Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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Bower Birds, Books and People

Jock had been in danger of missing another ship but he managed to embark on the S.S. Empress of Canada bound for Montreal, armed with many small antique silver gifts for friends along the way, and special ones for his little daughter in Sydney. He rarely left on any trip without gifts tucked away in his rucksack - that old sack went everywhere, and always returned loaded with presents. He was not enthusiastic about the journey but extracted what amusement he could. Montreal was fun, and especially his friend, Duncan MacDonald. They travelled to 'the glory of New Hampshire in the summer, paddled across a lake to a week-end cabin, walked through lovely old colonial College buildings - all white and Georgian and wooden - and drank lots of mint juleps and ate bushels of strawberries.' He wrote that it was a tragedy I was not with him. I concurred absolutely as I sat surrounded by papers, books, manuscripts, personal possessions and about forty boxes. After disposing of this I was about to go to Surrey to look after my crippled arthritic aunt while her sister took a holiday. Jock and I had decided to meet in Rome later so I was also preparing a number of minor broadcasts to pay for the trip. Despite some help from an Australian friend I was feeling martyred.

There were other more long-term problems to work through. We needed to find a flat in London to accommodate ourselves and Jock's mother. This proved part depressing, part amusing. In the fractured time available I discovered high rents and "key" money (a lump sum paid for the privilege of entering what was often a dump). One place made a lasting impression. There were two adequate bedrooms, a beautiful, spacious living area and a more than ordinarily cluttered bathroom. 'And where is the kitchen?' I asked. 'Well, a-a-ctually' said the lady of the establishment, leading me back to the bathroom 'it's here', removing with a flourish a wooden board from a small gas stove in the corner and placing it across the bath. 'That's for chopping things' she said with satisfaction. Reduced to a spluttered 'how convenient!' I noted that one could sit on the lavatory and fry eggs. Post-war London was not worrying about building inspections.

Jock, meantime, was frugally travelling across America in Greyhound buses, visiting his wartime friends who gave him a royal welcome, buying me nylons and beguiling bits and pieces unobtainable in England - and eventually arriving in San Francisco with five cents in his pocket. He left for New Zealand to visit his friend, Dr Owen Thomas who had returned to Napier temporarily after getting his Oxford D. Phil., and finally arrived in Sydney on July 25th. It was winter. Sydney did not charm him - he found it 'dull, wet, windy, cold and dirty & I want to get to hell out of it the minute I can ... I just feel as lonely & nostalgic as hell.' But the weather improved and my parents' hospitality mollified him. He saw his little daughter, Nerida, who was now six. She criticised his accent and his clothing, but was 'so thrilled to have a Daddy to talk to, & about, at last. She is incredibly bright, & talks calmly, like a grown-up & with a frightening logic - made me look quite silly twice!' He took her out regularly, and once to the zoo with my sister and brother-in-law. He wrote that she was sweet and 'went for Davey in a hell of a big way!' The ink of this passage is blotched and he admits in the margin 'I've just shed a little tear.' Practical considerations kept him from becoming too engrossed in sadness. There was the selling of his mother's house, and a journey to Canberra and Melbourne to see zoologists. In Melbourne he also saw the painter, William Frater and bought another painting from him. And there too he had a 'session with Tom Blamey. He's not changed.'

Back in Sydney he found the problem of his mother's future ease crystallising in a way he did not like; but could find no alternative solution. After hearing the difficulties with our housing and observing her condition he felt impelled to reverse the decision he had made to take her back to London with him. 'She is much too shaky, and querulous and generally touchy to fit into a London flat of the kind it is obvious we'll get - even if we get one at all in time ... I don't believe that in her present state we can make her happy and I am terrified of her making us very unhappy.' The decision was not at all easy and the conveying of it much less so. Having made it, however, he gave his energy first to settling his mother and her financial affairs and then to some important collecting: satin bower birds. He needed experimental birds in London now that he would be able to arrange for their care in aviaries where their bower building would not be restricted. Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney had given them temporary lodging before and the London Zoo was offering a similar facility. On the first day of Spring he went down over old tracks to look for them, and found the bower of an old friend, a bird 'so tame' who put on a wonderful dancing act for the female, and for him he thought, for about half an hour. He would not take that bird, but eventually, after searching in many places, acquired 'two glorious blue males & 3 green ones.' The green ones were immature males or females.

Transport back to London exploded with difficulties - and some disappointment: we could not meet in Rome with a cargo of bower birds. Furthermore the major airlines looked upon bower birds as totally inappropriate passengers. My brother-in-law, David Jamieson, came to the rescue. His brothers ran an air transport business and he arranged for Jock to fly with them, providing his schedule was loose enough to allow for waiting in Hong Kong while pilgrims were flown to Jedda. Marvellous, Jock thought. He could attend to the birds' voracious appetites and keep a watch over them. When it came to the point of flying, however, this unsavoury mess of cages, raucous birds and smelly food did not appeal to the pilot. A scribbled note to me from Mascot airport said: 'In Customs - just finished a hell of a battle with Van Praag, pilot, who doesn't want to take birds. Won it.' Later he and the wild pilot and racing bike rider got along quite well.


Those birds had been a continuous thread in his research from the time when he first began to observe their behaviour and display in a scientific light - as opposed, that is, to the commonly held belief that their strange bower-building and decorating could be anthropomorphised into aesthetic or relaxation 'play'. He had been watching them and publishing work on them since 1931. In 1942 Display and Bower-building in Bower-birds was the title of his thesis for the B.Sc. Sydney - much of it written up in the war zone of New Guinea. And twelve years later, in 1954 he published a book Bower-Birds, Their Display and Breeding Cycles - A preliminary Statement, which became the basis for his Doctorate of Science from Oxford University, although a great deal of other research had been done in the meantime.

It was not just the handsome satin-bird (as the early settlers called it) of the eastern seaboard in which he was interested but the whole range of the diverse family of bower-birds - passerine (perching) birds, about 8 to 15 inches long, which exist only in Australia and New Guinea. They all build a display ground and decorate it with objects of their specialised choice; and do not 'simply accumulate indiscriminately a heap of varied, colourful rubbish.' Indeed their discrimination is so finely tuned that they will go to extraordinary lengths to acquire the right colour - 'an aviculturalist who unwisely tried to keep blue finches in the same aviary as a satin-bird found that the finches were killed one by one and taken as decorations to the display ground. Finches of other colours were not molested.' Their bowers are built of twigs and always on the ground. The nest, with which it has no direct connection, is built in a tree. Some paint their bowers with macerated charcoal or leaves, the satin-bird even makes a tool from a twig to do this; others decorate their tall (up to 8 feet), maypole-type structures with living orchids. The birds themselves are strikingly different from each other in their plumage. Many of the males are outstandingly beautiful - the flashing dark blue-violet of the satin, the golden bird of the Queensland rain forests, the regal black and gold regent bird, the spotted bower-bird with its silvery lilac crest and the great grey of the dry Australian inland; and in New Guinea, other handsome members of the family.

It was difficult to acquire specimens of these birds for laboratory examination. In the preface to his book on them Jock wrote:

'Some of my conclusions are of necessity based on the study of far too few laboratory specimens ... it is difficult, even if one felt so inclined, to go about a country killing statistically relevant numbers of bower-birds during each changing phase of their display cycles. The habitats of some of them are separated as widely as London and Moscow. Some of the organs reported on were secured, almost by lucky chance, at odd times in remote places during the war when they were crudely preserved in gin or whisky. (This sacrifice was not as dreadful as might be imagined: a very small amount of whisky will, in this respect, go a very long way.)'

The laboratory specimens were essential in order to make the 'series of histo-physiological studies designed to test the validity of the 'recreation' hypothesis.'; and 'to reach some generalisation concerning the nature and function of bower-building and display, and, if possible, to describe these and associated phenomena in terms of animal rather than human behaviour.' The book was widely well reviewed in England, Australia and the Continent in scientific journals; also in The Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, etc.. One god-fearing Australian reviewer dismissed the 'microscopic study' as unnecessary - 'most thinking people, I feel sure, would regard them [bower-birds] as interesting, but worthless, by-products of the great process which created man and leave it at that. The birds are beautiful and worth preserving and their casual study and appreciation are wonderful relaxation, but who wants to know the number of red and blue cards respectively which a Satin bower-bird will carry to its bower?' Very few people probably - but those few showed considerable interest in the 'microscopic study'. In Biology, June 1955: 'It is an extremely interesting and entirely scientific survey of available knowledge. The approach is twofold, descriptive and experimental. It can be enjoyed simply as an account of the fascinating behaviour of these birds, ... Behaviour at display grounds is apparently as characteristic as plumage, which suggests an interesting potential line of evolutionary evidence. But it is the explanation of behaviour that interests most.' And a German reviewer - 'The author, who is both physiologist and anatomist, as well as researcher on behaviour and field ornithologist, after lengthy preliminary study had made a compilation and critical examination of the scattered literature ... and supplemented this by his own investigations on his own caged satin bower-birds and by personal communication from research travellers. In this way a very thorough study has been made of the Eastern Australian Ptilonorhynchus violacius; it therefore forms at the moment the pivot of behaviour studies and of investigations in animal psychology.'


This was all four years away, but in 1949 in London, an intense phase of work on the breeding cycle of various animals was about to begin, and when the academic year started Jock was plunged into organisational work and a heavy teaching load. This latter produced some amusement in the beginning. He approached the laboratory on Worm Day with a certain trepidation, not having had anything to do with worms' physiology for some years. 'Sure enough, as soon as I got through the door up jumped a bright young man who accosted me: "Sir, what is the function of the dorsal pores?" He thought back over the years with the speed of lightning without success and in desperation was about to turn to the old standby when in doubt: "the function of the blankety blank is obscure." 'But I could see that the little stinker had a text-book open on the bench before him. If I said the function of the damned structure was obscure, he would immediately look it up and find that it had a perfectly well-known function. A brilliant idea occurred to me: "You've got an authority there on the bench: why not look it up for yourself?" I smiled. He hadn't thought of that. He thumbed through the text. "It says here that the function of the dorsal pores is obscure Sir," he said.'

It was a stimulating time, though work was not made easier by the fact that we had not been able to find suitable accommodation. We took temporary residence in a furnished apartment in Swiss Cottage with two Australian friends. They were charming and unobtrusive, but there was not a great deal of room for most of the space was taken up by the largest, blackest, most exuberantly decorated Germanic furniture we had ever seen. I redoubled my efforts to find something permanent. Eventually we had success - in the Spring of 1950. In Hampstead, in a small lick of land known as Parliament Hill, where a line of houses sweeps briefly out onto the edge of the Heath, was a "lower maisonette" (this means the lower two floors) in a spacious four story semi-detached terrace house. It had generous Victorian proportions, many rooms, the unusual facility of two bathrooms and a garden with high, warm brick walls. There was a huge black poplar against the sky and a gate in the wall which led straight onto Hampstead Heath. We pounced immediately. And a month later we were married - on May 13th, 1950.

We put our mattress on the floor upstairs, two eighteenth Century chairs and a table in the middle of the large empty space opening to the garden, and called up a party. We were married in the City of London registry office with my sister and my aunt and our dear friend Spanky Hume - and his new wife Heather who had been married very differently in St Martin's in the Field, with Eric Baume giving the bride away and the Lady "Flushbucket" bestowing enormous panache on the proceedings with glorious jewels and a hat so large it umbrellered both of us in the church. Jock and I were dispatched as a marital team with a pleasantly brief ceremony. A good friend, Cecile Higgs, who later stayed with us in London, was horrified when she heard I had worn olive green and gold - 'Green is extremely unlucky!' - but I found it delightfully lucky for eighteen years. On the way back to Hampstead we stopped to show Heather the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Jock watched the guards' officer turn around in front of us with the embroidery at the back of his jacket vent flashing in the sun - he felt exuberant and suddenly shouted like a sergeant major: 'Shiny-arse'. The larrikin was gratified by a stir of horror among the small crowd of watchers and we went happily on our way having set the mood for a good party.

Another event gave a different twist to our life barely a month later. Jock had had more worrying reports about his mother's misery. He was feeling desperate since she still refused to go to any other member of the family, so we decided she must come to us. We believed our relationship was strong enough. Fortunately we were right. Not that Nin was as 'difficult' as Jock had feared. It is probable that the move, the act of taking her into his house and allaying her fears had dissipated many of the negative aspects of her behaviour which had so upset him in Sydney. Unable to walk without help she was very much at the mercy of my goodwill, so it was a brave step on her part too.


For ten years we lived in that house - 25 Tanza Road. It was on the edge, between city and green breathing space. Through the windows was a sweep of grass and trees leading up to the hill where the myth of Guy Fawkes watching the conflagration at Parliament Hill took shape. He was nowhere near there but it was called Parliament Hill all the same. The watchers on the hill were now following kites gliding about in summer breezes and winter winds. The large black poplar marked ours from all the other identical semi-detached terraces that lined the hill, their locked gates opening onto the half-tamed heath. Jock was delighted, marching around the space - 'We've found a good camp again Jania.'

At the bottom of the road a small train went to Kew Gardens. Hampstead village spread up the side of the Heath. Buses went to the city - to the East End and the West. Jock worked in the East. St Bartholomew's Hospital and the Medical College, along with their Church and Graveyard, are in the old City of London. Nearby were St Paul's Cathedral, the Old Bailey and Smithfield Meat Markets. He loved the old City and came to know it intimately, fascinated by such people as the 'fevver-pluckers' - a special group who did nothing but pluck chickens in Smithfield Markets. It satisfied his nose for history. Many times he came home with bits of silver or jewellery, sometimes dinner from the markets, occasionally half a dozen teacups that had taken his fancy. For a man who could spend months in the bush with nothing but a rucksack, he was a great collector when even temporarily settled in one place. And he enjoyed giving. But his collecting got out of hand sometimes. With antiques he was disciplined, especially at auctions - he had learnt that lesson early. But later, in Australia, on the farmlet we bought, his old siege-hoarding country training came into play. He went off to an auction one day to buy a few fence posts for repairs. He came home with enough posts to fence a race-track - and 39 day-old chicks! 'They were such bargains!' he said, grinning.

London was a cornucopia of offerings for the curious or artistic. It was impossible to be bored. It was dirty - in winter belching coal-besmirched smoke, a red mist drawn across the sun and sometimes thick yellow fog rolling up from the river through every cranny of the city. It did not matter. Inside the imposing buildings given over to books, paintings and artistic or historic artefacts collected (or filched) from around the world, there was stimulation - often excitement. In summer it bloomed with curiosities; people, flowers, forests of deck chairs in the parks, ceremonial amusements for tourists, theatre - every season brought other sensations.

At home we collected more furniture, set aside a room for Jock's mother and settled down to work and find our centre in this new environment. After the protected rural peace of Shotover and comparative academic calm of Oxford it felt as though the world was lapping about our ears. And we were no longer alone. It was not just Nin. Other friends came and stayed. London is always rich with talented and ambitious people jostling for fame. Just after the war it was a particular magnet. Looking back it seems to have been quite a feat to keep a peaceful private core among all the activities and pressure of work in the first years. Jock valued peaceful domesticity, however strange that may seem to those who saw only the provocateur. 'A lot of people hadn't any idea Jock was such a sweet, very gentle, very sympathetic sort of character' said Geoffrey Dutton ' they thought he was rough and full of jokes - and abrupt sometimes. He didn't let that [the other aspects] emerge. He'd stick out his jaw and go for it.' He enjoyed talk and interaction with other scientists. A few, such as Julian Huxley who lived only two streets away, came quite often. He and Jock were a familiar sight sitting in front of the bay window looking out on the Heath, books and papers spread around, serious or laughing at their own clever cracks. They were a powerful couple of characters - their age difference perhaps muting their foibles. They got along well. Julian thought Jock was making 'a unique contribution to scientific natural history and bird ethology' with his dual interests of the laboratory and the field. He was especially interested when Jock was 'working on his remarkable book on Bower Birds.' His wife Juliette is an artist in very many ways, as sculptor, writer, manager of Julian and inspired hostess. She told me to 'cuddle my children and don't have a nanny' (we had no intention to acquire a nanny - but noted her unusual injunction; intellectual and artistic women benefited enormously from nannies when afforded).

Sean Graham - difficult to contain in a chair, always striding up and down - brought us news of films and people from West Africa. There was also a huge coterie of Australian artists, intellectuals, actors, journalists living in London in the fifties. Somewhere we met Dr. Derek Denton and his wife Margaret who became friends and later acquired great distinction in Science and the Australian Ballet respectively. Another Lindsay rebel, Jack, lived there. Painters Donald Friend and David Strachan were working there, and older friends from Jock's days of journalism: Dal Stivens, who spent many nights working with him on the Telegraph in the university years, Eric Baume and Rex Rienits - they all spent varying times living in London. In 1958 Tass (Russell) Drysdale and his wife Bon, came to live there for a few months with their children and a nucleus of paintings for a show at the Leicester Square Gallery in April. Tass was adding to it while painting in London. Jock commented - 'we have seen some of his newly produced stuff from time to time; it is of course awfully good but we wonder whether he will get the squeals of adulation that Nolan aroused. Nolan slapped the male sob-sisters of Fleet Street with yellow and green duco and I fear that any Australian who doesn't go one better will be called a Victorian formalist!' It was at this time that Jock and Tass began a friendship which lasted until Jock died.

We got lost in a London fog with Nin (Ninette) and Geoffrey Dutton in our first autumn. By extraordinary coincidence Geoffrey and Jock had both been in the clutches of two separate London hospitals experiencing the exquisite agony of having their anal fistulas repaired. They were now sitting warily on rubber rings dreaming of idyllic countryside as Ninette took us all for a drive. I cannot remember where we were going but there is no possible doubt we did not arrive. The air thickened to impenetrable yellow as we became part of a caterpillar with hundreds of lights and no vision. By the grace of Nin or 'Hughie' or Little Grey Men' we somehow arrived back in Tanza Road.

The Duttons had taken a flat in Lansdowne Road and one night asked us over to dinner with Roy Campbell, the South African poet, his wife Mary and their daughter. Geoffrey imprudently asked Jock - 'not to mention Catholicism or Franco's Spain. (Fatal thing to do!) Almost Jock's first remark to the Campbells was "Well, I've been told not to mention Catholicism or Spain, but I think Franco's a shit and the Pope's a crook".' Campbell reacted with surprising amiability, 'just argued, and begged Jock to come with him to the British Museum and read Vol. 28 of Marx and Engels.' The evening progressed to less fiery ground - but when we were all leaving Jock turned to the daughter and said 'Why do you wear that thing around your neck?' It was a cross. He was sticking his jaw out and going for it that night.


On July 27th, 1951, our baby daughter, Michelle, was born. Her birth, after three days of labour was a huge relief to all three of us. Having taken me to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, Jock had been camping in his sleeping bag in the laboratory in order to be near the action. Eventually we all recovered and went home. Owen Thomas had returned from New Zealand amusedly cursing 'striped-panted bastards' and prophesying doom for the English, and was staying with us. One day I found the two men in the garden apparently about to peg our new-born baby to the clothes-line. Steaming out there I was told they were merely going to test the theory of a baby's enormous strength in hanging by the fingers like an ape from a tree. 'Why not?' said Owen 'we'll catch her.' They were very plausible. She hung on - but the amount of support given and the time allowed hardly made for a significant scientific experiment. Jock was entranced by her, but also thought about his daughter in Australia - 'Nerida continues to bloom & I hope to have her over here & to have a hand in her development.' He hoped the news of her half-sister's arrival would be given carefully - 'it would be perhaps disastrous for Neri to get the impression that she was being abandoned by her Daddy.'

In this year too - 1951 - Tom Harrisson was back in England from Borneo. He and Jock talked for long hours in our Hampstead living room; Tom was often unhappy, almost despairing, with the problems of his marriage and young son. But they also began to stew up together another joint project with their usual enthusiasm; they were like a couple of boys again. This time it was scientific more than adventurous: they were going to do interesting things with collaboration on research into the sexual cycle of a little bird living in almost plague proportions right on the equator in Tom's patch of Borneo. It did seem like a remarkable opportunity. Tom wrote: 'I have known 75% of an area's rice crop destroyed by Munias. It is the major agricultural pest of South East Asia - and no one has done anything on or about it.' Jock wanted to discover as he had with Ceylonese bats, whether, on the equator, birds did breed regularly despite the lack of light fluctuation. In June 1952, with Tom back in Borneo, he was saying: 'There is not the least doubt that such an investigation would be worthwhile and by employing my techniques and your ability to see what is happening in the environment we can do something together that will make the whole Hebrides effort look like kid's stuff - which it was so far as the biological research was concerned.' He was also asking a lot of questions - and requesting that Tom answer them 'with a minimum of smut and obscenity. Please, my dear old cobber, don't think that I've gone respectable on you but I may want to submit your reply, along with a statement from John, in application for a London University research grant for say 50 pounds so that we can get about 10 of each sex of at least one or perhaps two species per month throughout the whole year, dead on the equator or thereabouts.' Tom's reply hardly fitted the requirements of a submission for a grant - beginning 'it must be marvellous to be actually married to you kid, I've just about had it at 10,000 miles (or is it further than that, I hope?)' and went on 'Now for your moronic notes on Munias. My dear Bart, do you realise you are looking at (across, I hope, 10,000 + miles) the world's number one Munimaniac. I live with them, glare at them, minute them, eat them. I have played with their doe-eyed offspring on nest and handled the nursing mothers in pup.' This was Tom the nature boy having a go at the scientist in his cell. On Dec. 1st, 1952 Jock wrote to Kuching: 'I send you Episcopal greetings & the knowledge that I have got 100 pounds for the investigation.'


All this time Jock had been working with his usual energy. In May he read a paper at a Conference in Leiden, Holland. It was received well and he made valuable contacts. Work was going well generally. Bart's decided to put him up for a full University of London Chair of Zoology. He thought, however, that he should probably get a Doctorate of Science before it went before the Board of pundits.

Another opportunity occurred: 'Most zoologists, when young, want to write their own textbook. It is a phase which I never passed through. But, quite by chance, I was offered the editorship of Vol. 11 (Chordates) of Parker & Haswell! I accepted with alacrity - & so I have started work, to "physiologise" this great old book. Some of it will be easy; but some very tough.' It proved to be a vast work. There were times when we felt bogged down. I was doing a lot of new illustrations for it. We worked until midnight or later many nights. Certainly his own work, two research trips to Uganda and publication of the book on Bower-birds intervened but it was five years before he could report, on 11th May, 1956 - 'Last Friday, after working every night until 3 or 4, I finally got Parker & Haswell to the publishers. It has meant an enormous amount of work - I have more than earned the 500 pounds offered me. But it is still the senior Text book of Zoology in the English language, & its writing enables me to stay here (with plenty of time for research) & still not get "typed" as merely a teacher of junior people.'

All this was true, yet scientific work was advancing at such a rate in those post-war years it gave Jock a few twinges of regret about time spent. He was amused - because it was all in the family - that I received more money for the illustrations than he did for the writing. But the illustrations were work for him too. He had to instruct me on detail and watch for my propensity for careless artistic rather than accurate touches. He was well pleased when it was over: 'I have redrafted Foster-Cooper's abominable English, have imparted a functional slant to the whole of Vol. 11, & have tried to bring the bare blood and bones to life. Also inserted the odd paragraph of a kind that normally would never appear in a a sober textbook of Zoology.' He sent thanks to his old teacher E. (Teddy) Briggs: 'I have just finished re-writing Vol. 11 of Parker & Haswell ... Why to tell you all about it? Well, I got my first really systematic instruction in comparative anatomy from you, a student of Haswell's, & I have never forgotten your kindness to me when I was a completely obscure youngster in the old Department.'


Early in 1952 the Chair of Zoology at Reading University came up. Jock decided to apply - 'along with Gip Wells (G.P., son of H.G. Wells), Dennell, Alister Graham & a lot of lesser lights. Graham got it. I got on the short list; but Graham was unbeatable, I should imagine, from the time he entered though Gip reckoned I had a good chance. Later, & by accident, I saw the testimonial John Baker wrote in my support. If ever I had a chance against Graham (which I don't believe I had in 1952) J.R.B.'s "support" would have wrecked it.'

The "support" was in the form of a referee's report to the University. These recommendations from experts are necessary in one's particular field of work; they also give an assessment of the characteristics they think may fit one for the post. Jock had thought himself entirely safe, and probably well-served, in asking John Baker for one. But unbelievably, not only did John bring up the divorce again but declared he did not know the circumstances leading to it; and then added an assessment of Jock's alleged shortcomings as a classical zoologist. He did praise his research but the other statements in such a reference were extremely damaging. 'Yet we are old, even intimate friends: what Englishman can you trust?! I am glad however, that it's happened now & not later.' In the matter of trust Jock was referring back to the Dakin incident. Dakin, an Englishman, had been his Professor but not his good friend. It seemed incredible that such a disadvantage could emanate from his old friend. 'Janey says "Jealousy" - Tommy [Dr Owen Thomas] says "I knew you were off-side there, boy!".'

It is true Jock's confidence in his own abilities and his unconventional behaviour undoubtedly riled some people (although he would never have thought John to be one of them) but jealousy was the more probable spark on this occasion. As Jock demonstrated years before, John was a complex and reclusive character. He had claimed he did not want a professorship - only the chance to do research, and one would have assumed that a Readership at Oxford was the crowning opportunity for this. He had been glad to be Jock's supervisor, to help him put his foot on the ladder - but to see him climb higher may have been another matter; a professorship, however disparaged, was a sacred cow in the academic world. Jock wondered why he agreed to do it if he could not be genuinely supportive; it almost looked like malice, which seemed unthinkable. Whatever his motives, Jock was deeply hurt by such an underhand stab. It is common practice for referees' reports to be confidential to the institution offering the job; but it is also common practice for any person asked for support to refuse it if they have reservations concerning the other's suitability for the position. That incident caused Jock always to give a copy of his testimonial to anyone he was supporting for an academic post.

There was more professional knifing hot on the heels of this, although he treated it lightly. Ironically it involved views he had put forward in support of John Baker's work on the Golgi body. Owen Thomas who was also working on it had just come back from seeing Professor Gatenby in Dublin. Thomas was 'as scared as hell that Gatenby will discredit both John and myself. He is going to sue John too - so he says.' This referred to an article Jock had written for Science Progress on this rather esoteric cytological subject - the Golgi body. His article supported the research John Baker and Owen Thomas were doing in Oxford which appeared to negate some of the findings of Professor Gatenby. Thomas reported Gatenby was furious - 'He will see to it that I [Jock] "never get a better job than I've got." Actually I quite like him although he has added me to his list - a long list - of hates.' Baker persisted in his research and years later, in 1958, wrote to Jock: 'Never forget that you were once in the fray yourself - luckily for you (or by insight) on the right side!' When I showed this letter to Professor Thomas he wrote 'the electron microscope has settled some points but we are just as uncertain of others. The more that is solved the more new questions are raised and the final truth recedes. This is true of all science.'


On May 26th, 1952 Jock's mother died. It was two years since she had come to live with us, and for the last several months her heart had been failing. She died after being in a coma for three days and having been very ill for three weeks. Jock hurried home, and sitting beside the still frail body, found a great wave of emotion suffucing him - 'there is something curious and special about death - even when reason tells one that it is good that it has at last taken place.' He pondered later whether the so deeply gripping emotion was 'an innate & hereditary response to the death of a mother & how much was the result of conditioning - a response to the loss of my mother to whom I was always intimately attached & to whom I owed so much in the past; & again how much of it was due to the physical presence of the still, frail form beside me. A mixture of all three?' He was deeply affected by her death and was going through the guilt which tells one that there was so much more one could have done to make for happiness in the last years. And he further upset because ' ... Two fragile lives went out together - Janey had a miscarriage, no doubt caused by lifting Nin when nurse was absent & by the crisis in general during the last awful few days.'

We were both physically and emotionally exhausted - especially Jock. A gloom took hold of him. The events of the last two months had been gruelling. We decided to take advantage of an offer to exchange houses for a month with friends in Oxford. This was a good move. It was a beautiful summer. With our baby daughter we relaxed in familiar places and Jock went back to London ready to work.


A year later, on May 6th, 1953 our son was born. He appeared precipitously at one o'clock in the morning, causing Jock, anticipating a long wait in his laboratory, to leap out of his sleeping bag as he had just wriggled into it, to try and find the right 'phone in the dark. He was delighted. We called him Donald Merton - Jock, true to his word, wished to honour the College eight; we saw no disadvantage in that good old Anglo-Saxon name, though predictably our son did.

Just after this he suddenly announced: 'I have withdrawn my candidature for Sydney D.Sc..' This application for a Sydney Doctorate of Science had replaced his earlier intention to apply for one from the University of London. A Doctorate is the higher degree in one's chosen discipline (as opposed to the more all-embracing title of Doctor of Philosophy) which can only be obtained from most universities with a considerable body of published research papers. It is not an essential in seeking the more important academic jobs, but helps significantly to prove the worth of one's research. Jock was now annoyed with Sydney: 'They wanted five bound copies pre-examination (this requirement not in the calendar - merely a convention). Told them to send it back. Should not have sent it there in the first place - will wait for publication of book - accepted by Oxford [University Press] - & send to Oxford or London.' The old dichotomy was working again. There had been the emotional pull to be connected with Sydney University, but knowing the academic world as he did he was aware that an Oxford D.Sc. in particular, although harder to get, would be more valuable professionally. It was unlikely this act endeared him to Sydney University, however.

He began a concentrated effort to finish the book for publication. On August 3rd, the morning of going off to an international congress of Zoology in Copenhagen ('I never felt less like going anywhere - almost. That's what happy domesticity has done for me!') he noted: 'Last night at 12.45 Jania and I finished off the last map of that damned bower-bird book. It was becoming rather a bore.' But the Copenhagen congress turned out to be stimulating. After a couple of days he wrote to me: 'I have met the people I wanted to see - Mayr, who is a pleasant, egotistical bloke (but whom I like) & Stresemann, the Berliner, who is a most charming person. I found my ideas & theirs agreed on all points, which astonished me: tho' I reflected that perhaps I shouldn't have been [astonished] because they are both v. v. good! I expect they went away thinking that Marshall was a pleasant egotistical bloke.'

Work ran on. In the next two or three years he published a considerable body of research, building up an international reputation. He returned to a curious asymmetric reaction he had noted years before in the uterine horns of the giant fruit-bat, worked on the influence of drought and rainfall on Australian desert birds, on the sexual cycle and display in the great grey bower bird, on the effects of hypophysectomy on internal testis rhythm in birds and mammals; he even made a small contribution on lung cancer to the British Medical Journal, based on observations of his own physiological reactions to heavy smoking which concerned the role of nasopharyngeal cilia. He made quite a number of experiments on himself and then took to a pipe. This last was a side-line, but in 1955 he read a paper to the Society for Endocrinology in which, although it was concerned with male birds, gives some overview of the thrust of his work:

'I follow my late illustrious Cambridge namesake [F.H.A. Marshall, 1936] in believing that the primary organ of periodicity is the gonad ... To me the most plausible view of the regulation of sexual periodicity is to think of the gonad as a sort of cog-wheel which is seasonally engaged, so to speak, by various environmental teeth, which differ in combination and significance from species to species. The sensitivity of a species to these combined stimuli and its specific neuroendocrine response to them have no doubt evolved by natural selection. A seasonally recurring complex or succession of stimuli that is physiologically significant to a given species will lead in the individual to gonadotrophin release and response by the testis.'

For many years, since the Canadian zoologist Rowan had found that he could bring captive migratory finches and crows near to breeding condition by means of increased light, simply from electric bulbs, photo stimulation had been considered a paramount regulator of animal breeding periodicity. Plainly Jock did not agree with this. He believed that an artificial picture had been built up by an imbalance of laboratory work to conditions in the natural environment, and that photo periodicity was a grossly over-rated factor in the regulation of breeding seasons. Just one example was a small bat studied by the Oxford expedition to the New Hebrides 'which hangs all day in a pitch-black cave of almost constant temperature and had one of the sharpest breeding seasons yet described.' For various kinds of experimental work photo stimulation was an almost indispensable tool but 'it is true to say that of the remarkable number of photostimulation experiments that have been designed for the study of breeding seasons, including migration, few have had much in common with what normally happens in the environment with its complex and changing pattern of important events such as fluctuating temperature, the presence and acquisition of a mate, the taking up and defence of territory and the abundance, or otherwise, of traditional food.'

The book Bower-Birds was published in 1954. He submitted it and twenty papers for an Oxford University Doctorate of Science which was conferred in 1956. He also began thinking, about this time, on the necessity for a comprehensive book on the biology of birds as he became increasingly 'bored with the frequent need to go back into the Victorian & Edwardian literature, or to translate from another language, whenever I wanted a relatively simple piece of information about a muscle, bone, the blood, gut, or sense organs of birds.' Furthermore no simple volume contained accounts of the many, often exciting, ornithological discoveries made during the previous thirty years. He did not want to desert his laboratory in order to write it himself so began writing to friends and colleagues who might contribute chapters for such a book. Over some years numbers of distinguished biologists undertook this task under his editorship and in 1960 Biology and Comparative Physiology of Birds was published by Academic Press in two volumes.

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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