Hedley Ralph Marston 1900-1965

Written by E.J. Underwood.

On 26 August 1900 Hedley Ralph Marston was born at Bordertown, South Australia, on the eastern edge of the Ninety Mile Desert. This area was later to flourish under the name of Coonalpyn Downs, primarily as a result of the scientific work of Marston and his colleagues. He was the third son of Septimus Herbert, a telegraphist, and Mary Frances Ann Marston (nee Bishop), a librarian, each of whose parents had emigrated to South Australia from England in the mid-nineteenth century. Hedley Marston was therefore a second generation South Australian, destined to spend virtually the whole of his working life in that state.

Within a year of Hedley's birth, the Marston family moved to Adelaide where Septimus continued his career as telegraphist and supervisor until his retirement. He was reputed to be a rather austere man, contrasting with the warm and open-hearted nature of his wife to whom the young Hedley was devoted. Hedley attended the Unley Primary School and later the Unley District High School where at the age of 14 he passed the Primary Public Examination. He does not appear to have taken any of the higher public examinations but Mark Oliphant, one of his fellow pupils at Funley, who remained his life-long friend, recalls him 'as a studious boy, with a special liking for chemistry'.

On leaving school Marston obtained a temporary post as laboratory assistant to the Director of the South Australian Government Laboratory for Pathology and Bacteriology, Dr L.B. Bull. He then won a scholarship with which he undertook the first year of the Associateship Diploma course of the South Australian School of Mines. His results in chemistry were outstandingly good and during the years of 1918-20 he attended further classes in chemistry as a 'non-graduating student' of the University of Adelaide. In 1923, while working as a Demonstrator in the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry under Professor T. Brailsford Robertson, still as a non-graduating student, Marston passed the final honours class in Physiology and Biochemistry with First Class Honours. Due to difficulties with Matriculation Mathematics, required by the University of Adelaide, he never completed his BSc and remained without a University degree for over 30 years until the Australian National University awarded him the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa in 1957. The University of Adelaide, which has no power to award honorary degrees, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Science ad eundem gradum in 1959. It is difficult to assess the influence of the failure to obtain a first degree upon Marston's personality and his attitudes to other scientists. There is no doubt that it produced some bitterness towards certain individuals in the University of Adelaide. Perhaps, also, the somewhat Olympian air of superiority which Marston assumed with many of his colleagues and his continual desire to impress them can be viewed in part as a compensatory reaction to this lack of a conventional qualification.

Throughout the early years of Marston's working life he was greatly influenced by several outstanding individuals, of whom Thorburn Brailsford Robertson was the first and, in a scientific sense, the foremost. Robertson returned to Adelaide in 1919 to take up the Chair of Physiology and Biochemistry. Nine years later he became the first Chief of the Division of Animal Nutrition of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. How soon or in what manner Marston met Robertson after his arrival in South Australia is not entirely clear but it is certain that Marston acted as Demonstrator in his Department at the University of Adelaide from 1922 to 1928 and that he moved to the Division of Animal Nutrition in the latter year as Robertson's personal assistant. Marston always looked back upon this humble position with pride and satisfaction. His laboratory skills were greatly appreciated by Robertson whose strengths were more of the mind than the hand and several papers on aspects of the nucleic acids, a major interest of Robertson, appeared under Marston's name at this early stage of his career. During this time he also turned his attention to two technical enterprises, involving the treatment of oranges with paraffin to improve storage and transport and a patent for casein preparation, neither of which stood the test of time.

It is clear that Marston's remarkable personality was being moulded and developed during this early period through his association with a wide range of people. R.G. Thomas has provided a particularly vivid picture of this aspect of Marston's life. He mentions his

quite extraordinary tendency and capacity to find, develop and maintain close friendships with a wide variety of usually older people who, for one reason or another, he considered distinguished or interesting This flair was, of course, not unrelated to his capacity for vicarious personal-substitution, but it undoubtedly led to a very great and wide enrichment of his own qualities and the general outcome of this was the reason why some of us found him such very congenial company over many years. He had a most extraordinarily retentive and vivid memory and could and did absorb much of the anecdotes and philosophies of those persons whom he selected for his salon. Over the years the persons selected by H.R.M. for his intimate attention comprised a very wide range of interests. They were by no means restricted to academic and research personnel. Hoteliers, restaurateurs, gourmets, scholars, artists, literary men, industrialists, medicos and dilettanti in various fields were all grist to Hedley's mill. He was rather apt to drop those from whom he had apparently absorbed what they had to offer and he then passed to others. This seemed to occasion no ill-will in those temporarily dropped! In this way, as I have stressed, his extraordinarily retentive memory, a certain sense of mime and a very keen sense of humour and delicate satire contrived to present unending facets of interest to those of us who felt privileged to be his intimate friends.

Marston's artistic interests and gifts were also being fostered in these early years. It was then that he met Elioth Gruner who later became a close friend. Through Gruner and probably the Birks, at whose cultured home the young Marston was a frequent visitor, Marston became acquainted with Hans Heysen, the Lindsays, Arthur Murch, Donald Friend, William Dobell and many other distinguished artists. A charcoal drawing of Marston by Murch (1930) in the possession of Mrs Marston, and the controversial oil-painting by Dobell (1953) now in the Brisbane Art Gallery, emerged from these associations.

A further facet of Marston's many-sided life, his interest in cooking, developed during this period. Of this R.G. Thomas writes

Hedley was a keen connoisseur of food and wine, a good cook skilled in all forms of protocol associated with gastronomy. He never ate or drank to excess and was in fact an abstemious eater – contrary to what his physique suggested.

Many of Marston's friends recall with pleasure excellent meals prepared and served by him in his home and the delight and satisfaction that he derived from acting as host in this very personal way.

On 17 September 1934 Hedley married (Kathleen) Nellie Spooner, daughter of William and Hannah Spooner of Adelaide. Mrs Marston, who was of a rather retiring disposition, provided a warm and restful home for her husband which became increasingly important as Hedley's health deteriorated in later years. There were no children of the marriage.

Following Brailsford Robertson's death in 1930 another influential figure, Sir Charles Martin, came into Marston's life. Martin, who had just retired as Director of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, London, occupied the position of Chief of the Division of Animal Nutrition of CSIR for only two and a half years, from January 1931 to July 1933, but his wide interests and experience, his scientific vigour and his recognition of the need for more fundamental knowledge of the nutrition of sheep, particularly in the Australian environment, influenced the whole future course of the Division's research activities and largely determined the lines of work which Marston himself was to follow. Marston was Acting-Chief of the Division from Robertson's death until the appointment of Sir Charles Martin and again from the time of Martin's resignation until the Division was merged with the Division of Animal Health under Dr Lionel Bull in July 1935. From that time until August 1944 Marston was designated Officer-in-Charge of the Nutrition Laboratory. The Laboratory was then re-established as the Division of Biochemistry and General Nutrition. Marston occupied the position of Chief of this Division of CSIR (later CSIRO) until his death on 25 August 1965, the day before he was due to retire.

The years between 1933 and 1944, when the Nutrition Laboratory functioned as a part of the Division of Animal Health and Nutrition, were extremely productive but in several respects it was an unhappy period. Marston resented the change in status and was reluctant to collaborate or consult with colleagues in other sections of the Division with a wider experience in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine, despite the fact that this had been recommended by Sir Charles Martin, his friend and former Chief. Martin recognised clearly the need for such collaboration and consultation, especially in view of Marston's predominantly biochemical background. During this difficult period Marston fostered a close relationship with Sir David Rivett, Chief Executive Officer of CSIR, who lent a sympathetic ear to his problems. An extensive correspondence and deep mutual regard developed between them over the years. The continuity of the nutritional research of the laboratory on the basis laid down by Robertson and by Martin was nevertheless maintained by Marston and it was during these years that much of his best scientific work was done.

Marston's lifelong interest in the relation of nutrition to wool growth and wool quality began in 1928 with a study of the chemical composition of wool. The high sulphur content of wool protein and the high proportion of this sulphur present as cystine which was highlighted by this study suggested that cystine in the diet of sheep might prove a limiting factor in wool production (methionine was then unknown). Investigations of the cystine content of herbage protein and of the effects of dietary supplements of sulphur in various forms upon the growth of wool were therefore undertaken. As essential preliminaries, methods of sulphur determination in biological materials were compared and assessed and useful techniques were developed for measuring wool growth over short periods. Cystine was shown to stimulate wool growth more effectively when injected intravenously than when given by mouth, methionine which had by then been shown to be an essential amino-acid, was found to be less effective than cystine by either route; and elementary sulphur was found to have no stimulatory effect.

The related problem of the amino-acid content of herbage protein and particularly its content of cystine and methionine was taken up by Marston's colleague, J.W.H. Lugg. Lugg adopted the successful device of making preliminary extractions of the leaf protein before undertaking the amino-acid analysis of herbage proteins of all kinds. These and other studies enabled Marston to publish a final paper on this topic in 1948, just 20 years after his first paper on the chemical composition of wool had appeared. The paper contained studies of energy and nitrogen balances and of wool growth in sheep maintained under a range of conditions and included computations of the effective utilisation of the various amino-acids of the dietary proteins consumed. The conclusions reached by Marston and his colleagues on protein and sulphur metabolism and on nutritional factors affecting wool growth were also embodied in several lectures and substantial review articles, including a scholarly chapter entitled 'Wool Growth' in Progress in the Physiology of Farm Animals Volume 2, London 1955, edited by John Hammond.

A curious feature of Marston's writings in the earlier stages of the work on nutrition and wool growth is the apparent lack of any real appreciation of the role that the micro-organisms of the rumen might play in the conversion of inorganic forms of sulphur into protein. Such a role for the rumen micro-organisms in transforming inorganic forms of nitrogen was then well recognised and Marston himself was well aware of the chemical capabilities of these micro-organisms in the fermentative processes of the rumen. In fact as early as 1937, when Marston spent a year at Cambridge under Professor Sir F. Gowland Hopkins, the fermentation of cellulose by rumen organisms was engaging his attention! R. L.M. Synge, who was a fellow worker with Marston in the Biochemistry Department at Cambridge, writes of this as follows:

At that time there was active interest in Cambridge, particularly among Marjory Stephenson and her pupils, in fermentations conducted by micro-organisms. This group was mostly in daily association with Marston and introduction in this forceful way to microbial events in the rumen made a great impression on S.R. Elsden. When in Edinburgh Elsden set up successful in vitro fermentations of cellulose and by improved analytical procedures established the nature of the products. He (Elsden) later in Cambridge collaborated with J. Barcroft and A.T. Phillipson in work which firmly established the significance to the animal of the rumen fermentations.

It seems, therefore, that Marston must be credited with promoting interest and activity in this outstandingly productive research.

Marston and several of his staff, particularly E.W. Lines, devoted a great deal of thought and effort over many years to studies of energy transactions in the sheep. They carried out energy balances under a wide range of dietary conditions relevant to the Australian environment, as well as basal metabolism and heat increment determinations. It is difficult to evaluate this work because so little of it has been published. A mass of original data in this difficult branch of nutrition thus remains for others to assess.

One aspect of Marston's research interests, which has received less recognition than it deserves, is concerned with phosphorus deficiency. In the 1930s, when this work was carried out, Australian thought on phosphorus deficiency was greatly influenced by the success of the pioneer South African work on bovine aphosphorosis, which was reinforced by a visit to Australia of the dynamic leader of the South African research team, Sir Arnold Theiler. There was a widespread assumption that phosphate supplements would be just as beneficial to sheep in the Australian environment, with its phosphorus-deficient soils, as they had been shown to be with cattle on the South African veldt. The experiments of Marston and associates carried out at 'Dismal Swamp' near Mt. Gambier in South Australia, published in 1934, were among the first in Australia to cast serious doubt on this assumption. As a result of this experience Marston advised caution in the use of phosphatic supplements, a point of considerable economic importance in view of the widespread pressure for their use imposed upon farmers and graziers at that time. He also drew attention to the possible dangers arising from the high fluoride content of rock phosphate and later carried out experiments with semi-synthetic rations designed to determine the minimum phosphorus requirements of sheep. Subsequently he published a paper pointing out the previously poorly recognised fact that cattle are more susceptible than sheep to phosphorus deficiency. The likely reasons for this species difference were also presented.

In the experiments with phosphorus involving semi-synthetic diets some of the animals developed muscular dystrophy. This observation led to a paper with A.W. Pierce, published in 1942, on the possible role of vitamin E. Many years were to pass before the relationship of selenium to muscular dystrophy was to emerge from studies in U.S.A. and New Zealand and before research with this element was to be undertaken in Marston's laboratory.

The wide scope of the investigations outlined in the preceding paragraphs gives of itself some indication of the formidable contributions made by Marston to knowledge of the nutritional physiology of the wool sheep. However, his reputation rests largely upon the work that he and his colleagues carried out over three fruitful decades with cobalt and other trace elements in animal and plant nutrition.

The work on cobalt and copper in ruminant nutrition arose from investigations of 'coast disease' – a wasting condition of sheep with high mortality which had been recognised on the calcareous, coastal sand dunes of South Australia since about 1880. It was not until 1930 that Marston and others in the Nutrition Laboratory began to devote serious attention to this condition. Active co-operation was given by pastoralists first on Kangaroo Island and later at Robe where Mr R. Dawson Sr and his family have generously placed their farm at the disposal of the Division from the beginning until the time of writing. The possibility that 'coast disease' was due to a mineral deficiency, accentuated by poor assimilation induced by the high consumption of calcium carbonate from the environment, was early recognised. Supplements of phosphorus and copper were found ineffective and the particular iron compounds in the doses used produced only a transitory improvement in the condition of the 'coasty' sheep. A mineral mixture supplying small amounts of iron, copper, boron, manganese, cobalt, nickel, zinc, arsenic, bromine, fluorine and aluminium was then fed to ewes on 'coasty' country and found to induce growth and reproduction comparable with that of ewes maintained in healthy areas. At this time the geochemist R.G. Thomas drew Marston's attention to an earlier finding made by European workers that cobalt in large doses stimulates haematopoiesis in rats. Since 'coast disease' is accompanied by a progressive anaemia the suggestion was made that cobalt might be the particular element responsible for the beneficial effects of the mineral mixture. Preliminary experiments by Marston and E.W. Lines in 1934 showed that the administration of 1 mg. of cobalt per day by mouth resulted in a dramatic improvement in the appetite, body growth and haemoglobin level of 'coasty' sheep.

At this point in the investigations of 'coast disease' the author of this memoir visited Adelaide and presented a progress report on the independent investigations being carried out by J.F. Filmer and himself in Western Australia on enzootic marasmus, a disease of sheep and cattle with marked similarities to 'coast disease' and to 'bush-sickness' in New Zealand.The West Australian workers, following a lead from New Zealand, had found large oral doses of various iron compounds to be highly curative but became suspicious of the iron deficiency theory previously believed to explain these diseases. They prepared an 'iron-free' extract of limonite, one of the curative iron compounds used, found it to be just as potent as whole limonite and suggested that enzootic marasmus was due to a deficiency of a trace element which occurred as a contaminant of the iron compounds. These findings had been published and the search for the trace element had been narrowed, by fractionation of the iron-free extract of limonite, to zinc, manganese, nickel or cobalt prior to the writer's visit to Adelaide. Some misleading tests with nickel salts which proved to be highly contaminated with cobalt, delayed the Western Australian demonstration that cobalt was the deficient element until several months after the successful experiments of Marston and Lines mentioned in the preceding paragraph. This sequence of events led to an unfortunate estrangement between the two groups which lasted for some years but gradually dissipated as the scientific significance of the independent discoveries became apparent and the economic importance of cobalt deficiency in ruminants over wide areas in different parts of the world emerged as a direct consequence of the Australian investigations.

From 1935, when the discovery that cobalt is an essential element in ruminant nutrition was made, the biochemistry and physiology of this element has remained a major interest of the Adelaide laboratory. Methods of estimation of the minute amounts of cobalt present in biological tissues were improved and its distribution in soils, plants and animal tissues was surveyed. The minimum cobalt requirements of sheep and various means of preventing cobalt deficiency in the field were investigated. Parenterally administered cobalt was shown to be ineffective for this purpose and the necessity for frequent and regular oral dosing with cobalt salts was clearly demonstrated. The latter finding presented so many practical difficulties for the control of cobalt deficiency under extensive conditions of stock husbandry that Marston was stimulated to seek other forms of treatment. A suggestion by Professor P.R. Stout of U.S.A. led to the development in Marston's laboratory of the highly ingenious cobalt 'bullets', consisting of small dense pellets of cobalt oxide and clay which, when delivered into the oesophagus, lodge in the rumen or reticulum where they usually remain for prolonged periods to yield a steady supply of supplementary cobalt to the rumen fluid. This device was patented by CSIRO in Marston's name in 1956 and has proved a valuable means of preventing cobalt deficiency in sheep and cattle over a wide range of conditions in many countries. The cobalt pellets were also found by Marston and H.J. Lee to be effective in protecting sheep against the disease 'Phalaris staggers' which can occur in some areas carrying Phalaris tuberosa pastures.

A new impetus to the work with cobalt was given in 1948 when English and American workers discovered that the anti-pernicious anaemia factor (vitamin B12) is an organic compound of cobalt and showed further that this vitamin is readily synthesised by various bacteria. These important findings naturally focused attention, in Marston's laboratory and elsewhere, on the possible role of the rumen micro-organisms in vitamin B12 synthesis. The probability that these micro-organisms were in some way involved had previously been realised by Marston in the light of his own earlier finding that parenteral cobalt is ineffective and that adequate concentrations of this element must be continuously maintained in the rumen itself if cobalt deficiency is to be prevented. The fact that ruminants have a higher requirement for cobalt than non-ruminant species, such as horses and rabbits which thrive in cobalt-deficient areas, was also considered pertinent. In his initial experiments with vitamin Bl2 Marston administered the vitamin to sheep parenterally in doses comparable with those used in treating human pernicious anaemia. The results were discouraging but, following the success achieved by the Cornell workers in 1951 with larger doses, vitamin B12 injections at higher levels were found to achieve complete remission of all signs of cobalt deficiency in sheep. Subsequently Marston, and his colleagues M.C. Dawbarn and D.C. Hine, demonstrated the considerable capacity of the rumen microbial population to synthesise vitamin Bl2 and its analogues and the dependence of this process upon dietary cobalt supply. It then became clear that cobalt deficiency in ruminants is, in effect, a vitamin B12 deficiency brought about by the inability of the rumen flora, in the presence of inadequate dietary cobalt, to synthesise sufficient vitamin B12 to meet the needs of the tissues.

The next stage in the cobalt saga consisted of a series of metabolic studies with vitamin B12 aimed at defining the primary biochemical defects responsible for the clinical manifestations of cobalt deficiency in the sheep and at explaining the high requirements of ruminants for cobalt and vitamin B12, relative to those of non-ruminants. Marston and co-workers, among whom R.M. Smith was a key figure, first showed that, in cobalt-deficient sheep, acetic and propionic acids, the main energy sources of ruminants, were produced in the rumen and absorbed into the blood stream more or less normally, although the rate of disappearance of injected propionic acid, but not of acetic acid, from the blood was below normal. Examination of liver homogenates from vitamin Bl2-deficient sheep revealed a failure to convert propionate efficiently to succinate and an accumulation of the intermediate methylmalonylcoenzyme A which could be prevented by the addition of the vitamin Bl2-containing methylmalonyl-CoA isomerase. The role of this isomerase in the conversion of methylmalonate to succinate and a depression in its activity in the livers of vitamin Bl2-deficient rats had been demonstrated earlier by other workers. However, Marston and his associates were the first to show that a breakdown at this point in the propionate metabolism pathway was a primary metabolic defect in vitamin B12 deficiency in ruminants of particular importance because of the large quantities of propionic acid with which these species are required to deal. The extent to which other metabolic pathways involving vitamin B12 may be impaired in the cobalt-deficient ruminant engaged the attention of R.M. Smith and others in Marston's laboratory following the publication of this distinguished work in 1961. An evaluation of these studies must await their publication in full, a task which has been taken on by Marston's surviving colleagues.

Early in the investigations of 'coast disease' it was found that copper, as well as cobalt, was deficient in the pastures of affected areas. By providing adequate cobalt supplements Marston and his associates were able to study the effects of copper deficiency on sheep and to determine the minimum copper requirements of the species under a range of dietary conditions. A reduction in the quantity and quality of wool produced by sheep in copper-deficient areas was early recognised in both Western Australia and South Australia and Marston devoted intensive attention to the problem over many years. He showed that a deterioration in the keratinisation process, signified by a failure to impart the characteristic crimp to wool, together with a failure of pigment production in black-woolled sheep, were among the most sensitive indicators of copper deficiency. Marston took great pleasure in displaying to visitors spectacular staples of wool with alternate bands of straight 'steely' and of normally crimped fibres, or with light- and dark-coloured bands, taken from experimental animals upon which he had imposed alternate periods of copper depletion and repletion. He showed further that the straight, steely wool from copper-deficient animals contained more sulphhydryl and fewer disulphide groups than normal wool and suggested that copper is required in keratin synthesis for the incorporation of the disulphide groups which provide the cross linkages or bonding of keratin upon which the physical properties of wool, including crimp, depend. Marston also studied the condition known as neonatal ataxia which arises in lambs from copper-deficient ewes in some areas and later investigated some of the interactions of molybdenum and copper in sheep and in rats. Much of this work appeared in original publications with his colleagues and was collated and assessed in several major review articles written by Marston with characteristic flair.

None of the activities of the Nutrition Division with trace elements with which Marston was associated has received more publicity and acclaim than that leading to the transformation of the Ninety Mile Desert in South Australia from an area supporting only poor scrub and regarded as agriculturally worthless to an area of thriving farms carrying luxuriant pastures, epitomised by the new name 'Coonalpyn Downs'. Deficiencies of copper and zinc, as well as of phosphorus, in the sandy soils of the area were demonstrated by Marston's colleague, D.S. Riceman, who was to play a major part in the investigations. Co-operative experiments with a private landowner, Mr J.E. Becker (later Sir Ellerton Becker), were begun by Riceman in 1944 which led to a definition of the mineral nutrients limiting pasture establishment and maintenance and to the development of fertiliser practices involving the use of superphosphate appropriately supplemented with copper and zinc. The results were so spectacular that the Australian Mutual Provident Society later decided to invest capital in a developmental scheme of family farm holdings that has been remarkably successful. Marston took extreme pride and pleasure in this activity of his staff and insisted on visitors either touring the area or inspecting films and colour slides depicting the dramatic changes which had been achieved.

The above outline of the research activities of Marston and his staff is by no means complete. For instance, no mention has been made of the excellent work done by A.W. Peirce on the vitamin A requirements of sheep and on salt tolerance and fluorosis in sheep and of that carried out by other colleagues on the use of urea as a protein substitute and on zinc deficiency in rats. However, two lines of investigation, which lie outside the main scientific interests of the Division, deserve some comment because of Marston's personal interest and involvement. The first of these took place during 1939-45 when several problems of human nutrition were tackled as part of the war effort. New tables of food composition applicable to Australian conditions were worked out and published in 1941 with M.C. Dawbarn; a procedure for germinating dried peas in the field as a source of vitamin C was developed; and the potential of dehydrated lucerne as a concentrated source of carotene and ascorbic acid for human consumption was investigated.

The second of these 'outside' activities relate to the British nuclear weapon tests carried out in Australia in 1956. Marston was asked, by the Safety Committee appointed by the Commonwealth Government, to monitor the occurrence of radioactive iodine by examination of thyroid glands collected from grazing animals in various parts of Australia. This was agreed to and a lengthy paper on the results was published under Marston's name in the Australian Journal of Biological Sciences in 1958. This paper gives an accurate account of 1311 levels after the tests but tends to overstress their danger, probably as a reflection of Marston's own personal dislike for nuclear weapon activity and as a scientist's reaction to various political statements made at that time minimising the hazards of radioactive fallout.

Marston's achievements in the field of nutritional physiology and biochemistry and the great economic importance of much of the work emanating from his laboratory were recognised by the award of many honours, in addition to the doctoral degrees conferred upon him by the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide, mentioned previously. In 1938 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and in 1949 a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. In 1958 he was Mueller Medallist of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science and in 1954 was made a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and became its first Treasurer. Marston resigned from this position after only one year in office as a consequence of personal differences with A.J. Nicholson, the first Secretary (Biological Sciences), and D.F. Martyn, the first Secretary (Physical Sciences). He had been one of the prime movers, with Sir Mark Oliphant, FRS, and Dr D.F. Martyn, FRS, in establishing the Academy and revelled in the function at which Her Majesty the Queen, in February 1954, handed the Royal Charter to the Interim Council of which he was a member. Of these early days of the Academy Oliphant writes:

During this period and subsequently he (Marston) worked indefatigably and successfully to obtain funds with which the Academy could erect its own building. Through his efforts the Royal Society presented to the Academy a replica of its Charter Book in which Fellows of the Academy would sign their names to the obligation. Marston was largely responsible for acceptance by the first Council of the design for a building prepared by Mr Roy Grounds as a contribution to a limited competition. His artistic sense persuaded the waverers that the design, which broke away from tradition, was the most acceptable. His choice has borne the test of time.

During the latter half of his life Marston suffered a great deal of ill-health. In 1946 while in England attending the Empire Scientific Conference he had his first coronary attack and was again seriously ill during his last visit to that country in 1964. Previously he had lost his appendix at the hands of the surgeons, and about 1959 he discovered signs of diabetes in himself and prescribed his own medication. Marston's medical history became for him an absorbing topic of conversation – so much so that many people became disbelieving and unsympathetic. There is no doubt, however, that he suffered great pain for prolonged periods with character and with fortitude. During 1965, his last year in office, he was ill at home for three months and was taken to hospital a few days before he was due to retire. There he received a deputation from the staff of his Division with his retirement presentation – an authentic Sung 'Tem-moku' bowl and a finely glazed piece by a young Australian potter. Although by this time very weak he roused himself and, in character to the end, delivered a short and impressive dissertation to the gathering on the qualities of Chinese glazing. Two days later, on 25 August 1965, Hedley Ralph Marston died.

It is clear from what is written above that Marston contributed richly to the scientific life of this country and particularly to the land and people of his own state, South Australia, where he lived out his life. He was an unusual person in every sense of the term. Everything about Marston was larger than life. He was not a notably rich source of original scientific ideas but had great astuteness in selecting the most promising ideas to follow. He had also the capacity to stimulate colleagues and others to pursue these ideas critically and in depth, with understanding rather than superficial knowledge as the goal. Above all he had a feeling for and a belief in the rewards that science could bring.

It is more difficult to write of Marston's complex character and colourful personality. With some people he developed deep and lasting friendships and loyalties and a real sense of humility which engendered respect, affection, even devotion. With others he maintained bitter animosities and assumed irritating airs of superiority and omniscience, which naturally provoked impatience, dislike and even open hostility. In his social life he could be quite exceptionally charming, generous and hospitable. Diverse and contending characteristics of this nature occur to some extent in almost everyone but in Marston they were abnormally exaggerated. His practice of 'non-publication', which was so unfair to many of his staff, is an example of this dichotomy in his character. It could be argued with justification that Marston's disappointing record of original scientific publications is an expression of his perfectionism, of his desire to delay publication until a full and complete scientific story could be told in the fine, if somewhat pontifical, Marstonian prose for which he was noted. On the other hand, it could equally be argued that the delays were motivated by a wish to impress others and by a desire to produce something superior, definitive and beyond the capacity of lesser mortals. Whatever the motives were in this phase of his life's work, whatever the strengths and the weaknesses of his character, Marston will remain in the minds and hearts of those who knew him as a remarkable and impressive figure to whom the people of this country owe a great and lasting debt.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol.1, no.2, 1967. It was written by Eric John Underwood, CBE, Professor of Agriculture and Director of the Institute of Agriculture, University of Western Australia. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 1954.

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