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Geoffrey Alfred Kaye (1903–1986)

by Ray Marginson

This article was published:

Geoffrey Alfred Kaye (1903-1986), anaesthetist, was born on 9 April 1903 at St Kilda, Melbourne, fourth child of Prussian-born Alfred Kornblum, merchant, and his Victorian-born wife Rosetta, née Levinson. Geoffrey was educated in England at Gresham’s School, Holt, Norfolk, and— adopting the surname Kaye—studied at the University of Melbourne (MB, 1926; BS, 1927; MD, 1929). By 1927, as a resident medical officer at the Alfred Hospital, he had decided to specialise in the then relatively undeveloped field of anaesthetics. While presenting a paper at the Australasian Medical Congress in Sydney in 1929, he met Dr Francis McMeckan, one of the pioneers of anaesthetics in the United States of America, who encouraged him to pursue further studies overseas. Appointed an honorary anaesthetist at the Alfred Hospital in 1930, Kaye then travelled to the United Kingdom, Germany and North America, expanding his knowledge of new research, apparatus and techniques and developing enduring personal networks.

On his return in 1931, Kaye strove to raise the standing and standards of anaesthetics in Australia. He edited Practical Anaesthesia (1932), the first Australian textbook on the subject, written with colleagues at the Alfred Hospital and published by its Baker Medical Research Institute. Through travel, lectures and demonstrations he assisted in the professional co-ordination of his speciality. In 1934 the Australian Society of Anaesthetics was established, largely as a result of his lobbying; one of its seven founders, he edited its newsletter and served as its first secretary (1934-46). A part-time lecturer (1938-57) in anaesthetics at the University of Melbourne, in 1939 he completed a diploma in the subject, jointly awarded by the Royal colleges of Surgeons, England, and of Physicians, London.

From 1937 Kaye worked on the design and manufacture of anaesthetic equipment for the Australian Military Forces. Giving his religion as Jewish, on 13 October 1939 he was appointed a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. While serving (1940-42) in the Middle East with the 2/2nd Australian General Hospital he was appointed adviser in anaesthetics to the AIF, in which role he ensured the availability of workshops and trained personnel to maintain and repair the equipment. He returned to Australia and on 24 October 1943 transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

From his English education and natural inclination Kaye was formal in style. Tall, lean and idealistic, he was a man of incisive mind and complex personality: reserved, demanding, sometimes intemperate and unforgiving but capable on closer acquaintance of generosity and warmth. He was elected an honorary life member of the ASA in 1944. From 1945 he added to his duties lecturing at the College of Dentistry and serving as honorary anaesthetist to the Dental Hospital. He collaborated with Robert Orton and Douglas Renton in Anaesthetic Methods (1946) and in 1949 was elected a fellow of the faculty of anaesthetics, Royal College of Surgeons. Still seeking the full national, professional representation of anaesthetics, he vigorously opposed moves to amalgamate the ASA within the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, but acquiesced in election as a foundation fellow of the RACS’s faculty of anaesthetics in 1952.

Kaye’s particular interest in the design and production of anaesthetic equipment was increasingly evident in the development, under his curatorship (1939-55), of a museum for the ASA. He envisaged the collection not merely as having historical value but as an integral dimension of the society’s teaching role. In 1958 the museum was named in his honour, becoming a lasting monument to his work. He welcomed new technology, later even selling a treasured eighteenth-century coffee pot to purchase a computer.

Withdrawing from practice and teaching, in 1957 Kaye became a consulting anaesthetist at the Alfred. He continued research in his own laboratory and published papers on a wide range of topics. Among the most unusual works was `Anaesthesia for Snakes’ (1952), which summarised his observations while engaged by the Melbourne zoo to assist in making plaster replicas of their more dangerous reptiles. With interests extending well beyond his profession, he wrote cogently and with considerable expertise on topics as diverse as religion in Ancient Egypt and Chinese monochromes. Aesthetically attracted to the Georgian period, he acquired an extensive collection of furniture, decorative art and glassware, much of which he donated to the University of Melbourne in 1980 and 1986.

Rarely separated from his typewriter, Kaye maintained a voluminous correspondence with colleagues at home and abroad. He was hard to know but worth the effort. In 1974 he received the Orton medal from the faculty of anaesthetics, which elected him an honorary fellow in 1978. On the fiftieth anniversary in 1984 of the founding of the ASA, he addressed an international meeting of anaesthetists at the Sydney Opera House. Geoffrey Kaye never married. He died on 28 October 1986 at East Melbourne and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Wilson, Fifty Years (1987)
  • G. Wilson, One Grand Chain (1996)
  • Alfred Hospital: Faces and Places (1996)
  • B. Baker, Australia’s First Anaesthetic Department (2005)
  • Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, vol 15, no 1, 1987, p 107, vol 17, no 2, 1989, p 213.

Citation details

Ray Marginson, 'Kaye, Geoffrey Alfred (1903–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kornblum, Geoffrey

9 April, 1903
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


28 October, 1986 (aged 83)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.