Barrie Patrick Marmion

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 30 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5900
  1. Jon Ayres

Barrie Patrick Marmion excelled as a clinical microbiologist, medical researcher and academic, mentor to many younger colleagues, and outstanding human being. His professional life and activity stretched more than 70 years, from the era when smallpox, typhoid, and diphtheria were encountered regularly, through to times of gene therapy and routine molecular diagnostics. His contributions to microbiology were considerable, including his last paper, which is about to be published.

Barrie was born the son of Joseph and Melita (“Millie”) Marmion in Alverstoke in Hampshire. The family subsequently moved to Kent, where his father became the county pharmacist and where his two sisters were born. His warm, supportive, and happy family background was reflected in his personality. He started his medical studies at University College London in 1939, with a brief interlude during which he was seconded to the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff for his preclinical studies because of the outbreak of war, after which he returned to UCH for his clinical studies. The latter were conditioned by the reduced senior staff away in the forces and having to undertake some air raid duties. He had clinical, preregistration experience at Great Ormond Street Hospital and graduated in 1944.

He joined the Public Health Laboratory Service under G S Wilson FRS, which provided an exceptional pathology training programme. As part of this he was seconded to Cambridge and then to the virus reference laboratory at Colindale. He subsequently worked in Leicester. He was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, where he worked with Frank Macfarlane Burnet. This included seminal work on respiratory viruses and Murray Valley encephalitis. Barrie then returned to England to join Michael Stoker’s group at Cambridge, where his main work was on Q fever. He married Diana in Cambridge; theirs was to be a happy marriage of 62 years.

In 1955 he became head of the Public Health Laboratory in Leeds, where he was involved in the isolation of smallpox virus from a mortuary attendant, who had become infected when preparing a Pakistani child for return to Pakistan for burial. It was during this time that he made the key discovery (concurrently with Hayflick and Chanock in the US) that Eaton’s atypical pneumonia agent is a mycoplasma, and published the first description of Q fever endocarditis.

In 1963 he was appointed to the foundation professorship of microbiology at Monash University Medical School in Melbourne, working happily and productively with David White, of the University of Melbourne, particularly on mycoplasma antigens with Ruth Lemcke and Phil Plackett, and on hepatitis A. The non-clinical work entailed the construction of an undergraduate course in his subject and the organisation of postgraduate trainees in the new medical school.

In 1968 he was appointed to the Robert Irving chair of microbiology in Edinburgh, where he contributed to the investigation of a dialysis unit outbreak of hepatitis B shortly after his return to the UK, and subsequently discovered that this outbreak was complicated by a concurrent hepatitis C infection, which explained the very high mortality. This work led to the development of principles of the control of bloodborne viruses that provided valuable lessons for the era of HIV/AIDS. It also opened up discoveries about the pathogenesis of hepatitis B with Christopher Burrell and Eric Gowans, and (with Ken Murray, Burrell, and Patricia Mackay) the cloning with antigen expression of hepatitis B virus, the first human virus to be cloned. During this time, Marmion also carried out extensive testing of novel infective hypotheses about rheumatoid arthritis with John Mackay and Mary Norval.

In 1979 he accepted an appointment as senior director at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science (IMVS) at Adelaide. This entailed close links with the Royal Adelaide Hospital. The IMVS, with an independent charter, was an excellent model of a diagnostic research institute, and Marmion developed and extended what had already been a good laboratory diagnostic service. Supported by Chris Burrell, Eric Gowans—who followed him to IMVS—and others, he built virology research into one of the leading research groups in the country. This became his base for the further exploration of Q fever, the development of a Q fever vaccine, and the establishment that Q fever is a cause of chronic fatigue (QFS) in collaboration with, among others, Jon Ayres in Birmingham, UK [the author of this obituary]. Marmion was active in research into this area right up to the time of his death. Throughout his life, he maintained high standards of scholarship, in writing and in scientific work. His medical and diagnostic experience helped to keep him focused on the benefit of his work to human health, and he would always bring some theoretical discussion back to “well, it’s what happens in the real world that is the only true test.”

He was an exceptional scientist, highly regarded worldwide both inside and outside the virology sphere. He was chairman of the Australian Medical Research Council for many years. His many contributions were recognised by being awarded the distinction of Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and the Foundation Distinguished Fellow Award (Gold Medal) of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia. He was a life member of the American Society for Rickettsiology, which regarded him as one of the leading lights in the past 50 years in the area, to the extent that one subspecies of the Rickettsiae carries his name—R honei var marmonii. He was an honorary life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge.

Barrie was a cultured man who enjoyed life to the full, who swam regularly, and who was widely read and had a strong knowledge of music. He leaves his wife, Diana; daughter Jane and her husband; and two granddaughters.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5900


  • Clinical microbiologist and researcher (b 1920; q 1944; MA (Cantab), DSc Lon, MD Lon, FRCPath UK, FRS Ed, FRACP, DUniv (Adel)), d 12 July 2014.

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