The Australian Society of Anaesthetists was established in 1934, which may have led Dr Jim Church of New Plymouth to write to leading anaesthetists in our main centres, in 1939, suggesting the formation of a similar society in New Zealand. Regrettably, we do not have a copy of his original letter, but the replies from Drs Marion Whyte of Dunedin, Eric Anson of Wellington, and F. W. Fullerton of Auckland indicate they supported the formation of a society.
However, the Second World War, which began on 4 September 1939, was the major stumbling block.
There were no local conferences during the Second World War, which ended in August 1945, but at the BMA Conference in Auckland in 1946 the Section of Anaesthesia was revived, and meetings continued biannually until 1969. However, at that 1946 meeting a group of doctors interested in anaesthesia proposed the formation of a New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists and elected Dr Eric Anson, by then in Auckland, as Chairman, with Drs Alf Slater of Wellington, Tim Taylor of Christchurch, and John Ritchie of Dunedin, to investigate setting up a Society. Throughout 1947 these four created great interest in their colleagues for this project and received advice from Drs Geoffrey Kaye and Bob Orton of Melbourne.
Before the war, it had been envisaged that New Zealand might join Australia’s Society to form an Australasian group, but Kaye did not encourage this; he strongly supported New Zealand having its own society.
Following the work of that interim group, during the BMA Conference in Dunedin, in February 1948, a meeting in John Ritchie’s home unanimously agreed to form a New Zealand Society within the NZ Branch of the BMA. The proposed Constitution and Bylaws were read and approved. These gained approval from the BMA and our Society was formed, with Dr Eric Anson as President, Dr Alan Tennent as Vice President, Dr Alf Slater as Secretary-Treasurer, and four provincial representatives elected by local members in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. In fact, the other committee members turned out to be Drs Jim Church of New Plymouth, D. Brown of Wellington, Charles Morkane of Christchurch, and John Ritchie of Dunedin. The Society’s first Newsletter appeared in March 1948.
We became an incorporated society in 1969, our twenty-first anniversary year, but remained affiliated to the Medial Association. The NZSA had an initial membership of 39, which rose to 64 by the end of 1949. By 1954 we had 100 members, 200 members in 1969, 300 members in 1985 and 322 at the time of our fiftieth anniversary in 1998 (today it is over 750). At the beginning our annual subscription was one guinea which translates to $2.10.
The aims of the Society, stated in the first constitution, remain much the same:
To improve the status of anaesthesia in New Zealand, to promote education in anaesthesia, to facilitate the exchange of ideas between anaesthetists, to encourage research into questions pertaining to anaesthesia and to encourage the publication of articles on anaesthesia.
Dr Basil Hutchinson, Retired Anaesthetist and NZSA Life Member