armistice was signed, but had to deal with an influenza-stricken troopship on the way home.

He moved to an urban practice in the Adelaide suburbs in 1919, and an appointment to the Repatriation Hospital in 1920 started his serious involvement with anaesthesia. He was Senior Honorary Anaesthetist to the Royal Adelaide Hospital from 1921 until 1946, with appointments at other hospitals including the Children’s, and was responsible for instruction of both medical and dental students during this time. Too old for service during WW2 he again did a huge amount of work on the home front, and finally retired in 1954.

Professional interests and activities

Brown’s interest in anaesthesia started early, and he had published several papers before leaving Liverpool. For his time and place he made significant contributions to clinical research, notably starting to review anaesthetic fatalities in Adelaide, and was a pioneer of the use of visual aids in teaching.

He published widely, this gaining him international notice for he was elected an Honorary Vice-President of the IARS in 1928 and Vice President ‘in absentia’ of the BMA’s Centenary Congress in 1932. In his area he was often the pioneer of new techniques and, perhaps uniquely, kept a record of every anaesthetic he had given in both public and private practice, records of 20,405 anaesthetics given in 1920-54 are now bound in 70 volumes and stored in the State Library of South Australia, what must be a fascinating archive.

He also made major contributions to the organisations of the specialty in Australia. In 1930 he led the formation of an anaesthetic section of the South Australian Branch of the BMA and made great contributions to the formation of the Australian Society, serving as its first President from 1934-9 and seeing it through difficult times.

His work is commemorated by awards given by both the Society and the Australasian College, and he received several notable awards himself: DA(RCP&S), 1936; Embley Memorial Lecture, Melbourne, 1939; Insignia of Serving Brother, Order of St John of Jerusalem, 1953; and a CBE in 1953, the first Australian anaesthetist to be so honoured.

Other biographical information

Brown was known as an excellent host who liked good food and wine. He retained an interest in Rugby, enjoyed “bad golf” and detective novels (which he called “bloods”), and was described as the father-confessor of Australian anaesthesia.

Author and Sources

Author: Prof Tony Wildsmith

Sources and any other comments: Biographies by Kaye G (BJA 1950; 22: 43-52) & Steven IM (A&IC 2005; 33 Suppl1: 29-32), and career notes kindly provided by the Australian Society. I would thank Monica Cronin, Curator of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of the Australasian College for her advice on a number of aspects.