Lives of the fellows

Charles James (Sir) Martin

b.9 January 1866 d.15 February 1955
CMG(1919) Kt(1927) BSc Lond(1886) MB Lond(1890) DSc Lond(1896) DSc Melb(1897) Hon DSc Sheff(1908) Hon DSc Dubl(1912) Hon LLD Edin(1922) Hon DCL Durh(1922) MRCS LSA(1889) FRS(1901) *FRCP(1913)

Charles James Martin was born at Hackney, London, the twelfth child and youngest son of Josiah Martin, actuary to the British Life Assurance Company, by his second wife, Elizabeth Mary (née Lewis). Charles was nominated for the Bluecoat School, then situated at Christ’s Hospital in the City of London, but he was delicate as a small child and went instead to a seaside boarding school at Hastings. He entered his father’s office as a junior clerk, but against the wishes of his family became a student at St. Thomas’s Hospital. In the B.Sc, examination in 1886 he obtained the gold medal and the University scholarship in physiology; it was worth £50 a year and took him to Leipzig to work under Karl Ludwig. After six months, however, he returned to London to become demonstrator in physiology and lecturer in comparative anatomy at King’s College, where he remained until 1891, when he accepted an invitation from the University of Sydney to succeed Almroth Wright as demonstrator in physiology. In 1897 he moved to Melbourne, where in 1901 he became professor of physiology.

It was in Australia that, using instruments of his own design and construction, he made his classic investigations into the nature of certain snake venoms (J. Proc. roy. Soc. N.S.W., 1892, 26, 240-64; J. Physiol., 1893, 15, 380-400), and studied the metabolism and internal heat regulation of the Australian monotremes, the primitive half-mammals intermediate between the cold-blooded reptiles and true warm-blooded mammals. For this work he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1901. His profound influence on medical education in Australia was recognised in 1951 by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia in the foundation of two Sir Charles James Martin fellowships in medical science to enable young Australians to get overseas experience.

In 1903 he returned to this country to become director of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. There he was an unselfish and considerate leader of his younger colleagues, seemingly indifferent about where credit was given as long as the work reached his high standard of quality. Among investigations in which he personally took a leading part was the successful research on bubonic plague carried out in Bombay from 1905 to 1908 by a mixed staff from the Lister Institute and the Indian Medical Service. His researches on the regulation of internal heat production were summed up in the Croonian lectures given to the College in 1930 and in his presidential address to the hygiene section of the Pan Pacific Congress held in Sydney in 1923. In 1912 he delivered the Dobell lecture at the College on insect porters of bacterial infection. He did equally good work, in collaboration with H. Chick, on the mechanics of the disinfection process (J. Hyg., 1908, 8, 654-703), on the heat coagulation of proteins (J. Physiol., 1910, 40, 404-30; 1911, 43,1-27; 1912, 45, 61-9, 261), on vitamins and deficiency diseases, on the nutritional value of different proteins, and on the virus of rabbit myxomatosis.

In 1915 he joined the Australian Army Medical Corps and, with the rank of lieutentant-colonel, became pathologist to No. 3 Australian General Hospital, situated on the island of Lemnos, the base for the Gallipoli operations. There he organised an efficient pathological laboratory service. It was on his advice that Service men were vaccinated against paratyphoid as well as typhoid, and issued with the vitamin B soup-cube that put an end to the beri-beri prevalent until he diagonsed both the disease and its cause in the daily rations of tinned meat and white bread.

In 1916 he went to Cairo with the 3rd Australian General Hospital and was soon advising on matters of hygiene affecting the Palestinian campaign. Cholera had broken out. ‘Diarrhoea camps’ were arranged with field laboratories attached, and prompt treatment was given. By this means he prevented the spread of infection across the Suez Canal to the crowded population of Egypt. The following year he was seconded to the British Expeditionary Force as assistant adviser in pathology, and posted to No. 25 Stationary Hospital at Rouen, where he remained until he was demobilised in the autumn of 1918.

On his retirement from the Lister Institute in December 1930 Martin accepted the invitation of the Australian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to direct its division of nutrition at Adelaide University, where he was appointed professor of biochemistry and general physiology. He remained there for three years, but retirement to England was again nominal, for at the request of the Australian Government he investigated the virus of myxomatosis and its method of spread among rabbits. The experimental work was done at the Cambridge University department of experimental pathology, and the field work on the rabbit infested island of Skokholm in Pembrokeshire.

In 1939 Martin offered the spare accommodation in his house to the nutrition division of the Lister Institute, then evacuated from Chelsea. In addition to improvising laboratories and an animal house, doing much of the conversion with his own hands, he took an active part in the researches on war-time food problems. A study of the vitamin and protein content of various portions of the wheat grain (Brit. J. Nutr., 1948, 1, 161-82) enabled the authorities to decide which fractions should be included in the flour used for the war-time National loaf.

Martin was a country lover and fond of the open air. In his younger days he was a good swimmer and tennis player. In 1891 he married Edith, daughter of Alfred Cross, an architect, of Hastings. They had one daughter.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1956, 2, 173-208 (p), bibl.; Brit. J. Nutr., 1956, 10, 1-7 (p);, 1955, 1, 543-5 (p), 608; J.Path.Bact., 1956, 71, 519-34 (p), bibl.; Lancet, 1955, 1, 462-3 (p); Med.J.Aust., 1955, 1, 820-12 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1955, 175, 577-8; Times, 17 Feb. 1955; Trans. roy. Soc. trop. Med. Hyg., 1955, 49, 289-90 (p).]

(Volume V, page 268)

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