Daly, Harry

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Harry Daly was the first to trial the injection of curare for relaxation and anaesthesia in Australia in 1945. He was also the first Secretary of the state section of Anaesthesia within the New South Wales branch of the BMA in 1930, the main instigator and a foundation member of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists in 1934, and the first Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Anaesthetists in 1952.

Harry Daly graduated from the University of Sydney in 1918, his voluntary enlistment for World War I being deferred until his medical studies were completed. He was subsequently a Resident Medical Officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for two years before going into general practice at Haberfield in 1920. Whilst in general practice, he was appointed as Honorary Physician to Lewisham Hospital. In this capacity, as was usual at that time, he was regularly called upon to perform anaesthesias for the urologist Harry Harris. This work aroused his interest in the speciality and he later became Honorary Anaesthetist at Lewisham Hospital. In 1936 he was appointed Honorary Anaesthetist to Sydney Hospital and to St Vincent’s Hospital in 1937. He joined the honorary staff of Royal Prince Alfred as anaesthetist to the neurosurgical unit in 1938, but resigned the following year to take up duties as Tutor and Lecturer in Anaesthesia at the newly established Postgraduate School of Medicine at Prince Henry Hospital, Little Bay, then a teaching hospital of the University of Sydney. There Harry developed curricula, courses and examinations for the Diploma in Anaesthesia instituted by the University of Sydney in 1944.

In 1935 Harry made an extended tour of the centres of anaesthesia in England and Ireland, Europe, Canada and USA. The picture of anaesthesia at that period is outlined in his diary. Most of the great names are there – Magill, Hewer, Minnitt, Halton, Waters, McMechan, Guedel, Lundy, McKesson, Bourne and Griffiths are but a few with whom he studied new techniques and afterwards corresponded. Naturally, his hospitals, their anaesthetists and Anaesthesia in Australia benefited from his experiences.

During World War II, Harry, aged 48, applied for service in the Army as an anaesthetist and was accepted but was never called up. The two or three specialist anaesthetists remaining in Sydney were each providing day and night service for some nine hospitals. However, it was during this period that these men awakened the interest of a number of younger people in anaesthesia, and when the first diploma course began, some 30 entrants enrolled.

In 1942 Harry was admitted to Membership of the Royal Australasian College by examination, and elevated to Fellow of the College in 1948.

When Lewis Wright, formerly of E R Squibb and Sons was posted to Australia in 1942, Harry Daly was the name he was given for acquaintance in Sydney. Wright not only described to Harry the fascinating history of the use of curare in anaesthesia, but gave him some ampoules of Intocostrin, the Squibb preparation, urging its trial in Australia. Since the technique of using it had only been described by Harold Griffiths of Montreal that very year, this was a rare opportunity. However, for the next three years Harry was unable to find a surgeon prepared to let him use such an innovation. In 1945, assisted by Stuart Marshall during an operation at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Harry gave the first curare injection for relaxation during anaesthesia in Australia. This case, of a woman with a fractured mandible, and other case histories are described in their classic paper “Curare in Anaesthesia: A Preliminary Note”. As a result of this work, Harry received a Rockefeller Grant to read a paper on “Experiences with Curare in Australia” at the meeting of the American Medical Association in 1949.

His overseas tour had a lasting effect on Anaesthesia in Australia. In 1948 Harry was elected to Fellowship of the newly formed Faculty of Anaesthetists, Royal College of Surgeons of England and during his visit to England the following year, this Fellowship was conferred upon him in person by Sir Cecil Wakeley, President of the College, the citation being read by Sir Ivan Magill. Harry made it his business also to attend as an observer at one of the early examinations for Fellowship of the Faculty. He immediately saw a similar faculty as an answer to problems causing concern to senior members of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists.

When the Interim Board was formed to negotiate with the Council of the College to institute a faculty, Harry was appointed Vice-Dean. In 1952, when the Faculty was inaugurated, he became the first Vice-Dean of the first elected Board of Faculty. Later, in 1954, when the health of the first Dean of Faculty Douglas Renton declined, Harry became Acting Dean.

By 1956, his increasing deafness, which made it difficult for him to carry out his work for the Board, led Harry to subsequently resign. Despite his withdrawal from active participation in Faculty affairs, Harry’s advice and experience were ever valuable and recognised by both the Faculty and the College.

In 1969, he received the Orton Medal of the Faculty, bestowed in recognition of Distinguished Services to Anaesthesia in Australasia. A year later, he was admitted to Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty and to Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1973. He was also admitted to Honorary Fellowship of the English Faculty in 1962, limited to 15 Fellows within the Commonwealth at any one time. He was a Life Member of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists and an Honorary Member of the Liverpool Society of Anaesthetists. In 1966 his services to Medicine and Anaesthesia over 35 years were recognised by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, with his admission to the Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George.[1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Daly, Harry. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.