Dr Norman Reynolds James

Personal Details

Dr Norman Reynolds James

12/07/1908 to 11/05/1987

Place of birth: Melbourne

Nationality: Australian (also American?)

CRN: 558929

Education and qualifications

General education

Geelong Grammar School; Melbourne University; London Hospital Medical College; see below for details of undergraduate training.

Primary medical qualification(s)

LRCP&SEd, 1936

Initial Fellowship and type

FFARCS by Election

Year of Fellowship


Other qualification(s)

DA(RCP&S), 1938

Professional life and career

Postgraduate career

James seems to have specialised in anaesthesia straight after qualifying, obtaining the DA two years later, and is known to have worked in hospitals in Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton. In 1940 he became Junior Assistant to Macintosh in Oxford, and at the end of 1941 joined London’s Emergency Medical Service at the West Middlesex Hospital. After the war, working his passage as a ship’s doctor, he returned to Melbourne, primarily for family business reasons, but quickly established an anaesthetic practice which soon led to him being recruited to direct the department at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. In 1960 he undertook a sabbatical year as visiting professor in Dallas and, attracted by the retirement benefits, returned permanently in 1964 to a non-clinical associate professor post, one he held until retirement in 1975.

Professional interests and activities

Even before he reached Oxford James had developed a major interest in regional anaesthesia, and this continued in London, one visitor describing him as ‘England’s foremost exponent’ for his work on its use in upper abdominal surgery. In Melbourne, as organizer and leader, he was a major influence, notably in regard to ‘training’ issues: he instituted a diploma course and became embroiled in a public controversy on the competence of some who administered anaesthetics in Australia at that time. Influenced by the workshop of the NDA he was responsible for technical innovations including a piped oxygen supply for the hospital, a portable resuscitator for victims of drowning and an early mechanical lung ventilator for use during anaesthesia with neuromuscular blockade. He also obtained space to open the first recovery area in Australia. His duties in Dallas were primarily related to teaching, and he developed an anaesthetised dog model to allow students to practice a wide range of practical procedures. As a teacher he was noted for his aphorisms such as: “You should kneel to do a spinal in order to be in the correct position to ask for divine assistance. When your knees get tired you have poked long enough”!

Other biographical information

While in the UK, James met and married Harriet Maude Morris, a nurse, and they had four children, one of whom (Pietro) became an anesthesiologist in Montana. The move to Texas was permanent, and after retirement he lived on a ‘hobby’ farm.

Author and Sources

Author: Prof Tony Wildsmith

Sources and any other comments: Giesecke AH. Norman R James FFARACS, a pioneer of high quality anaesthesia in Australia. Anaes & IC 2005; 33 Supp 1: 21-8. See also Beinhart J 1987. A History of the Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics in Oxford 1937-1987. Oxford: OUP. Because James obtained his primary medical qualification from the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges it has been assumed that he trained in Scotland, but this is not so. He attended classes in Melbourne for three years, and then undertook attachments at the London Hospital and associated institutions in London, only taking his clinical examinations in Edinburgh. I thank Carol Que (Alumni Relations, University of Melbourne) and Marianne Smith (Librarian, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh) for providing copies of the relevant records.