Adam Brown Kelly’s Chair

Written by on October 10, 2018

Visitors to our Reading Room often comment on a peculiar chair in the corner of the room, which has a high, straight back and only one armrest. This is an ENT chair, commissioned and used by the laryngologist, Adam Brown Kelly. Our Honorary Librarian, Mr Roy Miller (himself a retired ENT specialist) explains the purpose and significance of the chair:

Adam Brown Kelly was an ENT surgeon at Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary from 1892 until 1925. Along with Dr Paterson in Cardiff he is credited with describing the difficulty in swallowing suffered by susceptible  women with long standing iron deficiency anemia. This was due to a narrowing to the gullet just below its entrance. Untreated cancer could ensue.

Some time in the 1890s Brown Kelly commissioned Mayer of Mayer & Phelps to make this chair for clinical examination and certain operative procedures. It is constructed to a design by Sir Morell Mackenzie, a famous London specialist who was asked by Queen Victoria to help manage the hoarseness of the heir to the German throne, Prince Frederick, who was married to her eldest daughter, Vicky.

The chair’s high back with adjustable head rest is at right angles to the seat. The patient therefore cannot draw back from examination of the nose or throat. There is only one arm-rest, on the left. The central portion of the seat can rotate. Both factors are to facilitate adenotonsillectomy of children. A beam of light from a lamp behind the patient’s left shoulder, reflected by a concave forehead mirror which the operator adjusted to look through its central hole at the patient allowed him to have both hands free.

The child sat on the lap of an assistant who held the patient firmly. The anaesthetic was Ethyl Bromide sprayed onto lint placed over the nose and mouth. Ambidexterity and speed of action were requisite. The mouth was held open by a Doyen’s gag. The right tonsil, trapped within a ‘guillotine’ was avulsed, using the right hand, and the left, using the left hand. Assistant and patient swivelled to the right where the face was washed in cold water and the mouth cleared of blood clot. Resuming the upright position, the throat was inspected, and some deft strokes removed the adenoids from the nasopharynx. After another dousing with cold water the throat had a final examination.

By today’s standards the procedure seems barbaric but Adam Brown Kelly removed the tonsils and adenoids of his son, Derek, in this manner when he was aged 12. Derek recounted that he only remembered seeing a dazzling white light begin to spin, and then being helped to bed.

Derek Brown Kelly, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became an ENT surgeon, was also the last person to use the chair for adenotonsillectomy, in the early 1960s.

You can view a 3D model of the chair below:


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The College’s heritage collections – including thousands of medical and surgical instruments, rare books, archives, and pictures – span over 6 centuries and are an excellent resource for exploring the history of medicine and the history of the city of Glasgow. Many items from the collections have been digitised and are available to view here. Our digitisation work is ongoing, and we add new items to the site regularly, so keep checking back to discover more.

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