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
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
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,
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
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.