Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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Wildlife in Africa

In 1955 an invitation had come which excited his interest in every way. It was from the Director and Officers of the Fisheries Research Organisation Laboratory at Jinja in Uganda. Jock's research on the physiology of reproduction was the reason. The Ugandan Fisheries people were interested in a problem that arose in relation to a tasty fresh-water fish of the genus Tilapia. There were about twenty species of it scattered about Africa: and since 1939, from, it seems, five fish found mysteriously swimming in a lagoon in Java, a huge spread of this East Africa species Tilapia mossambica had occured throughout the islands of the East Indies; and since the War, throughout all the territories previously occupied by the Japanese, who were very impressed by it. After the War it was cultured in Formosa as well. In some species of Tilapia the female gathers up the eggs into her mouth where they are incubated. In these 'mouth-brooding' species the eggs only take a few days to hatch and during this period a captured female often drops the golden eggs from her mouth. Two of the strange fish in the lagoon in Java were females and seem to have been responsible for this astonishing population explosion. In countries where fish is an important source of protein this seemed a gift from the gods. But the gift held danger.

Jock sketched in the background to the investigation in a B.B.C. Third Program talk after he returned:

'After the war, the spread of the alien Tilapia was helped by officers of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. More than 150,000 pamphlets on how to culture Tilapia were distributed. It was now known that Tilapia mossambica would eat all kinds of unlikely substances, including waste, such as rice bran, the residue from copra and all sorts of easily gathered vegetables as well ... Tilapia, flourishing in almost any sort of pond, ditch or tank, was spread into the Philippines, Southern Indonesia, India and Ceylon. From Malaya it was taken to St. Lucia in the West Indies.'

From there it colonised many of the islands. There seemed no drawback to this amazing breeding machine at first, except that it would not tolerate low water temperature. Even in its native Africa several species had been removed from lakes into ponds, dams and ditches. But in these places and in ponds throughout its whole tropical invasion area a mysterious drawback was appearing.

'A very unexpected and peculiar thing happens when you take Tilapia from its normal lake, or deep river habitat and put it in a pond or dam. It runts (as they say). That is, its growth rate slows down, and species that reach say fifteen inches in their natural waters undergo radical metabolic changes in fish-ponds, where they start reproducing, and almost stop growing, upon reaching a length of four or five inches. The result is that ponds become filled with thousands of comparative tiddlers, so defeating partially at least the object of their cultivation.

In their native waters the various species of Tilapia behave as do most vertebrate animals (including ourselves) in regard to growth and reproduction. That is, they have a relatively unvarying period of growth, and then, at a fairly constant age and size, become sexually mature and begin to reproduce. There is much that we still do not understand about the factors influencing these events, even in much studied vertebrates like birds, rodents, rabbits and ourselves ... There comes a time in each individual, at an age and size varying between species, that the anterior pituitary produces gonadotropic hormones. These, liberated into the bloodstream, flow to the gonads or sex organs. These they influence to secrete sex hormones, which in turn play an essential part in the process of gametogenesis - the ripening of ova and sperm - and reproduction. In ponds the normal growth and reproduction rhythms are somehow upset. For example, in dams and ponds some species of Tilapia become sexually mature when only a couple of inches long. At the same time they almost, but not quite, stop growing. As some species of Tilapia breed all the year round, you can imagine the result - enormous numbers of fecund dwarfs or runts. In very few countries are these considered to be desirable as food fish. So now the pendulum has swung the other way: people are not so keen to introduce Tilapia and to disrupt, as importations usually do, the native fauna.'

So Jock went off to Africa. He was very happy. It was a new adventure, physically and scientifically; he had never seen Africa beyond Cairo before, and he had never studied a fish in detail before.


He arrived in Uganda on July 8th 1955, and travelled to Jinja on the northern shore of Lake Victoria. The Fisheries Research Station sat, as it still does (now locked and apparently deserted), on the shore overlooking the vast expanse of lake. Jock was installed in a house of his own a few yards from the laboratory. Each staff house was much the same, and comfortable. His was bare except for a lot of good functional furniture, a few curtains and linen. 'Today I took up some laboratory beakers and filled them with cream tuber-roses and scarlet salvia, and the pale yellow zinnias with purple flowers that I couldn't identify; and the place now looks rather better.' He was showing his home-making instincts again. He loved flowers. 'The place abounds with flowers - European and tropical; and everywhere there are sweeping green lawns and clipped hedges. In front of the laboratory and down the slope is a bay of the lake; and, in between, there are lots of big indigenous trees.' He was to be looked after by Sylvester who cost him the princely sum of 80 shillings a month, washed his clothes and 'paraded in the evenings with a flit-spray.' He bought biscuits and skipped breakfast and ate dinner in a hotel 'with lots of horribly "good home cooking" .' He found the opportunities for research that were being given to him remarkably good. 'I have a research room to myself overlooking the bay, a phase-contrast mike as good as that which we use at Bart's and everybody is being as helpful as they possibly can be. I still haven't quite got used to the incredible relative comfort of it all - compared, for example, with New Guinea or the New Hebrides.'

Jock's view of equatorial Africa had been coloured by those experiences. He expected it to be wild, uncomfortable, disease-ridden and dangerous. It was all of those things in many places. But, despite his reading, he was unprepared for the success of colonial enterprise in the cities and larger towns of the East, or the comfort with which the invasive white society had been able to surround themselves, in a style utterly different from the more primitive white enclaves around the fringes of Melanesia twenty years before. Uganda was peaceful at that time. Those Ugandans who remember the colonial government, which was doubtless quite undemocratic, must nevertheless think of it as benevolent compared with the excesses of brutality and horror visited on them later by their dictator, Idi Amin, and in lesser degree by some who have followed him. But in 1955 there seemed no sign of such a future. The fisheries research program on Tilapia was a good cause - to improve the diet of deprived populations. Jock found all the people working there on their various projects enthusiastic and hard-working; 'but Beauchamp [the Director] is hamstrung with the administrative difficulties & irritations inseparable from colonial services.'

He started work. He could see that his research would tie in beautifully with certain aspects of that of the other scientists, particularly Dr Humphrey Greenwood, a young South African who became a friend and later worked in the British Museum of Natural History in London, but in Jinja was 'just beginning to get his teeth into serious research.' He had a 'high regard' for Jock as a scientist and wrote of his visit: 'His stay in Uganda was unforgettable. Our fields of research, although concerned with different animals and involving different approaches to the problems, overlapped quite extensively. So, at last I had an intellectual companion with whom to argue, test-out ideas, and always get straight answers, and criticism, uncluttered by the supposed niceties of English-brand politeness. His presence in the highly stratified and socially incestuous atmosphere of a British outpost society was a great morale booster for another "Colonial" somewhat baffled by it all. As a companion in the field he was superb.'

Jock was excited that he would be able to start off several investigations of his own in relation to breeding seasons. 'This place swarms with insectivorous bats and they are a major pest for they live in the houses and their guano bulges the ceilings down. I have already got about a dozen to start off an investigation of the cycle of an equatorial mammal. You'll remember we did one in Ceylon at about 7 deg. and one in the New Hebrides at about the same latitude. This will be right on the equator and the only such job that has ever been done with a mammal or any vertebrate for that matter. Then there are the fishes (two species at least to work with, out of many more that are possible); and I hope to start off something on a reptile, an amphibian and a bird.'

He was glad, too, to experience some of Africa for the first time. The Rippon Falls, where Speke and Burton had seen the huge bulk of Lake Victoria's water sliding over rocks to become the White Nile, were just at the edge of Jinja township - and about to be lost under the water of the dam, almost completed downstream. In fact, when Jock came back a year later the scene had been obliterated under a sheet of water. Out on the lake, setting fishing nets, he met hippopotami, a large family, which nearly upset the boat. 'They would have been exceedingly easy to shoot - and if that is big-game shooting, I want none of it - occasionally the odd one comes up grazing the grass in front of the lab. - they can be savage if disturbed and inflict a bad wound (among the zinnia beds: a nice thought!)'

After ten days collecting and working at the Fisheries Laboratory he moved on to Arusha in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) - a small town near the large game reserves and not far from Mount Kilimanjaro. There he was to meet H.J. (John) Disney, an officer of the Department of Agriculture in Tanganyika who had been studying a small weaver-bird, Quelea quelea. Disney was engaged in full time research into the biology and control of this bird. Like Tilapia, Quelea's success in massive reproduction was an enormous problem - and had been since its first recorded history. The charming little bird, hovering at the opening of its ball-like nest, was a ubiquitous pest over large areas of the drier parts of Africa. 'It often exists in such large numbers that flocks are mistaken for locusts. A single breeding colony may consist of more than one million birds building as many as 250 nests to a single thorn bush over a closely bushed area of perhaps four square miles of uninhabited country. Although Q. quelea is less than five inches long and weighs little more than half an once, a large flock may make a physical impact sufficient to devastate an area of timber, snapping branches several inches in thickness.' The species was doing great damage to small grain crops such as wheat, rice, sorghum and millet. At times it was responsible for famines of varying severity. Much attention was being paid to the biology and control of Q. quelea in French West Africa, South Africa and Tanganyika. Explosives, flame-throwers and poison sprays have were used on roosts in attempts to reduce its numbers. Both Jock and the Tanganyika Government were interested in trying to discover more about the environmental and physiological factors which might be responsible for such reproductive success.

On July 22nd he and John Disney set up a photo stimulation experiment with three cages of Queliea. They agreed on some investigations and later published papers together; 'It will be very good for him to get a few publications out - he is an excellent man for the job that he is doing and, I think, is not appreciated here as much as he should be.' Disney also showed Jock some of the great African animals roaming Ngorogoro crater and he 'showed me giraffe au naturel - they are as incredible in the bush as they are in the zoo.'


Then he went to the farm of his pre-war friend, Raymond Hook, in Kenya. It straddled the equator at Nanyuki. Raymond, it seemed, had not changed a bit since the days of his slightly mad and unsuccessful bid to start cheetah racing in England. He had two farms and a thriving mixed business selling dairy products, beef, mutton, ghee to the Indians, and wild animals, birds, reptiles etc.. Jock thought this a magnificent place to work - 'dead on the equator & it abounds in animals that are really easy to collect. Raymond is quite keen to cooperate, & knowing him, it will be done conscientiously.' He was delighted at the prospect of the work ahead - 'If all goes well I will get more out of this small trip than the whole expedition of us did in the N. Hebrides - a show that was launched at tremendous expense & achieved, in fact, relatively little in the way of concrete conclusions.'

There was another aspect of conditions on the two farms which interested Jock very much - the threat of Mau Mau attack. Like all other settlers, Hook had a small watch tower and his house was perimetered with barbed wire and thorn bushes. He kept a private army of 5 armed natives and carried his own firearms. 'He obviously doesn't care a dam for the Maus ("Mickys" = mice) & in fact runs an espionage service & reports their movements to HQ.' Hook was told by Army Intelligence that he was number two on the list of human sacrifice - number one had just recently been buried alive. So far, however, he had not even been shot at and did not lock his door. He was a first class shot and they did not like risking casualties, he employed many Mau Mau and so funds regularly reached the terrorists amongst them from his farm, and they probably liked him because he treated his labour well. 'As, however, they must know he sets spies on them it would seem that it is only a matter of time before they have a real go at him.' Many years later Jock had a letter - he was well.

Interspersed with bird and other animal notes Jock ran a commentary on what he thought about this state of war. He noted that Raymond's chief-boy was a Somali, as were his staff at the lower farm - 'he can't trust Kikuyus'. Also that the women were promised freedom from serfdom when the Kikuyus took over.' It seemed the Mau Mau were unwilling on the whole to attack those who appeared able to protect themselves despite their atavistic addiction to dark oaths of violence, taken within secret societies, against all who opposed them - a situation in which many of their own unarmed and helpless people were brutally slaughtered. The army had been ineffectually trying to track and dig them out of hiding for years. 'From conversations I have had it would seem that each patrol has a restricted area to look after & that it goes out just before first light & starts to come back at 4 p.m.!!!'

None of this stopped Raymond and Jock continuing their collections of birds and snakes. At the same time there was much talk with other settlers of 'the feeble methods employed by the military', which stirred Jock's old jungle-training emotions, so they were also working at the possibility of him joining a patrol to find out at first hand what was going on. Surprisingly they succeeded. So he went off on August 3rd with a platoon and four black trackers, three of whom were ex-Mau Mau. The loads were transferred from lorries to horses and they went up through bamboo forests under Mount Kenya; 'the horses were making so much row in the thick bamboo - their loads were constantly catching in it - that even if the noise and lights of our lorry had not scared every Mau Mau for miles, certainly our latter progress would.' The five days he spent with them simply confirmed what he had been told. The only excitement came from 'a magnificent bull buffalo', a dangerously aggressive animal, which he photographed riskily. He returned with a deep contempt for the ineptitude of the exercises 'coupled with a renewed curious affection, for the English as fighting men.'


A few days later he was in Uganda: 'Jinja. Back "home" - Sylvester, resplendent in tangerine shirt, apple-green apron & cord pants of a colour to be described as "warm" greeted me with a hot bath & a house full of lovely red-purple Bougainvillea.'

He was immediately checking on the experiments he and Bob Beauchamp had set up on Tilapia: 'we acquired a nice population of runts and are at the moment giving half of them 12 hours intensive photo-stimulation, while the others are in dim light of an intensity that might be expected at about 30 feet below the lake. Will the latter begin growing? Later I hope to get a population of young from the lake and do likewise - to see whether we can produce runting artificially.' They also started preserving fish in earnest for later microscopic study back at Bart's. Dr Beauchamp, who had been in London for a brief trip, told me Jock was 'a constant breath of fresh air to them all' - made them laugh too. Jock was enjoying himself. He liked Uganda; it reminded him of Queensland - 'they are much more stuffy and 'English' in Kenya where, of course, all the trouble is.'

Now he needed to map out the work to be done in collaboration with other workers in the field. 'This will have been probably the most profitable - professionally - three months of my life.' He was so enthralled by the work, the country and the people that he felt ambivalent about his departure on August 29th. 'I won't be glad to leave here; but will be v. glad to be going home! I can hardly wait to see the babes & Janey; & particularly to see what has happened to little Doyne [Donald] during the past two months - there is bound to be an enormous difference ...'. On the second trip to Africa the following year he admitted having nightmares about the safety of the children. During a nasty bout of malaria complicated by a painful "Veldt sore" - 'I didn't sleep & had awful thoughts of Mickey [Michelle] & Doyne finding & eating aspirins in Janey's absence ( [she] left for France on the 21st) & at one particularly sweating stage thought of the babes being attacked by a gaboon viper!' And later, having got letters to say the children were bursting with health - 'I am relieved; tho' I expected they would be. But I sweated several times on night railway journeys, in the early hours, when I woke up & wondered about all the things that might happen to the little people.'

So often thoughtless of his own safety he was constantly tuned to the welfare and safety of the young. He worried more than I did - made me seem almost careless at times - about danger to the children's lives. I had made a strong argument for the children and myself to go with him to Jinja, since a cottage was being provided - but he was so worried about the equatorial environment and tsetse fly for the children that in the end I did not persist. It is easy, in retrospect, to think I should have persisted for shared travel more often than I did, but I know at the time I was only mildly ruffled. There were many compensations. I was occupied with children and work, I could paint more often sometimes, I could travel to the country when time allowed, I was never bored; he was happy, he missed us and deprivation made for glowing homecomings. He needed to feel a sense of adventure and travelling with a spouse would rarely fulfil that need for a man like him. I did travel, but only three times with him in Europe - Africa and more exotic destinations had to wait. Planning for the children's safety was very important to him, though there was a certain dichotomy in this attitude. He also liked the idea that they should learn to meet challenges - ride horses, climb trees. This had a disconcerting result on one occasion at least, when our youngest daughter aged five, having learned with gusto to climb like her sister and brother, was discovered about fifteen feet up a Norfolk Island pine tree and within eighteen inches of power lines. Jock went up after her to persuade her to come down rather than go up. Back safely with her on the ground, he said rather weakly 'That was fear.'

This second journey to Africa was in the same months as before - late July, August and September - in order to check on the experiments. He settled in: 'lovely frangipani again, tuber-roses (which go with old geraniums in my house & impart a faint though heavy scent when I come home) ... And the Southern Cross again - it looked v. v. good to me!' His thoughts were turning towards the southern hemisphere once more. He was amused to find his new house boy was called "Jacana". Jacana is a light, long-legged, spidery-toed bird which walks across the carpets of lily leaves that spread over water, and predictably attracts the name "Christ bird". Jock's Jacana was just released from jail for being drunk and disorderly and for getting mixed up in an enthusiastic fight in front of the local picture show - 'but who am I to complain?'

The collections which had been accumulating during the year came in and there was a huge amount of work to be done. He was pleased and confident of good results, though there was disappointment concerning the Tilapia study. On August 12th he wrote a cryptic note: 'This place is going to be closed. See Hardy [Sir Alister], [and] J.Z.Young when I get back - establish a 3-university Biological Research Station? It could be a marvellous place from that point of view.' It could have been; but in 1956 there were already stirrings for Ugandan independence, which, in fact, was only six years away. Since 1952 there had been a political party amalgamating many tribes. The British Colonial authorities could see the signs; they were taking no risks with further funding. Sadly many scientific collaborations eventually sank under the increasing turmoil of Ugandan politics. We were unhappy about this situation on a personal level as well, because Jock had planned that we should all go to Uganda together for the next phase of the work.

It would not now be possible to get conclusive results from the fish program. However, other work was 'going beautifully; I was up till 3 last night working on graphs showing the continuous reproductions of bats and the almost similar condition in cormorants. That's material for two papers.' Then he was going to Raymond Hook's farm to see what he had in the way of lizards, frogs, toads and glossy starlings; and then on to Dodoma to look at Quelea. 'I believe that the series of studies that are under way will make our rather primitive and Bakerish New Hebridean effort look like an essay by a member of the biology class at the Tooting Grammar School. Certain I am getting results, whereas the best we could conclude in the New Hebrides was that tropical breeding seasons seem to be "controlled by factors not registrable by the senses or instruments of Man" (I said "we", but I was just a kid and John did all the analysis and the final report without consulting anybody else).' He was particularly happy with the experiment he designed and Disney had carried out on Quelea at Dodoma: '- it seems that it is undoubtedly the appearance of fresh grass that is the chief factor, apart from plumage change & gonad condition, that allows reproduction. This experiment may become a minor classic in the subject?' 'He was the first person to show experimentally, the importance of rainfall to an equatorial bird' wrote Professor Brian Lofts in 1967.

While in Tanzania he also visited Dar es Salam at the invitation of the Government Fisheries people. As one of the men he particularly wanted to see was in the field he went across to Zanzibar while awaiting his return. He felt lyrical about this lovely little island - 'exuberantly Arabic & itself. It reeks of slave history, with one or two old women still alive who were rescued from dhows towards the end of the century.' He was also fascinated by preparations in Zanzibar and Dar es Salam for the impending visit of Princess Margaret - '(Charlie's Aunt). It would appear that in Jamaica she got the squitters, & the most fantastic precautions are being taken in E. Africa to guard the Royal Colon.'

Back in Jinja he went to a British Medical Association meeting - and saw two examples of Nakalanga dwarfs. He was very interested in the side effect of a worm that attacks the liver of these forest people. The side-effect seemed to be deleterious 'in relation to both growth and sexual development.' He spoke at the meeting and also told the medical officer at the local hospital that if he could get material they might do something on it. He seemed keen but it was hard to get a cadaver. They did get one eventually - although it arrived badly preserved. He should have been visiting the hospital for other reasons too - the "Veldt" sore which had been bothering him before he left Jinja was still not healed. There was only one week left to departure and he could have cleared it up with penicillin injections but 'I just haven't the time for a daily visit to the hospital - I am going absolutely flat out to clear up all the numerous tag-ends.' It healed slowly in London but gave him a souvenir, added to those of the Barrier Reef & Santo, 'that I will carry to my grave.'

One morning just before he left for Uganda there had been a more potentially serious problem: 'I am waiting to go across to St Mark's Hospital to see Naunton Morgan who is operating there. Last night in my bath I discovered myself apparently possessed of three testes. This would be excellent if it were a natural phenomenon! ; actually, however, it is clearly the result of new tissue formed in the region of the right epididymis. I saw no reason to tell Janey, but rang to see where Naunton is today. It can probably be one of two things - cyst or carcinoma. I hope the former. If the latter, I will have to re-arrange my whole program towards money-making for the future of the young since the thing is so big.' He made a sketch about the size of a ten cent piece. It was all so practical - seemingly unemotional; it was his way of dealing with his own bodily traumas. By the afternoon it was 'Fine: cyst. Apparently you can tell by shining a torch-light through. Transparency = cyst.' We could then laugh about it.


Back from Uganda in London and happy with the radiant appearance of his children - he immediately set to work on the collections of Munia which had arrived from Kuching and became seriously worried. He wrote to Tom Harrisson. 'I dissected all of the gonads out, but found, as I suspected, the organs were in a mushy disintegrating state because the bellies had not been sufficiently slit in order to expose all of the viscera to the fixative. You will recall how, in the New Hebrides, we took great care to do this.' The light experiment had not been successfully completed in Kuching either: 'As soon as I cut sections I will know whether it is possible to get any results or not. It will be exceedingly irritating if all this work at both ends has gone down the drain.' He was more angry at this situation than he otherwise might have been because the work on Quelea quelea had gone so smoothly. However, earlier in 1955 Tom had asked him to come out to Kuching; had he been able to spare the time to do that a great many on- going difficulties could perhaps have been avoided. But he wrote to Tom in December of that year, in answer to Tom's announcement that he was returning to England again, saying that the latest work had turned out better than expected.

Tom did return in 1956 and we were part of a small wedding party that celebrated his marriage to Barbara Guttler Brunig on March 14th. Jock and Tom were warmly amusing and rude with each other as ever, but when the couple returned to Borneo we never saw Tom again. Letters, which had up to this time been fairly frequent and as usual part business-like and part friendly, funny, acrimonious, now became more sparse. A few detailed ones from Jock, notes from Tom - until in May 1959, an angry letter from Tom concerning accusations from Jock that Tom was holding up publication. A long rejoinder from Jock a few days later: 'I am not only "suggesting" that you are holding up the work. I am specifically saying that you have done so. I don't give a damn if you did ten, not three (as you say) times as much as it was originally asked. The fact remains that you have neglected to send the information repeatedly asked for, that would have made it possible for us to publish ... I repeat that we have first class data; but must have intelligent cooperation from your end in order to tie it up.' Tom had acquired a cassowary. Jock ended 'I trust ... that my friend B. is not finding the menage a trois too irksome. My love to the cassowary. Floreat Hog Harbour!' A friendly note from Tom indicated that everything was clearer to him; he would be away in the Caves for two to three months but would 'get back to tackling your points in detail.' There is no evidence that he did get back to the detail and two to three months was not what Jock had in mind. In the three years since they had left each other at the wedding both had been driving their lives at speed in quite different ways. Tom had complicated his with a Kelabit marriage so that the menage was not merely 'a trois' but something different and perhaps disintegrating. This was the end of the project, except for a cool note from Jock saying that he had been appointed to Monash and would try to call in at Kuching, and perhaps then they would be able to get the Munia studies off the ground again. It was the end of correspondence. It was also the end of a friendship - although, had they met again, it may have sparked into life. The joint venture drawn out over eight years had come to nothing like the joint New Hebridean bird work and the frustrated expedition to New Guinea. They had always had an ability to work up ideas together into a bubbling yeast which really excited them, but once it was on the move their different personalities and attitude to the work became antipathetic to co-operation and in the end deadening. Yet there had always been that strange rapport which gave excitement, fun and sometimes comfort to shared experiences - and for Tom a compassionate ear for his emotional troubles (which Jock undoubtedly had, for all his tough honesty - although he would not bare his own emotional soul so easily). But that long distance protracted Munia study fell victim again to their differing personal, scientific and career aims.

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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