Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History

The Geoffrey Kaye Museum has been around since about 1935. It began as the personal collection of Dr Geoffrey Kaye, a Melbourne anaesthetist. He collected, traded and purchased objects he thought were important to the history of anaesthesia practice, as well as cutting some in half to reveal the inner workings of the equipment. He used these as teaching objects for medical students.

The museum has changed a lot since 1935. It has been relocated a number of times, shared between the Australian Society of Anaesthetists, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the University of Melbourne. Today the museum is located in the beautiful heritage-listed Ulimaroa, a historic house on St Kilda Road, Melbourne, which was built as a family home in 1889 – 90. In 1992 it was purchased by the then Faculty of Anaesthetists at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, as a site for the newly formed Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists. The museum was relocated for a final time when the college opened.

Built in the Victorian Italianate style, Ulimaroa is an outstanding example of Melbourne boom time architecture. It also one of the few buildings of its era still standing, where once they would have graced both sides of the boulevard along the 5 or 6 kilometres into the city. The house provides a wonderful environment for a museum but also manages to find its way into the storytelling, particularly its unusual name, and that a single family owned and lived in it for 70 years.

The museum is small, occupying only one room within the large historic house. There are approximately 250 objects on display, from a collection numbering over 8000. Every year one area of the exhibition space gets changed out, allowing for new objects to be put on display, and for new stories to be told. All visitors are given a guided tour of the museum, and the tour takes between 60 – 90 minutes. The history of anaesthesia is a rich one full of incredible tales.

The Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History uses its location and collection to tell the story of the first successful public demonstration of ether as anaesthesia in 1846. It also explores various themes associated with its improvement and professionalisation over the following 170+ years, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.


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Monica Cronin