Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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Climbing Higher

At the beginning of another academic year there was massive work ahead - in the laboratory and with teaching. By November the days were cool and darkening into winter: a good time for concentrated work. And so it was until the following Spring. As it turned out, the Arctic expedition was a significant help in producing work which gained him his doctorate. The cytological investigation of the testes of those smelly fulmars resulted in two important papers which came out of the thesis for his Doctorate: On the function of the Interstitium of the Testis, and later Non-breeding among Arctic Birds. Embodied in his thesis and the papers was a new light on the function of certain cells - the lipoid Leydig cells which he postulated were the primary secretory component of the avian testis. 'When the interstitium, after reproduction, passes once more to a lipoidal phase, it is not losing its secretory function as Sliuter and Van Oordt infer, but is regenerating in readiness for the next season's breeding activities.' Dutch and French scientists had been doing a lot of work in this field and he had been studying their papers closely. The age-old problem of breeding seasons, however, was not going to be unravelled at one stroke - in fact the more that was discovered the more complicated it appeared to become.


In May Jock found he had some signs of trouble in the stump of his left arm, and went to the Radcliffe Hospital to have a neuroma and six pieces of shot removed. There was a "Bump" supper that night at his College and he was not going to miss it. He left hospital and persuaded his friend who was an M.B. to give him morphia so that he could be part of the tradition. It was important to him.

In July he was camping in his room and working solidly in the Zoology Department: 'It is almost midnight & the chimes of Oxford ring rhythmically & the owls call loudly around the laboratory. Polunin's brother Ivan had asked if we could vacate the Shack for two months so that he might have a holiday in Oxford. As our arrangement with Oleg was so casual and economical we felt obliged to agree. I went to London and Jock took 'digs' in Walton Street: 'but things crawled on me & so I came here & I've been happy, though it has its drawbacks. A big rat - a most enormously big rat - creeps in between the pipes & steals my provisions & sometimes wakes me up, & the workmen building the new animal house start at 7.30, but compared with so many places I've camped in it's paradise.' He ate his entire meat ration of two chops once a week, dined at other times in Oxford eating houses ('There is no good place a la Soho or Melbourne in Oxford'), kept a drawer full of bread, jam and cheese, raisins and dates which no doubt delighted the rat, did an enormous amount of work and brewed tea interminably in a Japanese dixie with a bullet hole in its top. 'Each weekend I go to Hampstead & Janey.'

There was work to be done in London as well - on the documentary film of the expedition to Jan Mayen, which needed shooting to be completed on link material. We met Sean Graham, the producer, again. He had come to visit us at the Shack before the expedition to discuss the film and remembers his astonishment at the way Jock 'joked and told wild stories of sexual excess in front of this pure, innocent young lady' - swinging between such ribaldry and serious discussion of the management of scientific work in the Arctic. The film crew had never bothered Jock in the Arctic but he found the inaction of indoors link material irksome. 'Now that we've finished the subsidiary shooting of that damned film I am starting really to get some concentrated work done.' He believed he would have enough by October to supplicate for the Doctorate as he had planned. However, his supervisor, John Baker, was still not prepared to sign the papers allowing him to do so. 'I don't believe he'll dare not to - & I'm not sure that he can avoid doing so if I insist.' He felt the work he was doing was 'of moderately good quality, & Hirsch the German who is here at the moment is most enthusiastic.' Baker, perhaps understandably concerned at such speed, nevertheless signed the papers.

Just before this the Sydney Chair of Zoology was advertised; five years too soon for him. He admitted he was a fool to go to the war, but would not admit any regret. He decided to apply although he knew his chances were ridiculously low - he did not even have his doctorate. He was thinking partly of his little daughter 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could have Nerida Foochoo too - even for a while!' But in another way he was almost reluctant: 'I don't want to go home yet ... I need at least ten years here and in the U.S. before once more (even temporarily?) burying myself in that arsehole of civilisation, my country, my Australia.' He took a gamble on the vagaries of selectors which did not come off. Later he discovered that Pat Murray, ex Sydney, Oxford, Cambridge and currently Reader in Zoology at St. Bartholomew's Medical College, London, got the chair.

As the year was ending - November 24th - he enjoyed a muted celebration: apart from giving two lectures in the Agricultural Department, 'for the first time in six months, I've really felt I've nothing much to do.' The reason for this extraordinary state of semi-idleness was that he had finished his thesis and, after a dangerous ride down the hill from Shotover through thick fog, had delivered it to the Registry only two minutes late. John Baker rang excitedly at 8.30 the next morning to tell him who the examiners were: Dr. F.H.A. Marshall of Cambridge and Dr. William Holmes of Oxford. Jock was delighted to get Marshall - 'he's a marvellous (nowadays testy) old boy and of course, the master in the field of reproductive physiology'; and glad to have Holmes - 'capable as hell.'

On this idle day he was also thinking about the conversation at dinner the night before. We had dined with Hamo Sassoon, his wife and Francis Huxley. The men became excited about an idea they dreamed up - to go to South America that summer - 'an expedition of exploration, as against the Cook's tours the club has run since the war.' It would be small - Marshall, Huxley, Sassoon, MacFadyen and a botanist? 'Money may be the trouble.'


Money was not the trouble; it was his mother. For some time he'd been worried by news, from his brother and others, that she was becoming more and more frail and pining to see him. He felt responsible and his feeling for her finally caused him to make the really difficult decision to scrap the Amazon River proposition and return to Australia to see her in the long vacation.

For my part I had an ambivalent attitude towards the scrapping of that plan. We had a semi-serious altercation about the fact that he would not entertain the idea of including me. I knew Zita Baker, John's first wife, had been on the New Hebridean expedition. I mentioned the famous women of the Nineteenth Century who had accompanied their husbands in the most testing conditions over a great deal of unmapped Africa. That was different - women were a nuisance in a group of men such as Exploration Clubs; they might well have to be looked after. 'So might a man' - and 'furthermore', I said, somewhat underhandedly, 'what about you and Spanky leaving me to tip out a 44 gallon drum full of shit because it was going to make you sick' (they had carried this part of the lavatorial set-up to the edge of a large hole and then retreated hastily). This defused the argument in mirth but did not change his mind. I knew my protestations were academic because we had no money for this; and suspected he was right - it would be a rare woman who had the attributes for working with a group of men in that situation. I was reluctant to admit I was likely not one of them. However, more important matters left our academic argument behind.


1949 began excitingly. On February 3rd Jock exulted: 'Yesterday I became a Doctor of Philosophy, Oxon. It took seven terms' work, with an Arctic expedition, a film, two trips to Ireland, a tour through post-war Germany & other odd activities such as departmental lecturing in between times. It's hard to believe that all the work is over & that I'll never have to go for another examination.' We were jubilant. The boastful tone was not surprising. The work had been unremitting in between diversions and in the final six weeks he had seemed hardly to sleep at all. With all the interruptions it was a very short time in which to be ready to supplicate; but he had an exceptional ability to concentrate his mind and energy and a facility of expression which speeded the writing of research results. His viva voce took about twenty-five minutes of talking with eight slides and some questions, easily answered. 'Ironically, because my thesis title - "Studies in the Sexual Periodicity of Vertebrates" - was so wide I'd done a great deal of reading, realising how easily a hostile examiner could floor me.' It transpired, however, that the external examiner, the famous old F.H.A. Marshall of Cambridge, had been unwell and unable to get over to Oxford, so had written a long report in which he declared himself 'extremely impressed' by the written research; and Holmes was not hostile. In fact Holmes had found that 'in our lengthy correspondence over the thesis, Dr F.H.A. Marshall made it quite clear that he regarded it as containing a very original contribution to knowledge. He also thought very highly of the candidate's methods.'

Jock's supervisor, Baker, was delighted - 'excited as hell, as usual, & listening at odd times outside the open door!' By the terms of the statutes, the examination would be deemed never to have taken place if the door were closed or the examiners did not wear gowns. Typically Jock made an immediate decision to apply for the London readership that Dr Pat Murray vacated to go to Sydney. Relaxation sharpened dormant devilment. The press had reported that Dr. Peter Medewar (later Sir Peter and Nobel Prize winner), a zoologist who had been working in the Department in Oxford, collided with a refuse cart while driving in Birmingham. He was taken to hospital but allowed to leave. Jock sent him a card: 'Understand you hit a hospital & were taken off in a refuse cart.'

About a week after his examination he was immensely sad to hear that his illustrious namesake had died after an appendectomy at the age of seventy. 'It happened in a most shockingly sudden way, apparently last Saturday. We hope he has signed my papers, though it is doubtful. Still, with all Oxford's red-tape & general ratbaggery it is improbable that they will hang a man twice for the same crime.' He was right, the proctors took a sensible attitude. Marshall, however, had been well aware of the problem - almost his last act was to sign one of the papers. As he was being taken away to hospital he instructed his man to be careful of the thesis and papers and to see that they went to the proper authority for dispatch back to Oxford so that there would be no delay for the degree. Jock was immensely moved by this thoughtfulness. 'It was quite typical of the dear old man. And Cambridge will be so empty for me in future, despite Louis [Clerke], the Fitzwilliam & the Scott Polar & Lance [Flemming].' Louis Clerke was the Director of the marvellously endowed Fitzwilliam Museum. He had become a friend but was a different character entirely from the old scientist, whose dedication gave him an air of innocence and unworldliness. Louis was a charming, amusing character full of worldly enthusiasm with an impressive knowledge of art and antiquities. Apart from his work for the Museum collections he had acquired a diverse personal collection of exceptional beauty and interest. His dazzling array of snuff boxes was envied by Queen Mary who used to stop by on her way to Newmarket to visit him and look it over; his antique silver was priceless, and the collection of drawings and paintings was topped by one of the few Leonardo da Vinci drawings in private hands anywhere outside royalty - hung almost casually in the main guest room. Things were somewhat different when he came to the Shack, walking up the blackberry-hung path, swishing his gold-topped cane - incongruously elegant in fine suede shoes, rakish hat and long cloak. On his first visit a large black spider fell from the wooden ceiling into his bath. He screamed for Jock to come and extricate him or it, or both together. Having survived, he then proceeded to quiz Jock on the mating behaviour of spiders and various other creatures; he was fascinated to discover snakes have a 'spare' penis. I think he looked upon visiting us as a rather dangerous voyage of exploration.

When The Times obituary for F.H.A. Marshall appeared Jock thought it 'grossly inadequate.' It did not mention his honours or medals among other things. 'Most so-called "honours" in modern life are scarcely that - they are the result of persistent organisation & the capacity to firmly but modestly thrust oneself into the limelight on all possible (i.e. many) occasions. Most Englishmen excel at this: but Marshall [a Scot], did not.' He felt strongly about the spurious dignity of honours and it surfaced more than once later in his career. He was thinking about Englishmen and others at this time - February 16th. 'Tomorrow I shall be 38. I don't feel such an enormous age & people say I don't look it. I do however feel very old in the head. It I have a maxim, bred by all my experience of good men & bad men & the multitudinous little middle men, it is "Trust fully no man." Of England: "I feel at home here, but in a million years I could never feel myself an Englishman." How lucky I was to find Jane that day in Townsville!'

That last remark was not in essence romantic. It was plainly about the trust of our really deep friendship - something rare for him. Despite easy camaraderie, witty social confidence and genuinely warm care for people, he was extremely reluctant to show his true inner sensitivity. He guarded it in letters to his friends - and even for much of the time in his diaries, although there was a lot of self-questioning. He was apparently using 'men' in its generic sense, though he may equally have been ignoring women.


Two weeks after his successful viva voce he applied for the Readership at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College. A friend, Professor Amoroso of Queens College, thought he had a good chance; 'I wonder' said Jock. He started work again on the histochemistry of breeding seasons and behaviour; he believed he needed a Doctorate of Science as soon as possible to make up for the four year gap of the war years. But he was still jubilant about the fact that he only need work when he wanted to. 'What a month that last one was!'

In March there were some exciting developments concerning the Bart's Readership. It seemed he had a better chance than he had dared to hope. There were two members of the selection committee who had a bias towards someone with his interest and ability in research. The other Bart's man would probably favour the University of London teacher who was presently doing the job in Murray's absence. The external selectors included Professor Hardy of Oxford and the London University Vice-Chancellor who was a woman. It would be extraordinary if got it - he graduated at Sydney as late as 1942, and did not start research or teaching again until 1946; which meant only about three years active senior academic life.' Bart's sent a spy along to the Zoological Society to hear him give a paper on "Weather Factors and Spermatogenesis". It was Professor Cave, the anatomist, who had a vocabulary almost as versatile as Jock's but tended to be reactionary. He sat 'intent and beady-eyed in the very front row. I most unscrupulously modified my lecture into one of straight histology, illustrated by good slides. I was lucky to follow two bumbling naturalists who talked about (largely) the way seals copulate.'

On March 17th, having discarded his old tweed jacket with leather elbow-patches for a stylish navy blue suit and carefully selected tie, he travelled down to the University of London. At the Senate House everyone was pleasant. After he had fielded several questions the Chairwoman asked point-blank whether he was likely to stay in England. He replied honestly that he would apply for either Sydney or Melbourne if they came up, but that neither would do so for fifteen years. She persisted: 'But are you happy in English academic life?' He replied that at this stage of his career he would be unwilling to exchange it for any other. A male selector then said: 'Is it not strange that, after graduating under Professor Dakin in Sydney, you should have gone off on a track entirely your own in research?' To which Jock could not resist a wisecrack: 'It is no less strange that I should come to Professor Hardy's Department at Oxford and still not be in the least interested in pelagic invertebrate zoology.' Everybody laughed at Hardy, including Hardy.

He left the Senate House with a feeling that it had gone reasonably well but knowing the favourite, the London University man, had not yet been interviewed. He then went to the Christie's auction of the Duke of Manchester's silver and watched it go for prices that raised his hair; after which he drifted like a homing pigeon to Fleet Street where he saw Clarrie McNulty, who, with Pearl had given him his first job on the Sydney Telegraph. He collected the George 111 silver cup he was going to present for the annual illegal pint-to-pint race between Merton & Worcester - "The Amber". And then home, content but by no means over-confident. However, arriving at the laboratory in the afternoon he found Professor Hardy searching for him. He was beaming. 'I think you've got it' he said; but stressed it still had to go before the Senate.

Yes he had got it. We were happy and excited: a whole new phase of our lives opening up. In a multitude of ways it would be sad to be leaving Oxford and especially the Shack on the hill. But we both felt London would have more than enough stimulation to balance our loss.

There were two more months of the academic year to finish and then Jock would leave for Australia. We decided to go to Scotland in the Easter break. Avrion Mitchison's parents, Naomi and Dick, had invited us to stay at Carradale, on the island just off the coast from Glasgow. We took off in train, bus and ferry with a stop overnight in a Glasgow so crowded we were reduced to staying in a temperance hotel, which vastly amused Avrion, but not us; it was monumentally uncomfortable. Carradale was bliss - 'We had a grand time in Scotland collecting grey crows (for migration study) & vipers (to compare avian & reptilian reproductive physiology).' Jock enticed us out to walk on grassy hillsides, and then slyly showed us how to catch vipers behind the neck with a forked stick - only half fun. Dick was in the midst of electioneering for his Labour Party seat and the Mitchison house was busy, casually ordered and very friendly. Later we visited Stranraer and found the old white farmhouse that Scotch Willy left almost 100 years before. It crouched low under a line of wind-swept Ash trees where rooks circled, calling mournfully. It was understandable he would seek excitement elsewhere. Then we turned south back to Oxford and a maelstrom of sorting and packing. Jock was leaving for Australia via Canada and North America and I was leaving the Shack. He was going to visit friends and universities - part work, part pleasure and part diversion from what he knew he had to do. He heard from Sydney that his mother's trouble was not cancer as had been suspected, but gallstones. He discussed with me the possibility of bringing her to live with us in London. He did not want to do it and it would be quite dishonest to say I found the proposition even faintly attractive, but knowing his feelings I knew we must do the best we could for her should it happen.


He was due to leave for Australia on June 7th. On the evening of May 25th there was an occurrence which had strange repercussions. With some friends we were standing watching the antics of young men at the windows of Trinity College throwing lighted paper darts into the street when the proctors appeared and began interrogating all bystanders. Of our party Jock was the only member of the University and when he gave his name he was peremptorily told to go back to his college and that he would be gated for the rest of the term. Used as we were to the foibles of Oxford this appeared to be high farce: a 38 year-old Doctor of Philosophy of the University who had just been appointed a Reader in the University of London being treated like a boy in boarding school for watching what was going on in the street; and no attempt being made to control the dart throwers. The Proctor, being told that Jock was a D. Phil., went on his way and we assumed this was the end of the matter. But no. The next day The Junior Proctor presented his compliments and summoned him to appear 'at his earliest convenience.' Jock presented his compliments and regretted that he was too busy to see the Junior Proctor. He gave him a resume of what had occurred and said: 'Should the Junior Proctor wish to discuss this matter further it will be possible for him to make an appointment to see Dr Marshall whose telephone number is ... '. Such behaviour was unthinkable in proctorial halls!

But now Jock discovered that the Proctors' powers in Oxford were extraordinary - even to the point of being assisted by the police. A friend and myself were accosted by a constable and told that if we did not desist from watching the proctors go about their business we may find ourselves 'in the cells'. Jock knew the proctors could accost and punish any undergraduate indiscriminately without justification, but he did not know that this applied to any member of the University regardless of his age and seniority, unless he was an Oxford M.A.. It meant he could be accosted for having a drink publicly on any future trip to Oxford. The Senior Proctor, Tom Dunbavin, whom he knew (though he knew his father better and was to see him in Ottawa) was unwilling to compromise and agree to an informal meeting. Jock was unwilling on principle to apologise formally and appear to condone the system. The furore was getting out of hand. The matter had been brought before the Vice-Chancellor. The warden of Merton, Geoffrey Muire, whom Jock held in great esteem, wrote to him with friendly advice to play the Oxford game and let the matter be forgotten. Predictably Jock was unable to do this 'and thus apparently condone what I consider to be an abominable system and one which, however faintly justifiable in ancient times, is completely out of step with 20th Century justice' - despite regretting deeply the consequences of his actions, particularly having involved Merton and the Warden. In a long letter to the Warden he wrote: 'I do not wish to remain a member of Oxford University any longer. Therefore it seems that I must ask you to accept the resignation of my membership in Merton College. I do this very sadly for I have spent a couple of the most enjoyable years of my life here. I don't know if any mechanism exists for such an action but I am perfectly willing to relinquish my Doctor's degree at the same time.' He also wrote at length to the Vice-Chancellor putting before him the whole story as he saw it and reiterating the same views - but saying he would be prepared to come before the Vice-Chancellor or the Registrar at any time.

Jock's behaviour must have seemed as bizarre to the administrators of this ancient system as the system was to Jock - all manner of members of the University had always gone along in their caps and gowns to explain or apologise to the proctors when summoned, no matter how farcically they may have viewed it as justice. It seemed in the end the Proctors were not prepared to have this matter land in a Vice-Chancellor's court with perhaps far-reaching unpleasantness for the University as well as Jock. The Senior Proctor telephoned him on Sunday evening (June 5th) saying he regretted the whole business. Jock said he too regretted it - and yes, he would see the Vice-Chancellor if it could be arranged. And so it was - at the last moment before Jock left for Australia the matter was quietly dropped. We were exhausted and relieved although there was no time to talk of it. I had supported Jock unreservedly, believing his course of action was right but really not thinking very clearly about the consequences; it had all been so fast and there was much else going on with the moves to London and Australia. But sitting alone in the Shack I felt weak with horror at thoughts of what might have been; and Jock's extraordinary brinkmanship - to have pushed the culmination of his dream, and years of unrelenting work to achieve it, to the very edge was special and uncomfortable bravery.

There was a sequel. Six months later, in January 1950, revised Proctorial Regulations were issued. Undergraduates were now allowed to visit hotel or public-house bars; and other rules inappropriate to 20th Century living were dropped, or modified.

Jock was delighted with the news. Inevitably, however, there had been exaggerated and inaccurate gossip about his confrontation with the Proctors and there was a small number of people who had thought him not only foolhardy but mad to go to such dramatic lengths. This decision was not wild, but in the telling it tended to take on the guise of a bear in an antique shop: 'I had heard about him even before he came to Monash' said an amused colleague later 'the Proctor affair preceded him.' In Australia 'the affair' had a relatively negative effect on many conservative academics and on Jock's reputation. In England it changed one or two Proctorial rules at Oxford University.

Jock Marshall: One Armed Warrior by Jane Marshall
Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 25 February 1998
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (
Prepared by: Elissa Tenkate

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