Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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Alan John (Jock) Marshall was born in Sydney on February 17th, 1911 to parents from the rolling hill country near Tumut in southern New South Wales, who came to the city to try their luck. He was the last of five children. It was a simple beginning but, by the time he died in 1967 at the age of fifty six, he was a professor of Zoology at Monash University with an international reputation for his research and a reputation at home for shaking comfortably conservative people and stirring stagnant pools of opinion. His school career did not presage any brilliance. He wilfully avoided almost the entire curriculum except English and then, at the age of fifteen, lost his left arm in a gun accident, which necessitated a long period of hospitalization and adjustment. He came out of it with a determination to beat the odds, but no qualifications for any normal employment, although he had a passionate interest in the bush and bush creatures. He was introduced to Alec Chisholm, a journalist and naturalist who put him in touch with scientific friends at the Australian Museum. Here was the first glimmer of motivation and an engagement of his undoubted intellectual gifts.

He began to travel - very unconventionally - and learn how to collect and preserve animals for the Museum people. By the time he was twenty two he was very proficient at this and skilled with camera and gun, and was sending papers on his observations, of birds in particular, to scientific journals. His work and charater appealed immediately to Dr J.R. Baker, the leader of an Oxford expedition to the then wild island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), to study the effect of equatorial climate on breeding seasons. He spent seven months doing this work after the rest of the expedition returned to England.

A year later Marshall spent seven months reconnoitring northern Papua and Dutch New Guinea (now Irianjaya) for a proposed much more wide-ranging expedition. While in New Guinea he wrote a book on scientific experience, adventure and wild Sakau warriors on Espiritu Santo, and while in London wrote another on New Guinea; both published by Heinemann and well reviewed. After New Guinea he sailed for England to spend time working at Oxford with Dr Baker. During this period he went on an Austrian expedition to Spitzbergen in the Arctic Circle to do further work on climate and avian breeding seasons. It soon became obvious however, that despite all this fascinating experience, he could go nowhere academically without formal scientific training. He discovered there was a little-known statute on the books of the University of Sydney which allowed unmatriculated students to enter the full science course if they provided an extra research thesis. He was accepted, returned to Sydney and in 1938 at the age of twenty seven he entered Sydney University to begin a career. He treated the four years before his final exams as he did everything - at full pelt, holding down a tutorship, two jobs in journalism, one in broadcasting, edited the student magazine, Hermes and The Science Journal and wrote another book.

Then came war and astonishingly he tried to enlist - even more astonishingly he eventually succeeded, got into A.I.F. Intelligence, later into an infantry brigade and then behind Japanese lines leading a group ("Jockforce") to gather information and search for an airstrip, in the country he had known so well behind the Torricelli Mountains in 1936.

After four years of war he left for Oxford University in 1946 where he had been accepted as a post graduate student in the Department of Zoology. He took his Doctorate of Philosophy in two years, during which time he also lead an Oxford Exploration Club Expedition to Jan Mayen Island in the Arctic Circle, won a Beit Memorial Fellowship for research and became a Demonstrator in Physiology between 1947 and 1949. In 1949 he was accepted as head of the Zoology Department at St Bartholomew's Medical College in the University of London. The years he spent there were an extremely fruitful period for his research in avian physiology and the factors regulating the annual reproductive cycles of wild birds. As well he worked on fish in Africa and the effects of radiation fall-out on animals in Australia. He edited a text book of Zoology and took a Doctorate of Science at Oxford University.

In 1959 he was appointed to the Chair of Zoology at the newly-hatched Monash University. He founded an unusual Department - dedicated to study and research into Australian fauna. He had a considerable influence on the character of Monash in it's first six years, and a significant fighting influence on kicking the Australian environmental conscience into life before he died. He wrote or edited several more books. The best known to the general reader was Journey Among Men with Russell Drysdale.

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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