Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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The Last Fight

Just after he came back from ten days in New Zealand we were walking in the paddocks of Quarry Hills looking at trees we had planted and he suddenly said 'I've got that pain again.' 'What pain?' I said in instant alarm. 'Oh, while I was away I had some strange sensations in my chest when I was lecturing - I think it could be heart.' He was being casual. For my sake? - or his? I don't know - probably both. In our anxiety we were almost pleased when he was sent off to Prince Henry's Hospital for observation and tests. They were inconclusive but he was assured it was not the cancer. We were both so relieved we believed fervently in this diagnosis. Jock could have had other thoughts but there is no doubt he did not want to acknowledge them at first. It was suggested that his continued illness was psychosomatic; he explained that he was 'about as psychosomatic as a scrub bull.' But losing weight and interest in food he consulted a diagnostic physician who was in total agreement with his insistence on a laparotomy. The operation confirmed our worst fears: the sensations in his chest were referred pain from a malignant growth at the back of the peritoneum and pressing on the aorta.

Our dear friend, Ian Hume, left his sheep and cattle to stay with us and cheer Jock through a convalescence made more difficult by an infection in the wound. 'Spanky, for Christ's sake stop making me laugh - it hurts.' But laughter was good - the wound healed and Ian went home. Now we had to face - what? In spite of his overwhelming courage, for the first time Jock broke down - 'I'm not afraid of dying - I've faced it often enough - but I am afraid of leaving you and the children.' We were shattered, clinging to each other in a misery of tears. I felt helpless in every way at that moment - and yet I knew he needed desperately, above all, that I should not be helpless.

Death - the image was no stranger to him. In the years since he wrote Testament of Doubt his attitudes concerning his own mortality had not changed - did not change - but in his extreme sorrow he longed for something else. I was deeply moved to find a sheet of paper later on which he had scribbled down this longing: 'Anybody who has enjoyed the blessing of a happy childhood with affectionate parents, the tragic loss of a revered elder brother, a happy marriage & adorable children, and the possession of a few (he can hope for little more) trusted friends, must find it difficult to turn his back on a faith that promises reunion and everlasting life.'

Thinking of the fund of knowledge and creative work and love that was in this man I made the involuntary remark one day - 'It seems so unfair.' He was almost angry - 'Don't ever say that. I've been lucky - we've been lucky - to have had so much. It's simply the fall of the dice.' Yet he was prepared to fight the fall of the dice all the way. 'Would you like to talk about death?' I asked after a remission seemed to be fading - 'No, don't let us raise the white flag yet, my Jania.' I wrote those words down at the time because they seemed so central to the way he felt about dealing with his physical pain and the agony of leaving people he loved and his unfinished work. He did not want the children told. In retrospect, I believe this was a form of protection that didn't work for their psychological well-being; but he was convinced they should not be a party to the agony. And in my own deep trouble I did not know to counsel him otherwise. It was a battle - indeed war - that he was fighting - too intelligent and well-informed not to know the almost certain outcome, he nevertheless involved himself in it totally.

Just after Ian Hume went home it was decided that an attempt could be made to reduce the growth with barotherapy (x-ray treatment under high atmospheric pressure). So in November the Peter McCallum Clinic in Melbourne became a part of our lives. It was, and no doubt still is, a remarkable place where people entered, often to be made very sick by the treatment, but almost as often to be given eventual relief and hope. John Legge remembers finding Jock lying there disgustedly drinking milk. He was painfully thin but his eyes were intense and there was still energy enough, despite weakness and nausea, to fire off plenty of writing with his trusted secretary Beryl Hazell who was there very often as she was in every hospital he entered. He had committed himself to go to an International Congress at Montpellier in France on the Photoregulation of Reproduction in Birds and Mammals and he was determined to read a paper there, where he would meet up with so many old friends and colleagues with whom he'd worked or discussed ideas for years.

After nearly a month of treatments and hospitalisation in the Clinic, he came home in early December. He was very shaky and still feeling ill - but there was hope for some change and very gradually, after six weeks, he began to regain some appetite and weight (he had been reduced to hardly more than seven stone). Miraculously, by the middle of February he had put on thirty-seven pounds and was feeling almost normal and making many plans. It was a happy period. He was made even happier by the fact that Louis Matheson had written to him at the end of 1966 telling him that the University had created a Research Chair in Zoology for him. It was what he had wanted for so long.

Jock's bravery and determination to fight had a strange effect on some of the medical men. At the beginning of March he went back to the Clinic for tests to check the state of the growth. I went to collect him. The chief radiographer, Dr van den Brenk, came out to see me where I was waiting on a verandah. 'It is much reduced and hardened' he said 'but I must warn you it may not be for long.' He was upset - 'I have to tell you - I cannot tell a man like that - he is so brave.' Moments like that have a way of fossilising in your mind. I remember there was a piece of wire - a sort of clothes line perhaps - I do not know what - across my vision. It became a symbol for years.

For a time I could push it from sight believing in Jock's invincibility; but when, after a few more weeks, he began to feel nausea again and lost weight, it came straight back. Jock was determined that it was a gall-bladder condition which had been discussed before and insisted on tests; when these gave some slight sign of stones, his surgeon, Hughes, agreed grudgingly to operate. Jock wrote to his old friend Bill Woodward 'I badly wanted to use the gall-bladder laparotomy as a means by which [he] could compare the current state of the mass ... with what he's seen before.' So he went into Royal Melbourne Hospital again - a place we both disliked. After the operation I was waiting again and Hughes came in to tell me abruptly that the situation was fatal - there was nothing more he could do. I discovered afterwards that he had given Jock four tiny gall-stones and told him the mass was contained and fibrotic. I found I could not tell him any differently - every instinct told me he needed to fight. And yet I cannot ignore the thought that the end might have been easier if we had given in.


My mother came back from Switzerland where she had been living for the past year and gave me help and support.

Jock recovered from the operation but the removal of the stones gave no relief. He gradually lost weight and was increasingly unable to face even his most favoured foods. He was in pain. He listened to music, lay out in the garden in warm Autumn sun and kept walking in spite of weakness. Visitors came but it was hard for him to enjoy them, although he could still be amusing with an occasional flash of the outrageous Jock. He wrote incessantly, preparing his paper for the Montpellier Congress and to friends - all of which Beryl Hazell typed; his writing became even more unreadable.

At Monash, since they had appointed Jock to the Research Chair of Zoology, they had been for some time preparing to engage another Professor as Chairman of the Department. Jock took an intense interest in everything that was going on, and insisted on being a part of the process, never admitting his condition was beating him. When, painfully thin, he was feeling too weak and uncomfortable to sit in the car, I took him into Monash lying on a mattress in the back of the station-wagon to be at a meeting of the Professoriate to discuss the selection of a candidate for the Chair. He spoke passionately and articulately for almost an hour, bringing in all the valued arguments for quality and excellence for which he had fought so fiercely always. Some of his colleagues were near to tears.

At home he fought to keep on his feet - wanting to walk around his beloved plantings but not able to make it to the boundaries. Eventually he had to give in and spend long hours lying in bed and many times now needing an injection of morphia for great pain. Finally, when his eyes began to show a tinge of yellow, the agonising decision was made to move him to Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. It was a long way from home and felt like the end of the world.

But even there he called for his secretary and not only suffered but insisted himself upon blood transfusions. One day, after a sleepless night and the long drive, I broke down as I sat beside him and he immediately quizzed me - 'Have they given you some bad news?' It brought me back instantly - he was still fighting with every fibre of his being to climb out of this black hole. It was only later when I saw all the letters (including a closely argued two pages of protest to the Quarry Company next door to us about projected activities), a contribution to Nature and many other fragments that I realised fully just how iron his will had been to use every last ounce of energy. His mind was crystal clear. He asked to see the children and I knew that his energy was ebbing away.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 19th I stayed late with him. He had a blood transfusion dripping into his arm. He had asked for it. He was restless and in pain. But he asked me to trim his hair - I often did - and we felt very close. I felt more than usually sad and reluctant to leave him. At one o'clock the next morning the night sister rang me to say that he had just died. He had gone into a coma not long after I left.


Friday was a day cold and grey to the bone. I wore an overcoat. It was a short overcoat made in Arctic Canada from Hudson Bay blankets and given to Jock by Lord Tweedsmuir when he went to Jan Mayen. When he came home he wore it as a dressing gown in cold London but eventually found himself constricted by it. It was spectacular creamy white wool with a huge broad diagonal black stripe across the flanks. I tried it on: 'Well' said Jock 'you look a bit like a branded ewe.' I could dye it black. 'Why not'. I did. We both enjoyed it for years - he liked me wearing anything of his. So I wore the Arctic coat - not because it was black, but because he loved it.

The grey scene was brought to life by an idea of John Legge's with which Rod Andrew, the acting Vice-Chancellor, agreed instantly - that the academics who wished to, would honour Jock by wearing their colourful robes - 'I thought Jock would appreciate that touch of traditional ceremony.' Our old friend, Bill Cook gave a moving oration ending: he was a man, take him for all in all / I shall not look upon his like again. But unbelieving in spite of the last year I was turned in on visions of Jock in any other place than this. Tass Drysdale expressed the same feeling: 'There were some among us who looked beyond the chastened trees and the tamed landscape, and could see again the pindan scrub, and the hot evening of a setting sun, and a figure striding in, gun over shoulder and, over a march of years, hear once more that voice of cheer, "Greetings, dear boys".'

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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