This blog is part of the ‘Blog a Book project entitled: The Inside Story –– a history of the Microbiology Department (University of Otago) from 1950 – 2010. Blogs are usually shown in reverse chronological order (from newest to oldest). For a ‘Blog a Book’ the posts are changed to be chronologically displayed (from oldest to newest) as one would in reading a book. Click on the building image in the upper left corner of this blog post to navigated to the beginning of the ‘The Inside Story‘..
The story carries on with a look at the history of the Microbiology Department before John Miles arrived in 1955. It begins with Sydney Taylor Champtaloup, the first Professor of Bacteriology and Public Health at the Otago Medical School.
Born in Auckland in 1880, he studied at Edinburgh University, where he graduated MDChB in 1906 and BSc (Public Health) in 1908. In 1910 he was appointed lecturer in bacteriology and responsibilities of government bacteriologist and public health officer. The following year he was promoted to a full-time chair in bacteriology and public health.
He taught students from the faculties of Medicine, Dentistry and Home Science, with a staff of two assistants, one qualified and one unqualified, and a typist. The department was housed in a single room in the hospital, which served as laboratory, classroom and professor’s office. Professor Champtaloup’s research interests included diphtheria, tuberculosis, meningococcal meningitis and influenza. In 1920 he took study leave and returned to Edinburgh for post-graduate work which resulted in him being awarded an MD for a thesis on epidemic influenza in New Zealand and a DSc (Public Health) for a thesis on tuberculosis in New Zealand.
As sub-dean he was actively involved in the administration and development of the Medical School. It was he who drew up specifications for a building, now known as the Scott Building, to house the departments of bacteriology and pathology. This was the first Medical School building to be erected on the Great King Street site.
In 1921 his health deteriorated and after a period in a sanatorium he died of tuberculosis at the end of the year. His peers regarded him as “a man of zeal and ability who was the founder of progressive bacteriology and public health at the Otago University Medical School”. He is commemorated by the Champtaloup Prize for medical students. (Contributed by-Frank Austin) See also Memorium poem.
The second Professor of Bacteriology and Public Health at the Otago University Medical School was Charles (later, Sir Charles) Hercus.
Born in Dunedin, Charles qualified in dentistry and then in medicine at Otago University. In the First World War he served as medical officer with the New Zealand Forces at Gallipoli and in Palestine being awarded the DSO and made an OBE for his services. After a brief period as acting-professor when Sydney Champtaloup was on sick leave, he was appointed Professor of Bacteriology and Public Health in 1922. When the department was divided into Microbiology and Preventive Medicine in 1954, he continued as Professor of Preventive Medicine until his retirement in 1959. He was also Dean of the Medical Faculty from 1937 until 1959 and was knighted in 1947.
Under his direction the department continued to teach students from the Medical, Dental and Home Science faculties with a teaching staff of two, one permanent and one temporary. It also provided a diagnostic service for the Dunedin hospital and the Health Department. The Gallipoli campaign illustrated to him the importance of preventive medicine so his research interests were more in the field of public health than in bacteriology. In the 1920s he began the observations which led to the identification of iodine deficiency as the cause of endemic goitre enabling this condition to be virtually eradicated by the prophylactic use of iodised salt. His later research centred on endocrinology and hydatid disease.
In 1943 the government requested that the medical student intake be increased as a wartime measure. Sir Charles, in his position as Dean, advised the University Council to agree, but to strike a bargain with the government about a number of needed improvements. As a result the department was able to more than double its accommodation by spreading from the Scott Building into the adjacent, newly-built, Hercus Building, teaching was expanded to include bacteriology courses of a basic and general nature for science students and four more permanent full-time bacteriology teaching positions were established in order to cope with the increased work load.
As new staff members developed their own interests and funding became available from the newly formed Medical Research Council of New Zealand (of which Sir Charles was a member) the scope of research in the Department increased. The hospital diagnostic service provided a rich source of material for studies on viruses and leptospira was initiated. At about the same time there was an increased interest in the health of neighbouring Pacific Islanders and a series of expeditions from the Medical School surveyed various aspects of their health, including infectious diseases.
By 1954, when Sir Charles retired from the Chair of Bacteriology, the department had expanded in every sense; breadth of teaching, staff numbers, accommodation, and the amount and quality of research. (Contributed by Frank Austin)
Molly was born in Northern India of missionary parents, educated in England and, in due course, became a member of Sommerville College, Oxford, where she completed a degree in zoology.
In 1931 she married another Oxford graduate, Brian Marples, who in 1937 was appointed to the Chair of Zoology at Otago University. She completed her MBChB at Otago University and in 1946, Molly was appointed to the staff of what was then the Department of Bacteriology and Public Health, with Sir Charles Hercus as Head of Department. Through 1946 and 1947 she proposed and promoted the offering of a second year course in Microbiology for BSc students – a course which first became available to students in 1949.
She participated in research expeditions to Western Samoa in 1950-51 and, in the following years, devoted herself to research in medical mycology, which culminated in the award of an MD and the publication of her acclaimed book, “The Ecology of the Human Skin”. In January 1969, she published her historic article in Scientific American, entitled “Life on the Human Skin”. Molly retired from Otago in 1967 and returned to Oxford. A jovial woman, she was responsible for introducing the fascinating world of medical mycology, and medical microbiology in general, to a host of appreciative undergraduate and graduate students.
Donald Frederick Bacon was born in Gisborne in 1926. He was educated at Gisborne High School, then began training as a medical laboratory technician at Cook Hospital in 1944.
This was interrupted when he registered for a science degree at Otago University in 1947. He graduated BSc (1950), joined the staff of the Microbiology Department as an Assistant Lecturer in 1951, and then worked closely with Dr Molly Marples in presenting the existing Stage 2 course and in the introduction of a new Stage 3 microbiology course.
Across the summers of 1951-1955, Don was a member of the Medical Research Council sponsored health research teams to Samoa and Niue. He graduated MSc from the University of Otago in 1953.
In 1955 he was awarded a Fulbright Travel Grant and began studies at Yale University for a PhD which was awarded in 1958. The subject of his research there was mutation and the mechanism of mutations in E. coli. He resumed his duties at Otago, and later returned to the USA in 1969 to the Waksman Institute at the Rutgers University.
In 1966 he was appointed founding Professor of Microbiology and Head of Department of Microbiology and Genetics at Massey University where his research interests in the genetics of E. coli and associated bacteriophages continued. He retired in 1989.
In 2005, Don Bacon, Professor Emeritus, Massey University, recorded his personal memories associated with Microbiology in the period 1946 to 1955.
When I was given an opportunity to recall the times when Microbiology was first offered as a major within the Science Faculty at the University of Otago, I felt obliged to record the extremely significant role played by Assoc. Professor Mary J Marples, always known affectionately as Moll
First, let me outline in the briefest way Molly’s background prior to 1946 when she joined the staff of the Department of Bacteriology and Public Health at the Medical School.
Molly was born of missionary parents in India (1908); she was educated in England and in due course became a member of Sommerville College, Oxford, where she completed a degree in Zoology. In 1931 she married another Oxford Zoology graduate, Brian J Marples who was, in 1937, appointed to the Chair in Zoology at Otago University. As a consequence, Molly took up residence in Dunedin and by 1940 was the mother of two young sons. As they became less dependent on her she decided to register as an older medical student and entered the second year courses. In 1946, shortly after completing her ME ChB degree Molly was appointed to the staff of what was then the Department of Bacteriology and Public Health with Professor Sir Charles Hercus as Head of Department, also Dean of the Medical School.
During the years 1946 and 1947, with the support and encouragement of Sir Charles Molly proposed and promoted the offering of a second year course in Microbiology for the B.Sc.degree influenced, I would suggest, by her science background in biology. She was successful in this and in 1948 a course, Bacteriology I, was listed in the Science Schedule and offered for the first time in 1949. Molly made a major contribution to this science unit and was assisted by a variety of staff, research workers and guest lecturers.
I completed this course in that year while I was completing a major in Chemistry, Also, by virtue of the background I had in hospital diagnostic bacteriology (3 years training at Cook Hospital, Gisbome), I was able to give assistance as a demonstrator in the practical classes.
In 1950 this 2nd year science unit was given the more appropriate designation, Microbiology stage 2, and at the same time it was announced that Microbiology stage 3 and Honours would be available in succeeding years. Thus it was that a full teaching programme in Microbiology was launched within the BSc degree. It was that same year that the department was split into the Department of Bacteriology and the Department of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine; 1950 was also the year that I joined the staff of the department.
Formally, I was a technical staff member assigned to the hospital medical diagnostic laboratory which operated within the}e department, but in truth it was understood that I would work closely with Molly, assisting her in the development of the science teaching program. I was also to prepare for and subsequently join a N.2.Medical Research Council sponsored research expedition to Western Samoa in the summer of 1950/51; Molly was the leader of that expedition Other expeditions followed with Molly as leader … some later expeditions were led by Dr D.D. McCarthy (Tropical Research Officer).
These were certainly hectic but exciting times; long hours in the department were the order of the day.
In 1951 Microbiology Stage 3 was offered alongside the existing Microbiology Stage 2. Molly and I (with myself now on the academic staff as an Assistant Lecturer) were kept very busy indeed and we welcomed assistance from Dr Solly Faine … Solly was a medical graduate who had recently been appointed to the teaching staff. It is of interest that Solly was later to be appointed to the Chair of Microbiology at Monash University in Australia; a position he held for a number of years.
Once again with this new 300 level course, Molly made use of guest lecturers as much as possible and we all sat in on these lectures to keep up with the material covered.
In the following year, 1952, graduate studies in Microbiology were initiated. A personal note: I was registered for graduate studies and was awarded the MSc degree with first class honours in May 1954.
Also in 1954 the title of the department was changed and was listed as the Department of Microbiology. I was now a Lecturer in that department. I would suggest that this year (1954) marked the end of the beginning; this was the year Sir Charles Hercus (1922 – 54) retired from his position as Head of Department and Professor J.A.R. Miles was appointed; John took up hi§ duties in May 1955. Also in that year I was granted 3 years leave of absence to enable me to take up Ph.D. studies at Yale University; I departed August 1955.
In the course of time the tide of history is influenced by a variety of events. In the present case I believe it was significant that, as I understand it, Sir Charles Hercus struck a deal with the post-wartime Government. This deal was that the medical school (the only medical school in New Zealand at that time) would increase its intake of medical students to remedy a national shortage of medical personnel if the Government would provide material assistance. Again, it is my understanding that this assistance was, in part, the provision of the Hercus Building on the comer of Hanover St. and Great King St. This building was occupied in 1948 and this event was significant.
As the Department of Bacteriology (floor 3) expanded across from the old medical school building (later referred to as the Scott Building) into the corresponding floor in the new Hercus Building some space on the third floor of the Scott building became available and was ear marked for science Microbiology; this space included what had been for many years the medical diagnostic laboratory handling specimens from the Dunedin Public Hospital. It also included what had been the old med. lab.”kitchen” with an ancient vertical gas operated autoclave complete with a hoist to lift the heavy brass lid. Again, in that same area there was what had been the “Professor’s laboratory”, a room adjacent to and connected to Sir Charle’s office. This became a small lecture room.
As the third floor of the Hercus Building was occupied and the hospital bacteriological diagnostic service and associated personnel were moved into bright new laboratories in that building the staff began using, among other things, the shiny new horizontal autoclave coupled into a reticulated still supply … the reduced time for a sterilization cycle was just a dream.
As can be imagined, Sir Charles was kept very busy with his duties as Dean of the Medical School and his contribution to the teaching in the department was held to certain lectures to the medical students. Our contact with him was limited to a staff meeting at 8:30 am on Saturday mornings.
Molly always referred to these as the department “prayer meeting”. Often on a Friday afternoon she would admonish us not to forget the “prayer meeting” next morning. At that time the department staff were kept busy with teaching commitments to 4th year Medical students, to Dental students, to Home Science students, to trainee nurses and now to stage 2, stage 3 and honours Science students. The medical student intake per year had now gone up; their laboratory classes in the new Hercus building were broken down into two large student laboratories running simultaneously. Virtually all the staff were brought in as demonstrators.
Finally, as I recall the Molly Marples of those times I feel I must mention the research officer who worked closely with her, viz., Dr Margaret di Menna. They worked on the superficial mycoses and in particular on ringworm among local children. This included examination of the family cat as a possible source of infection and led, at specified times, to a stream of Mums, kids and cats through the department to Molly’s clinic; I always admired the way Margaret and Molly handled those cats, mothers and children
So there we are, 1955, with the science Microbiology teaching launched and a new very welcome Head of Department. The future looked bright and proved to be so.
Perhaps it might not be inappropriate at this point to recall one or two lighter moments. For example, I recall that on the occasion of the “prayer meetings” Molly was the only woman present and as we entered Sir Charle’s office (at 8:30 am on a Saturday morning) he would always invite her to take an easy chair beside an open fire, a fire which was never lit but was set neatly and artistically with silver birch logs.
Now in those days Molly was an inveterate smoker; she would smoke during the meetings and in the absence of any ashtrays would drop her cigarette butts into the fireplace. I could see that the “boss” didn’t appreciate this but suffered it in silence. And then carne the day when one of the cigarette butts lit the fire. That was bad enough in itself but it immediately became apparent that birds had nested in the chimney. The smoke drove us out of his office. It wasn’t the first nor the last time that Sir Charles exclaimed “Really Marples!!”.
It must be stated that Molly had a wicked sense of humour and you could not be certain that she hadn’t treasured the thought that the fire just might light if she persisted long enough.
Yet again, I recall that about 1951/52 the heating system in the old medical school (the Scott Building) was upgraded from a coal burning furnace to an oil burner. Now over the years a coal merchant had held a contract to tip a load of coal down a chute into the basement at approved intervals Following the above upgrade somebody should have cancelled the contract with this merchant. You’ve guessed it, a load of unwanted coal went down the chute in the late autumn and as you can imagine, the coal carne back up again far more slowly than it went down – from the Hocken Collection, June 24th, 2005
For more about Don Bacon and Molly Marples and the days prior to John Miles, watch the video below.
Frank Austin was born in the Hawkes Bay in 1927. He worked initially as a hospital laboratory technician at Napier and Hastings hospitals.
In 1945 he moved to the Wellington Hospital Laboratory where he obtained his certificate of proficiency in techniques in bacteriology and clinical pathology. He graduated BSc in zoology from Victoria University in 1950. He then worked for six months in Western Samoa, before joining the staff of the Medical Research Council’s Virus Research Unit in Dunedin, where he remained until his retirement in 1992.
While on the VRU staff, Frank continued his degree studies, graduating MSc in microbiology and a PhD in virology from Otago University (1965).
Frank spent his early research days working with polio virus with Dr Lyle Fastier, but in the late 1950s the Unit began studies of insect-transmitted viruses and Frank was heavily involved with the field work and laboratory studies which resulted in the isolation of Whataroa virus, a mosquito Group A arbovirus.
Later still, Frank became involved in the Unit’s work with hepatitis B virus and, towards the end of his career, with the influenza viruses, working in close collaboration with Professor Rob Webster, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Finally, in the few years before his retirement, he came back to the arboviruses and successfully created a large battery of dengue virus monoclonal antibodies. Frank has a special interest in the history of the NZ Microbiological Society and has contributed several valuable articles to “NZ Microbiology”. A meticulous worker, Frank set the high standards of laboratory practice and passed these on to all he taught and mentored.
For more about Frank Austin, watch the video below.
Nance Campbell predated any of the academic staff, joining the department in 1943. She later became secretary to John Miles and faithfully served the department for a total of 42 years.
Below is the interview she gave to a reporter from the Otago Daily Times October 1st, 1985
“Watch what you write or I’ll have your hide,” Miss Nance Campbell said with a grin at the end of an interview to mark her retirement after 42 years.
She is one of Otago University’s “genuine characters” and is thought of with affection and amusement by those who know her. Ask about her around the department of microbiology and the cliche “the place won’t be the same without her” rings true. Friends and colleagues smile and tell you of her energy, her caring, her sense of fun and mischief. “She also tried to keep everybody under control.” one anonymous senior staff member said.
DUNEDINITE Miss Campbell is Dunedin born and bred. She attended Otago Girls High School and has lived all her life in Northend and Maori Hill. After four years at secondary school she joined the Department of Bacteriology and Public Health in 1943 under Sir Charles Hercus. Since then she has worked with only two other heads, Professor J. A. R. Miles and Professor J. S. Loutit. That old department has since divided into preventive medicine and microbiology. Miss Campbell went with the latter. She was a laboratory assistant and “general factotum” and has moved steadily more into the secretarial side. She is now a senior secretary.
ALWAYS ENJOYABLE Asked why she stayed with the job, she says it was because the work was always enjoyable and interesting. “You have to put down roots and get stuck into something.” she said. “For a girl, secretarial work still has a lot going for it.” Right from the beginning Miss Campbell was out organising and helping others. For example, during World War II one of the senior secretaries had a passion for hard·to·come·by sweets. Each Friday Miss Campbell queued up at a George Street shop and returned with the sweets.
LOTTERY TICKETS In more recent times microbiology staff have regularly bought $20 Kiwi lottery tickets. She organised dollar lots to make up the $20 and was always one of the first people to get freshly issued tickets. So far wins have all been small. Colleagues are still hopeful they will win the big prize before Miss Campbell leaves late this month. When staff or senior students needed second hand goods,. Miss Campbell was always there to help. At auctions she bought items for many staff members and she helped furnish many flats for senior students. Generations of senior students will also remember her help around the department and with their theses. Miss Campbell comes through as a “doer” in other ways. She helps with Meals-on-Wheels and has done up much of her Otematata crib herself.
CONFERENCES Over the years Miss Campbell has had to take on responsibilities beyond what would be expected of most secretarIes. She has also helped organise two international conferences in recent years. One senior staff member , who again wished to remain anonymous, said Miss Campbell was not averse, in her nice way, to “abusing us all.” Another simply said: “Amazing,” and shook his head. “She is a tower of strength in lots of ways. But sometimes we could have thankfully dropped her off the eighth floor.” Miss Campbell is not known as widely around the University now as she was in the days when it was much smaller. But it will be a long lime before those at the microbiology department forget her.