Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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Perfidy and Politics

There had been another more cheerful event before he left for Africa. The College decided again to put him forward for the conferment of the title of Professor of Zoology. This particular saga - I can call it that because it had been initiated some years before and was not completed until ten months later - had a profound effect on Jock, though perhaps none at all on his academic career. It had a somewhat complicated history beginning four years before when he had decided to defer it despite the Dean, Dr Harris's, offer to put him forward. As well as feeling he needed to get a Doctorate of Science he was concerned at the current talk concerning the possibility of abolishing pre-medical training in hospital colleges and doing it all in schools. 'I have never believed that this would happen but at the same time it has not seemed opportune to apply for the conferment of a chair in a department which many people hoped would become non-existent. Then Foxon of Guy's [Medical College] last year had the title conferred on him. I put my stuff in for the Oxford D.Sc.; & will take it next Saturday.'

It was passed by the College and Executive Committee and then was to go to the Professoriate Committee of the University of London. From this, if passed, 'the thing is sent to two external experts - Pantin of Cambridge & Graham of Reading. Both of these are essentially fair-minded people.' There would also be an internal (i.e. University of London) expert chosen from three possible ones at the time: 'Peter Medewar of University College, little Bullough of Birkbeck & Smith of Queen Mary College. Of the three I would prefer Smith - he's a good scientist & a charming person & probably quite unjealous (so to speak!). I don't trust Peter, though I like him; however, as Foxon got it, there should he no reason whatever for anybody legitimately to try to stop me - except that I don't go to University of London committee meetings! I rang Foxon some days ago concerning the drill. He was generous enough to say quite spontaneously that as I had much more fundamental work out than he, the thing should be in the bag. Looking at the thing quite dispassionately it should be.'

Later, back from Africa, he noted: 'Professoriate Committee of the University of London has told Bart's that it is alright with them if Bart's can find an extra 250 pounds a year.' Well, it was alright with the University, with the College, with two successive Deans to the point of initiating action, but the power now rested with the 'experts'. Jock got his wish that Professor Eric Smith should be the internal expert. Peter Medewar, the University's choice, had to withdraw owing to a trip to the United States.


These experts met on March 13th the following year - 1957 - along with the Dean of the Medical College and the Principal and Registrar of London University. Jock was confident: 'it will be allright - I feel it in my water' he said cheerfully as he went off that morning in carefully chosen shirt and tie to compliment a dignified suit, curls brushed and blue eyes sparkling. But the signs in his water, so often prophetic, had failed him. 'Pantin, the most senior, spoke first, & was firmly against. Graham was unequivocally for, citing several times the Foxon precedent & pointing out that I had done much more. Smith sat on the fence, leaning a little towards Pantin's side.' This information came to Jock from the Dean. It was necessary for Jock to be 'in waiting'. He was astonished beyond words when given the result - a stalemate. It had been deferred. This was so patently absurd it caused an explosion of comment among zoologists. Professor John (J.Z.) Young's remark was typical of very many others - 'Utterly disgraceful!'. Again and again the Foxon precedent was cited.

Jock's account of the proceedings - written relatively freshly at the time - is, in view of the outcome and his privately expressed feelings, probably a fair assessment:

'There is no use crying about it; but it is useful to know, if possible, the reasons why. I delayed Bart's submission of the application until there was no chance of failure - after all, a Beit Fellowship, a Reader of about seven years standing, a Clarenden Press book that was well received & an Oxford D.Sc.; Foxon had none of these things & we all thought that the thing would be a mere formality. I had told Janey to relax - that Pantin being senior, would set the tone of the meeting. And how right I was!'

'A few months before he had said very pleasant things about my work in the course of a business letter (as editor of QJMS) to me; & he had two papers (Vipera & Teleost) in the Press. Smith, I had seen a few evenings before at a dinner & he had, on his way out, come up especially & given me a large wink ... It seems fairly obvious that he went in meaning to support. However, all say that he is (1) an ex-student of Pantin's, (2) was backed by Pantin for the Queen Mary Chair & (3) that Pantin will be his chief supporter for the F.R.S. He did not resolutely oppose the matter, but leaned slightly towards Pantin's view.'

'Smith's part in the matter is clear: so is Graham's, who fought [unreadable word] on my behalf for 35 minutes (these things are usually decided in 20). Pantin's attitude is baffling, but the general opinion is that, although he is good enough to have got a Chair himself & he did not do so because of recurring T.B., he resents the conferment of title on anybody else who is not a protege or friend. It is widely said that he is a most kindly & helpful man "to young people especially". Does that mean "to people who are stooges to him"?'

'I have never spoken to him beyond saying "How do you do" when introduced by John Baker about 1947. Dennis suggested that Baker may have influenced him; one cannot be sure. He didn't attack me, merely reiterating that all my work was one theme (wildly untrue), & that I had no research students (untrue). It was a great pity that Tuckwell, our Dean, is so dumb, for had he briefed himself he could have helped Graham demolish the first argument and could have demolished the second himself. But Tuckwell, like everybody else, thought it was a mere formality. The arguments, in fact, were already demolished in my Curriculum Vitae; but Graham (whom I've met only a few times) fought a lone battle until the University Principle (Lockwood) said "Well, we don't seem to be able to reach any agreement, therefore it is best that Bart's should withdraw the application".'

It was extraordinary. By this time Jock's reputation was undeniably international, and acknowledged by many of his most distinguished peers in England. It was also maddening in that Pantin, like Smith, should not have been assessing. His term as external expert ended in October of the year before but he had been asked to serve another year owing to the difficulty of finding someone who would not be likely to contemplate a University of London Chair himself. There was an awful irony in Jock's previous view of the experts - particularly the wish for Smith rather than Medewar. It is extremely unlikely the brilliant Medewar would have had any such hidden agenda.

It seemed to be an amazing coincidence that on two occasions now Jock's academic life had been affected by a man whose own frustrations appeared to drive him to be, if not destructive, certainly obstructive of another's career. In this case it was an unseen mix of chance and psychological barriers to fair play; the sort of injustice one usually associates with the law rather than academic achievement - but academe is riddled with such human abuse of fair assessment, and jealousy is rife. The idea of fairness was vitally important to Jock. He practised it himself, particularly in dealing with anyone who worked for or with him - often tough on them but equally so on himself. He lauded it in his parents, especially his mother. As he saw it she was always fair and generous-minded, which was true if she liked you. But it is impossible to ignore her almost brutal unfairness to one, if not both, her daughters in favour of the sons. Jock was in ignorance of her behaviour towards the first and chose to ignore the second, but the apparent precedent was all-important. In terms of this history alone the behaviour of Pantin and Smith was gross unfairness, though one needed no such background to see it thus in purely academic terms.

Despite the measured tone of his account of these events Jock was very, very angry. It made no difference whatever to his position and authority at Bart's, nor to his work. But it made other differences of a subtle kind, and a not insignificant difference to our financial state. The injustice of it was impossible to ignore, whatever his intentions. He valued the title, not for its intrinsic use, but much more for the seal it put upon a career that had lost ten years out of the conventional span - from school to one's own laboratory. The catching up had been hard, dedicated and sometimes inspired work which he knew very well was good enough for this seal of approval. Contemplating it, such phrases as 'academic spiv' and 'pusillanimous worm' emerged. One colleague, Professor Alan Parkes, admonished him to be careful of using 'this kind of dynamite'. Another, Professor Ralph Dennell, wrote 'I am not surprised at the influence of Cambridge on events. In an interview in London I once had exactly the same treatment from C.F.A.P. [Carl Pantin] - why London persistently kow-tows to these Cambridge personalities I don't know ... I think you can be assured that scientific eminence is not the criterion on these occasions, although it is, of course, pretended that it is so. I have good evidence that it may even be an obstacle.'

To be careful in the sense mentioned by Alan Parkes was not a matter of avoiding a defamation case, but much more the effect this might have on future career prospects - such as becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society. Jock would not be careful. He wrote to another friend: 'I will, of course, have a great deal to say about this whole rather nasty business in my autobiography for which I often scribble pages from time to time. The wide exposure of these little meannesses, born always, I believe of generally hidden, personal inferiorities, may do a lot to protect the scientists who prefer to pay more attention to their laboratories than to professional politics.'

He was spectacularly less careful at the Zoological Club, three years later, when Professor Smith made overtures of friendship once more - he had made others: 'I told him to "Piss off you little bastard". He pissed off.' Jock could be uncompromisingly unforgiving when let down, but the episode showed also that anger lived. Smith had been duly elevated to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1958.

The anger went mostly underground at the time, but became obvious on a few occasions when he drank more than usual. He had an enviable capacity for drinking, talking and amusing himself when at leisure - and the effects of any indulgence were cheerfully slept off. But he worried on two or three occasions after Zoological Club dinners that he had been rather more than 'pissed as a newt', as he sometimes announced breezily. At another dinner, with John Douglas Pringle at the Travellers' Club, he exploded 'I'm the best bloody zoologist in this country. If I'd been one of those pallid little creeps at Oxford or Cambridge they'd have made me a professor long ago.'

This was different - and out of character. However outrageous he might be, he would never have made the first part of that remark in normal circumstances, although he was perfectly capable of making the second part when absolutely sober. He was no timid drinker but he did not go on binges. He savoured good alcohol - he had been having an old vintner friend put down wine for us in Sydney against our possible return to Australia; we drank good wine with our meals when we could afford it (vin ordinaire - French or Australian imports - were almost undrinkable at that time). He liked the image of the humorous "Toss-pot". He fostered it. His participation in the Oxford "Pint to Pint" race was an example. We talked about it. He realised his state of mind was driving him. It passed. But the underlying anger was not really dissipated. He appeared to forget it; and certainly he was not the character to drop his work - or his ambitions - in any trough of despair. In fact it spurred him to greater effort.


1957 was given to work at home in England but the events of March caused him to turn his thoughts more specifically towards Australia. In correspondence with the surgeon, Charles Harris, a former Dean of the Medical College, on a range of scientific interests and some detail on the Nakalanga dwarf study, he mentioned: 'We are now also designing an investigation into the effect of radiation on wild animal populations.' Since 1951 he had been working with Dr Dominic Serventy, of the C.S.I.R.O. in Western Australia, on various ornithological problems. The latest were moult adaptation in Arctic petrels which migrated huge distances to complete their breeding cycle, and other studies on shearwaters flying in a great figure of eight from Alaska to the islands of southern Australia. They published papers together. Through this research and the work of Serventy on Western Australian birds Jock became interested in the effect heavy radiation might be having on the breeding cycles of animals. He and Serventy thought it worthwhile to try and collect data from such areas as the Monte Bello Islands off North Western Australia and from Maralinga where the British had been testing atomic weapons in Central Australia. In 1957 this began crystallising into the probability of a joint expedition to collect animals in these areas.

Early in 1958 the Wellcome Foundation gave St Bartholomew's Medical college 12000 pounds to spend on an electron microscope 'for use in my Department mainly.' Jock was very excited about this. It was an immensely useful new tool, and a strong endorsement of the research being carried out in his department. He was even more excited on April 1st when he received a letter from the Nuffield Foundation confirming a personal grant to him of 3,200 pounds to carry out 'a direct and experimental study of the action of radio-active fall-out on wild animal populations.' The experimental part of the work would be done on the Quelea finches being flown in by John Disney from Tanganyika; the 'direct' study would be done by collecting vertebrate animals from Monte Bello Island, Maralinga and various other points. So it was arranged that Jock should fly out to Australia in the Autumn - the Australian Spring - of that year. He wrote to Tass Drysdale telling him of the journey. Tass, who had his own Land Rover and a fascination for Australia's Outback, became extremely eager to join Jock and Dom Serventy somewhere along their track. Tass knew John Douglas Pringle, then Literary Editor of the Observer and wrote to Jock and Pringle with an idea for some articles to be written by Jock and illustrated by Tass. This immediately appealed when Pringle met Jock and read some of his previous writing. 'He was an entrancing man - a vivid character' said Pringle. 'I was always delighted to see him - he was tremendous fun but not quite what he seemed on the surface' he discovered later. This was a reference to Jock's attitude to English academics of the Pantin and Smith character; in moments of surfacing anger at the memory his sense of humour could desert him and he seemed to have a 'chip on his shoulder' about academic politics.

Meantime he had been invited to lecture at Yale University. Dr Dillon Ripley of the Peabody Museum of Natural History wrote asking if he could spend several days on his way across America and give them more than one lecture if possible. 'I think that the problem of internal rhythm of reproduction in the breeding seasons and on the Equator would be extremely interesting, although I would hope that we would have an informal opportunity to hear about Royalty Watching. It sounds fascinating. I will talk to some of our physiologists and ecologists here with the idea that you might perhaps be able to give a lecture in one of the advanced courses as well as a general talk to the graduate students and faculty.'

May brought news of a Chair of Zoology being created at Canberra University College. The distinguished poet, A.D. Hope, Professor of English there, was in London and gave us details of it. Jock was a little seduced by Professor Hope's description of possibilities - but only a little. Two years before he had written to his nephew, Dr Bruce Malcolm, a marine biologist on his way to work in Canada: 'As for me, I'm not really in the market to come home unless some very special inducement were offered ... I regard Australia as a shit-house, and because I find I do not grow any less Australian, it is still my shit-house: and therefore some day I will come home, particularly as I want Doyne [Donald] educated as an Australian. But I've still several years to play with in Europe, and with the sort of Department I have now - research facilities and staff, I mean - I would be a fool to take off for the backwoods at the height of my productivity.'

In spite of that broadside at Australia, he was now at least prepared to think about this possibility. On July 13th he wrote at some length to Professor Alister Hardy, asking if he was committed to supporting anybody for it, and giving a fairly detailed description of the job and his feelings about it. 'How pleasant too, to be able to at least try to select a balanced group of youngsters to cover the sub-subjects (so to speak) and not to inherit the "mistake" appointments of others. For the first few years there would be little teaching and so one would not need to rush one's fences with junior appointments; moreover, one could make a speciality of the field / laboratory eco-physiological approach that I have pursued ever since I first worked in Oxford, and for which there are remarkable opportunities in Australia.' He went on to explain his own somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the job, and said be would decide about making a move when he reached Australia in August. 'The question is now whether you would like to join Julian [Huxley], Ernst Mayr and Amoroso (reproduction physiologist) in my support? I would be very happy if you did ... '. Alister Hardy did.

Still not really sure, though thinking more and more about it, Jock left for Australia on July 31st, stopping off in Athens for pleasure, and in Hong Kong to see scientific colleagues.

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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