Hotten, William (Ivor) Townsend

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In 1934 Ivor Hotten became the first President of the newly formed Section of Anaesthetics of the NSW Branch of the BMA and a Foundation Member of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists.

William Ivor Townsend Hotten was born in Sydney on 24 August 1899. He attended Fort Street High School and graduated from Medicine at the University of Sydney in 1923.

Ivor was drafted for war service in 1918, but the war ended just before embarkation and he continued his studies to graduation in 1923. As an undergraduate, he made a number of lifelong friends, most of whom later became senior specialist physicians and surgeons. Ivor’s anecdotes were always humorous and worth hearing, if somewhat long. Many of us still remember the tale about Ivor and a well-known senior physician launching and rigging a sailing boat – a tale of continuing disaster. After graduation and several years in hospital residencies, he entered general practice with Dr Dansey in Strathfield, which became his ‘home town’ until his retirement to Bowral. He moved into a larger house in Strathfield where he developed a magnificent garden which became a ruling passion. Before the days of chemical gardening, his compost heap was a scientific masterpiece which all male guests were not only invited but almost required to inspect in the course of an evening.

At heart a physician, Ivor found the practice of anaesthetics much to his liking, combining as it did the principles of applied physiology with direct results on intervention, especially later when advances in intravenous therapy and increasingly accurate methods of measurement and monitoring became available. As a teacher he is remembered by many; his methods were didactic, rather ponderous and repetitive but always memorable. Practical instruction was positive and usually accompanied by humour, often sarcastic.

He had been appointed Assistant Honorary Anaesthetist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1930. In 1939 he was appointed Senior Honorary Anaesthetist and was, in effect, head of department, although it had not been officially constituted as a department at the time. From then on, Ivor ran the anaesthetic service as a dictatorship, and it is difficult to see in hindsight by what other means he could have done so at the time: his personality brooked no democratic thinking, the geography of the Hospital at that time concentrated most of the surgical work in the one theatre block and the outbreak and progress of World War II left the staff so depleted that anaesthetics had to be carried out by junior and sometimes quite untrained personnel under supervision by Ivor up and down the theatre corridor. There was some persistence of this situation after the war, even when staff numbers had increased.

During the war years, he was also active on the staff of the Western Suburbs Hospital and 113th AGH Concord, which accounted for his occasional appearance in uniform with a major’s crown up. The increasing demands of specialised surgery, first thoracic and then also cardiac, found him willing and able to respond. His postgraduate appointments and degrees make impressive reading: 1934, first President of the newly formed Section of Anaesthetics of the NSW Branch of the BMA; 1934, Foundation Member of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists; 1934 to 1960, Lecturer in Anaesthetics, University of Sydney; 1939, DA RACP&S (England); 1948, FRACP; 1951, FFARCS (England); and 1952, Foundation Fellow of ARACS. In 1944, the Diploma in Anaesthetics was established in the University of Sydney and Ivor was Examiner and Lecturer in this for many years.

On retirement, Ivor moved to Bowral and continued with his main hobby, his garden, which he worked with great energy to transform into a show place equal to that of Strathfield. In 1981, he published his Memoirs of the Old Master… marking the 50th Anniversary of the Department of Anaesthetics.[1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Hotten, William (Ivor) Townsend. 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.