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The Nagin Parbhoo History of Anaesthesia Museum

by Dr. Peter Gordon (Honorary Curator, Emeritus Professor, UCT)

The Nagin Parbhoo History of Anaesthesia Museum is housed in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine situated in the New Groote Schuur Hospital in Observatory. Artefacts in the museum reveal the long and often painful change in anaesthesia from an art in the early 1900s to a science in the post Second World War era.

Surgery by Dorothy Kay

Visitors are introduced to the museum by a large high-resolution copy of the painting Surgery by Dorothy Kay depicting a female patient undergoing surgery in Port Elizabeth in 1937. In the absence of monitoring equipment prevalent in a modern operating theatre the onlooker is captivated by the central figure of the anaesthetist using his senses to monitor the state of the patient. The patient is being anaesthetised by chloroform or ether via a Shipway apparatus and a Schimmelbusch mask covered by cloth.

Early history of anaesthesia

The public demonstration by Boston dentist WJG Morton in October 1846 that ether could annul the pain of surgery was a turning point in medicine. The news spread rapidly around the world. In April 1847 ether was being used in Cape Town for dental extractions and in June 1847 Dr William Guybon Atherstone, manufactured ether, designed a inhaler, and administered ether for the mid-thigh amputation of a patient’s leg in Grahamstown. World Anaesthesia Day is celebrated annually on the 16th October. Facsimiles of both Morton’s and Atherstone’s inhaler are displayed in the museum.

Early South African anaesthetists travelled overseas for training and brought back a variety of anaesthetic equipment much of which survived and is on display in the museum. Early artifacts include a variety of wire masks that were covered with gauze over which ether or chloroform was dropped to provide anaesthesia,  a Clover’s portable regulating ether inhaler manufactured in 1877, and an Esmarch’s chloroform inhaler designed in 1867 for use on the battlefield, and was that was still used during the Second World War.

The University of Cape Town’s Medical School, South Africa’s first, started teaching anaesthesia to medical students in their fourth year of study at the New Somerset Hospital in 1921. United Kingdom trained Dr G.W. Bampfylde Daniell was appointed as the Universities first lecturer in anaesthetics. Several items belonging to Daniell are owned by the museum. As in the United Kingdom, the majority of doctors practicing anesthesia in state hospitals at that time were employed as honorary anesthetists receiving remuneration from the surgeon employing them in private practice.

Dr George W Bampfylde Daniell

Anaesthetics at UCT

In 1921 New Zealand born and Edinburgh trained, Dr Royden Muir emigrated to Cape Town and joined Dr Daniell in practice and as a part-time lecturer in anaesthesia. He brought with him the so-called Pinson “ether bomb” and a rare, portable Boyles anaesthetic machine designed in 1917 by English anaesthetist Dr Henry Boyle. Both items are on display. The collection traces the development of subsequent Boyles machines that gradually allowed more accurate control of gas flows and pressure from the gas cylinders.

A Rapidly Expanding Field

In the 1930s, several South African anaesthetists including Muir travelled to the UK and USA to learn from leaders in the rapidly expanding field. They brought back new ideas on the training of anaesthetists, as well as modern equipment, that included apparatus to administer the new, explosive anaesthetic, agent cyclopropane.  Several items from this era are on display. They include the “Muir Midget”, commissioned by Muir in the USA to meet the needs of SA anaesthetists in private practice who at that time had to carry equipment from nursing home to nursing home.

Origins of the Dr Nagin Parbhoo Museum

The collection was started in earnest by the UCT Head of Anaesthesia, Dr C.S. (Buck) Jones in November 1956 after the donation by Dr Lindsay van der Spuy of equipment to the UCT Department of valuable early equipment that had belonged to Royden Muir. Initially housed in the office of the HoD at the UCT Medical School the collection moved to the New Groote Schuur Hospital building after it opened in 1989. The museum is named after Dr Nagin Parbhoo the honorary curator of the museum who had sourced many artefacts from hospitals in the Western Cape and commissioned eight oak and glass display oak and glass display cabinets.

Advances in Ventilation

Until the 1960s patients requiring ventilation during anaesthesia were ventilated manually by squeezing a rubber bag containing anaesthetic gases.

The collection possesses a wide range of ventilators ranging from the tiny Minivent designed by Johannesburg anaesthetist Dr Anthony Cohen in 1965 in an era when private anaesthetists had to carry equipment from hospital to hospital, to the  huge Dräger Iron Lung weighing 620kg that was used in Cape Town during the polio epidemics of the 1950s.

Drager E52 Iron Lung c 1956
Cohen’s Minivent Ventilator c 1965
‘the Amazing Mini-vent Ventilator’ on display at the museum

Water column for measuring blood pressure c. 1956

When Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital opened in 1956 there was no equipment for measuring blood pressure in tiny neonates undergoing surgery. Dr Tom Voss solved the problem by cannulating an artery and measuring the blood pressure by the height of a column of water attached to the catheter.

This technique was adopted by Groote Schuur Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital for measuring patient’s blood pressure in the ICU after surgery.  The technique became obsolete with the introduction of electronic manometers.

Remembering South African Innovations

Prof. Arthur Bull

A section of the museum is dedicated to anaesthetic equipment invented by South African anaesthetists. It includes the Taurus blood warmer developed in a collaborative project between the UCT Departments of Anaesthesia and Electronic Engineering. Named after UCT’s Professor Arthur Bull it became an essential piece of equipment to avoid hypothermia and possible cardiac arrest when rapid transfusion of cold refrigerated blood was required. A bronze bust of Professor Bull commissioned by the Cape Western Branch of the SA Society of Anaesthetists and presented to Bull on his retirement was subsequently donated to the museum.

A section of the museum is devoted to the South African Society of Anaesthetists (SASA), the world’s 9th oldest national society of anaesthesia when it was formed with 26 members in 1943. Currently membership stands at over 2000 in 2019. The display includes photographs, SASA Guidelines for Anaesthesia, and posters advertising the 2008 World Congress of Anaesthesiologists organised by the SASA and held in Cape Town.

Founding members of South African Anaesthetists Association 1943

The UCT Department of Anaesthesia has evolved from an ancillary department of Surgery in 1921 run by part-time anaesthetists to a world respected Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine. The department’s history is remembered by photographs of previous heads of department, boards honouring members of the department who have been awarded medals in the College of Anaesthetists examinations, recent publications, and posters commemorating the pioneering roles played by Dr Joseph Ozinsky in establishing the successful heart transplant programme initiated by Professor Christian Barnard, and Professor Gaisford Harrison’s role in documenting and reducing anaesthetic mortality at Groote Schuur Hospital over 30 years. He also established the porcine model of the fatal condition Malignant Hyperthermia and then discovered that the drug Dantrolene could terminate the syndrome.

The museum aims to preserve the history of the department and anaesthesia in South Africa.  Artefacts in the Collection provide a valuable resource for both researchers. and for those involved with teaching medical students and registrars in training.

Visit the museum

The museum forms part of an active department and visitors wishing to do so are welcome. Appointments can be made by e-mailing Peter Gordon, the Honorary Curator at, or Dr Robert Nieuwveld (Assistant Honorary Curator) at or by telephoning the Department Secretary Mrs. C Wyngaard at +27 21 404 5004.

Finding traces of Jewish German refugees in South African archives

by Dmitri Abrahams, Archivist, South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation (SAHGF)

The SAHGF Archive contains archival material related to both World Wars, Jewish life in Europe before the war, the Holocaust, and its aftermath. The collection is available to researchers and students at the JW Jagger Library and itemized listings, with digital objects, can be viewed online.

Confronting the global threat of Nazism

Under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, Germany became a racial state in 1933. The state discriminated against those considered racially and ideologically ‘inferior’. This included Jewish-, Roma- and black Germans, who were, under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, formally disenfranchised – no longer German citizens.

Jews were especially targeted under vicious Aryan antisemitic doctrines which conceived ‘the Jew’ as the ultimate racial and ideological threat to the Reich. By 1938, European war was imminent, as Hitler had presided over the takeover (‘anschluss’) of Austria and the invasion of Czechoslovia, and soon threatened to invade Poland. The Allied powers, including Great Britain and France, issued an ultimatum of war. German armed forces invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and soon the world was at war.

The Second World War continued for six years, with battles taking place across Europe, North Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. This deadly war resulted in untold destruction, millions of deaths through battle and genocide, and ultimately created one of the largest refugee crises in history.

This post will explore efforts by Cape Town’s small Jewish community to respond to the plight of German Jews seeking refuge in South Africa, using the lens of the archive of papers and ephemera collected by the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation (SAHGF), and preserved in the holdings of UCT Libraries, Special Collections.

South African Jewry responds to the rise of Nazism

In response to the state sanctioned discrimination and violence being perpetrated in Germany, the South African Jewish community founded the South Africa Fund for German Jewry in May 1933.

At the time South African’s immigration policy towards Western European Jews was very lenient. All they had to do was produce a passport and a guarantee signed by ‘a South African citizen and deposited with the immigration authorities on their behalf to enter the country.’  Aided by this open door policy, the Fund set out to assist refugees with financial aid, help them find employment and accommodation. Furthermore it assisted them with any other difficulties they may encounter. The Fund also purchased a house, Rosecourt which functioned as its headquarters and as a meeting and educational space for the refugees. 

The SS Stuttgart

In September 1936 the South African immigration authorities announced that from 1 November, each immigrant had to make a cash deposit of £100 pounds (about £17 000 in 2019) instead of producing a guarantee. At the time Jews were only allowed to take RM10 (about R15 in 2019) each out of Germany, thus the new law was a disaster for those who had sold all their possessions and obtained the necessary exit visas from the Nazi authorities. To circumvent the new regulations, several German and overseas relief organisation came together to charter a special boat to transport 540 refugees with the necessary guarantees before the implementation of the new law. Thus the historic Stuttgart set sail on 8 October 1936 with five hundred and thirty seven passengers on board.

The leaders of the South African Jewish community had no idea that the boat was being chartered until all the arrangements were completed. Setting aside fears that the large influx of refugees may endanger future Jewish immigration, the community rallied to provide the new arrivals with assistance. The ship arrived three days before the new law took effect.

When the new immigrants arrived they were met by demonstrations by the Greyshirts, a South African far-right movement with Nazi sympathies. The passengers disembarked without incident. The local Jewish community provided some 200 refugees who remained in Cape Town with free board and lodging. The rest of the refugees moved to other parts of the country. As the Jewish-German refugees settled into their new home, they created several organisations to take care of the physical, cultural and spiritual needs of their fellow refugees.

The Jewish Community’s response to the War

Following the outbreak of war, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) immediately pledged that the ‘Jewish community would do everything in its power to assist the Union and its allies in the fight for victory.’ (1) Along with the South African Jewish Ex-Service League and Jewish members of the Memorable Order of Tin Hats started conducting recruitment drives locally and nationally to encourage young Jewish men and women to join the Union Defense Forces.  Their efforts were soon rewarded as scores of young Jewish men and women joined the UDF.

The Board also created the Executive Council which consisted of three special war committees: the War Service Council, The War Emergency Council and the Soldiers Assistance Council.  These committees were tasked with caring for the spiritual, physical and cultural needs of the Jewish members of the Force as well as fundraising for war related costs. (2) By January 1943 about 8,366 Jewish men and 542 Jewish women had enlisted, of whom 2,200 had already seen active service outside the Union.  By the end of the war 10 000 Jews had enlisted in the Union Defense Force and other Allied Forces.  Of these 357 South African Jews were killed in action, 327 were wounded, 143 were mentioned in dispatches and 94 received awards.


(1) For more information on the German Jewish organisation please see:  F. H. Sichel, From Refugee to Citizen: A sociological study of the immigrants from Hitler-Europe who settled in South Africa, A.A. Balkema, Cape Town, 1966

(2) South African Jewish Board of Deputies, ed., South African Jewish in World War II, South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Johannesburg, 1950.

Reflecting on the early history of women in the academy

by Isaac Ntabankulu, Archivist, UCT Libraries, Special Collections

The Role of Women in the South African College

From small beginnings, the representation of women in the student and staff body of the University of Cape Town (formerly the South African College) has become an integral part of the University. In August this year, women students will be celebrating 133 years at UCT.

Women graduates of the South African College, 1899 (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

Early days: Council decision to admit ‘lady students’

The South African College was established in 1829, serving as the forerunner for the University of Cape Town, which was established in 1918. In 1858, a Board of Public Examiners was established in the British Cape Colony with powers to grant first, second- and third-class certificates for tertiary examinations conducted by the Board. By 1873 the University Incorporation Act was passed, and the Board of Examiners ceased to exist. Its functions were taken over by the University of the Cape of Good Hope. This made it possible for university students in the Cape Colony to write examinations to attain the Bachelor- or Master- degrees in South Africa.

During the nineteenth century there appear to have been no formal restrictions against women taking these examinations or being awarded degrees. However, women wishing to sit for examination found themselves seriously impeded because of the absence of any means of instruction in science subjects. There were simply no facilities for them to study at any institution for higher learning. Professor P.D. Hahn, who had for some years assisted the Good Hope Seminary by teaching their pupils chemistry and metallurgy, introduced the idea of teaching the female students at the South African College so that they could have the full benefit of the facilities available in his well-equipped modern laboratory.

Professor P.D. Hahn (right) conducting a lecture in his Chemistry Laboratory, South African College, Undated (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

His proposal was presented to the South African College Senate meeting held on 24 February 1886. Ultimately, a recommendation was made to admit female students for a one-year trial to Professor Hahn’s classes. Senate’s recommendation was adopted by Council on 10 July 1886, with one exception: Rev. A. Steytler objected and wished to have his protest recorded.

The following month, four Good Hope Seminary students registered for Professor Hahn’s Chemistry class. Minnie Buchanan gained Honours in the Matriculation examination the following year, and another, Emilie David, came First in both Chemistry and Classics, and gained a University Exemption in 1889. Clearly, the trial period provided an opportunity to demonstrate the value of allowing women to study at the university, and by August 1887 a special meeting of the South African College Council was held “to consider an application from the professors for permission to admit lady students.” With Council’s approval of this motion the South African College became a fully co-educational institution for higher education. About nine women registered in 1887, immediately taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the South African College. Two married women were among the first group, Mrs Jessie Rose Innes and Mrs Mary Sauer. They were both registered for one year only, 1887-1888.


‘Lunch time at the Women’s Residence, Groote Schuur. Students living in boarding-houses envy these girls.’ (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

At first, female students arriving from around the country to study at the South African College were compelled to reside in boarding houses. A Past Student’s Committee was eventually formed, headed by Mrs E.B. Fuller, to take measures to provide suitable residence for students close to the college. The first women’s residence was opened on 20 February 1908 in Dorman Street, Gardens, with permission from the College Council. This was a hired house with a Mrs. Henry Hall as Warden. The committee of early female College Alumni felt the need for such a residence so strongly that they had collected among themselves a guarantee fund of £150 in case there should be a deficit. In time, a larger house was found, and owing to the gradual increase in numbers, the landlord proceeded to enlarge the house on payment of an increased rent. In 1913 a second hired house was opened in Union Street, and Hope Mill House was bought. This was converted into a residence for women students at the beginning of 1914, with Mrs Brown, a past student, in charge. In the same year, Mrs Tugwell, another past student, took over Arthur’s Seat. The residences were subsequently brought under the control of the College Council, and the Past Student’s Committee, having accomplished the work is set to do, was dissolved. In 1919 Mrs Tugwell took over Hope Mill, which remained the abode of the women students until the present Women Residence [Fuller Hall] at Groote Schuur [Upper Campus] was opened in 1928, with Mrs Tugwell as the Lady Dean.

Women’s Residence House Committee, University of Cape Town, 1934 (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

Student Representative Council

In 1906, the first Students’ Representative Council was formed. Its members were comprised of male representatives of the various Faculties and Clubs, with only one female representative. By 1910, with the recognition of the Ladies’ Hockey Club (formed in 1904) by the Students’ Representative Council, it was therefore entitled to be represented on the SRC. By 1920 there were so many sports clubs that each could not be represented, and so the women students, like the men, had one sports representative for all clubs.

Student Representative Council, 1906. Miss Tucker, middle row, fourth from the left, represents the ‘Girls Room’. (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)


In 1898 the South African College entered a mixed team in the Western Province Tennis Competition. Despite the existence of Tennis, Netball, Swimming, and even Golf Clubs, Hockey remained the game centrally represented by the female students.

South African College Intervarsity Ladies Hockey Team, 1919

In 1904 a Ladies Hockey Club was formed, although membership was not restricted to students until 1915. This degree of integration of women students and their acceptance in what had been an all-male preserve until 1886, was a great breakthrough.


The South African College does not appear to have shown the same liberality towards women when it came to employment opportunities. The first woman to have been employed as a lecturer at the College seems to have been Miss Leila A. Wright. In 1911 Dr Harry Bolus died and left his Herbarium to the South African College and in his will appointed Miss H.M.L. Kensit (later Mrs Frank Bolus) as curator. From 1912 Miss Ruth Glover became an assistant in the Herbarium and a year later her sister Dr Glover also join the staff. In 1912 Miss E.L. Stephens was appointed as a leave replacement for Mr Saxton, lecturer in Botany Department and in 1914 Miss E.M.M. Hume was appointed to a second post of lecturer in the Botany Department. In 1915 Miss Hume was granted leave to return to England to undertake war work and Miss J.E Smith was appointed as her substitute.

Staff of the Bolus Herbarium. From left to right, Mr Pawson, Mr Kensit, Prof. H.H.W. Pearson, Miss Ruth Glover, Mrs Bolus and Miss Dolly Glover (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

In November 1916 Professor H.H.W. Pearson died, and Miss E. Stephens was appointed as Acting Professor. The Science Committee’s recommendation came only after considerable discussion, with the supercilious warning “that the interests of the department may be endangered if the period be unduly prolonged in which the Department is entirely staffed by women.” At this stage, the Botany Department was the only teaching department at the S.A. College which was entirely staffed by women. It was a temporary situation necessitated by the participation of South Africa in the First World War, and came to an end in 1919 with the appointment of Professor D. Thoday.

Curating and commemorating the history of women of UCT

Commemorating what has been achieved by women students at UCT, the Special Collections Department has put up a display, sharing material on women students at UCT covering themes ranging from the admission of women students, women at residences, women in students’ affairs, women in sports, women in employment and crime against women.

National Women’s Day is a South African public holiday celebrated annually on 9 August. It commemorates the events that took place on this day in 1956 when more than 20,000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria [Tshwane]. They aimed to petition against the country’s pass laws that required South Africans defined as ‘black’ under the Population Registration Act to carry an internal passport; also known as a pass [dompas], this document served to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation, manage migrant labour and monitor the movement of Africans.

Sources used:

Phillips, H. 1993. The University of Cape Town 1918-1948: the formative years. Cape Town: Creda Press.

Ritchie, W. 1918. The history of the South African College 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller.

SC UCT: BUZV Collection, “Women at UCT: The centenary of women (1986 and 1987)”, Women at UCT by Etaine Eberhard.