Born: 11 April 1904, Paris, France
Died: 29 August 1994, Jersey
Arthur Mourant was born on a farm on the island of Jersey on April 11, 1904, two hundred yards from the megalithic monument of La Hougue Bie, with which he was later affiliated. Both his mother’s and father’s family have devoted Wesleyan Methodists who had been practicing for centuries. The Mourant family has been in Jersey since at least 1309, and practically all of them have been farmers in recent years. Charles Mourant (1814–1920), Arthur Mourant’s grandfather, was a notable breeder of the now-famous Jersey breed of cattle in Croix des Mottes, St Saviour. Jane Elizabeth Bisson, who was thought to be a remarkable woman, was his wife.
She was the mother of eight children and, despite not having received a formal education, she recognized the need for education. Arthur’s father, Ernest Mourant (1872–1958), did not appear to share her enthusiasm for study in his early years. He showed little interest in literary subjects in school, and when his instructors wanted to promote him to the top form, he refused because it would leave him too little time to help on his father’s farm! He was a practical man who was interested in all areas of farming and horticulture, but especially cattle, throughout his life.
Only three times did he leave the Channel Islands: to visit Southampton, once to visit London, and once to visit the great International Exhibition in Paris. In January 1903, he married Emily Gertrude Bray. She was derived from a colony of immigrants who arrived at St Aubin, then a prosperous little harbor, from Devon and Cornwall around 1800. Arthur’s mother’s family spoke exclusively English and belonged to the English circuit of the Wesleyan Church, but his father’s family belonged to the French Wesleyan circuit and all worship was performed in French. The two families only met because of an accidental meeting of choir members.
Arthur Mourant graduated with honors from high school in July 1922, having obtained a Channel Islands (King Charles I) scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford, to study chemistry. As a result, he left Jersey for the first time in September of that year, quickly settling into the academic life of Oxford, where the atmosphere was more to his liking than at school because he was now able to devote himself to science, free of what he saw as the unpleasant distractions of games, the OTC, and less relevant studies. H.R. Raikes was his tutor, and he went to lectures given by prominent chemists such as C.N. (later Sir Cyril) Hinshelwood (F.R.S. 1929), and F. Soddy, F.R.S. T.V.’s lectures, however, were among the many he attended.
The lectures by Barker on chemical crystallography were particularly important, with Mourant describing the first as “probably the most stimulating intellectual experience of my entire undergraduate time, exposing a completely new world to me” in his autobiography. In his final examination, Arthur chose chemical crystallography as his special subject, while simultaneously developing an interest in the geology and archaeology of Jersey, sparked by his old teacher, Mr. Robinson, and the influence of Dr. R.R. Marrett, a prominent figure in Jersey and a Fellow of Exeter College, with whom Arthur worked on the excavation of the great mound of La Hougue Bie during the summer vacation in 1924.
This tumulus, located two hundred yards from Arthur’s birthplace, is regarded as one of Western Europe’s best Neolithic passage graves. He was one of the first to enter the tomb, and as a talented photographer, he captured the interior for the first time.
Arthur Mourant applied for a Demonstrator in Geology position at the University of Leeds in 1928. He was successful in his application, but he did not find the position fulfilling, so he took one of two positions provided by the Geological Survey in December of that year; the other was chosen by Dr. G.H. Mitchell (F.R.S. 1953). He started his job in 1929 and was sent to the Manchester office, where he worked under the supervision of District Geologist W.B. Wright. Mourant was sent to work on a section of the Lancashire coalfield near Chorley after receiving training in geological mapping techniques.
He considered the job laborious, owing to the lack of solid rock exposures in the blanket of boulder clay, which contrasted sharply with the spectacular coastal exposures of the Channel Islands. It was also an extremely solitary job. He found comfort by using his research skills and following up on leads, but he did so at the expense of the amount of ground explored, which ultimately worked against him. In 1930, Arthur Mourant was assigned to the Geological Survey’s Geophysical Unit, which was conducting a gravity survey in Leicestershire’s Charnwood Forest. It was a period of tremendous physical and mental work, which was carried out with the help of two Scotsmen, W.F.P.
McClintock and J. Phemister put a lot of pressure on themselves and their personnel. Arthur Mourant’s relationships with the two men deteriorated, and the Director, Sir John Flett (F.R.S. 1913), informed him that his work was poor and that his services would not be required after the standard two-year trial period: Arthur left in 1931. The quality and completeness of his work were never questioned, and the primary source of complaint was that he had not scanned a sufficiently vast region while working on the Lancashire coalfield.
1939–43 Mourant received a place at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College after being encouraged by doctors in Jersey to pursue a medical career. He traveled to London in January 1939. He taught chemistry in the biochemistry department two days a week to help pay some of the expenditures of medical school. Arthur Mourant was left alone in England after the German invasion of the Channel Islands in 1940, cut off from his family and with extremely minimal resources.
He lived a very frugal life, but one of the benefits was that freed from his family’s religious and social limitations, he was able to form much more pleasant social relationships with his fellow students than he had been able to do while at Oxford. Nonetheless, he was quite concerned about how the Germans were treating his family, and he was pleasantly delighted to learn years later that the islanders’ treatment had been, for the most part, correct and kind.
1977–94 Arthur and his wife went to Jersey to reside in a freshly renovated annex of the family home, where he resumed his prior intense interest in the island’s geology and archaeology. He also wrote a semi-popular exposition of blood-group anthropology called Blood connections, which was published in 1983, in addition to the two works Blood groups and disease and The genetics of the Jews, both of which were finally published in 1978.
In 1989, Arthur’s 85th birthday was celebrated by the dedication of a volume of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies: Microbiology and Immunology Journal to him, which was devoted to ‘Blood groups and disease,’ in honor of the extensive data he had gathered for his book on the subject and his discovery of the Lewis blood groups. In his retirement years, however, it was geological concerns that consumed the majority of his time. His interest in the subject had never faded, and his publication list is liberally interspersed with works on the geology and archaeology of the Channel Islands throughout the time when his main professional life was concerned with blood groups.
Those accompanying him to conferences in hilly places were regularly asked to come to a halt so he could collect rock samples. He was never concerned with sartorial perfection in his bachelor life: the pockets of his crumpled suits were frequently seen sagging under the weight of chunks of rock and his geological hammer. His hammer came in handy once when he was requested to share a room with a prominent geneticist, Arno Motulsky, whose name happened to be next to his on an alphabetical list at a packed genetics conference in Princeton, USA. When the two guys entered the room, they were surprised to see one enormous bed made up of two tightly linked singles.
After inspecting the situation, Dr. Moltusky suggested that the beds could be separated if they had a hammer, so Arthur pulled out his geological hammer from his suitcase and quickly separated the beds.
Honors and Awards
● The Oliver Memorial Award for Blood Transfusion Services was established in 1953.
● 1955 Honorary Membership of the Sociedad Peruana di Patologica
● 1956 President, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section H (Anthropology)
● 1961 Honorary Membership of the Société Jersiase The Royal Anthropological Institute, London, awarded Huxley the Huxley Memorial Medal.
● The Royal Society of London elected him a Fellow in 1966.
● Foreign Member of the Toulouse Academy of Sciences and Letters since 1970 (France)
● The American Association of Blood Banks presented the Landsteiner Memorial Award in 1973.
● The International Society for Blood Transfusion awarded him honorary membership in 1975.
● The British Society for Haematology awarded him honorary membership in 1976.
● Exeter College, Oxford, Marrett Memorial Lecture The Society for the Study of Human Biology awarded him honorary membership in 1978.
● University of Oxford’s Osler Memorial Medal, 1980
● 1982 The Geological Society of London was awarded the R.H.
● Worth Prize in 1985.