MINNITT, Robert James  [1889-1974]

Robert Minnitt was an anaesthetist and general practitioner whose fame is largely derived from his lifelong dedication to the alleviation of pain in childbirth and the invention of the Minnitt Apparatus for that purpose.

Robert James Minnitt was born on 25th October 1889 at Fulwood, Preston. Both his father and grandfather were clergymen. (He was of Irish descent, his great-grandfather being named Molloy, changing his name to Molloy-Minnitt when he married a woman of that name.) Initially he intended to follow his forebears into the church, but after a year at Trinity College, Cambridge he decided that he could do more good as a doctor and duly entered Liverpool Medical School, qualifying in 1915. By this time his father had become the Vicar of St Luke’s in Formby.

Minnitt worked as an anaesthetist in a number of Liverpool hospitals as well as being a G.P., a norm for that time. His practice was located in his home at 73 Kremlin Drive L13 which he occupied for over 60 years. He also had consulting rooms at 24 Rodney Street L1.

His aim was to promote the use of a ‘gas and air’ mixture (the gas being nitrous oxide). When he began his work all such anaesthetics had to be administered under the supervision of a doctor. However, the majority of births then were at home, usually with a midwife present. It was with this in mind that he approached his friend, the instrument maker Charles King, to produce an apparatus to his specification. This led to the first use of a ‘gas and air’ anaesthetic at the Liverpool Maternity Hospital on 16th October 1936.  The Minnitt Apparatus was in effect a self-administered anaesthetic, the ‘patient’ holding the mask so that is she became unconscious the mask fell away. Until the use of nitrous oxide was ended in 1970 it had been for many years the only form of analgesia available to women in labour.

Whilst not having followed his father to become a clergyman, Robert Minnitt was active in the church throughout his life, acting as a lay preacher. The Liverpool Echo of 9th February 1939 carried a letter from Minnitt in which he attacked what he considered the barbaric practice of hare coursing.

An eminent colleague, another Liverpool-born anaesthetist Professor Cecil Gray, said of him “If a man’s stature in our profession is to be measured by the amount of suffering he has relieved then Minnitt’s stature is great indeed”. He died in Liverpool on 21st February 1974.

73 Kremlin Drive L13

Minnitt's home for over 60 years and the location of his GP surgery.

An example of the Minnitt Gas-Air Apparatus


 There is a good account of his professional life in a paper produced for the Journal of the Royal  Society of Medicine. There is a short essay on Minnitt and the general history of anaesthesia in Richard Whittington-Egan's book Liverpool Colonnade [Philip Son & Nephew 1955].