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Arthur Ernest Mourant, 1904-1994.

Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, London. Reference code: GB 0120 PP/AEM.

Link to catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Arthur Ernest Mourant, by T.E. Powell and P. Harper.

Outline of career

Mourant was born in 1904 in Jersey. He read Chemistry at Exeter College Oxford and graduated with a first class degree. In 1926 he went on to research on the geology of the Channel Islands (D.Phil. 1931). In 1928 he was appointed Demonstrator in Geology at Leeds University and the following year was given a place on the Geological Survey of Great Britain mapping coal measures in Lancashire. He left in 1931. Mourant's interest in geology continued throughout his life and he continued to publish on geology alongside haematological and medical publications.

Mourant returned to Jersey and in 1933 established the Jersey Chemical Pathology Laboratory, which he ran for five years. He then returned to London, intending to pursue a career as a psychoanalyst. In 1939 began medical training at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, London. Mourant graduated B.M. and B.Ch. in 1943 and in 1944 was appointed Medical Officer in the National Blood Transfusion Service. He had developed an interest in haematology during his medical training and during this period pursued research into blood serum. He discovered the antibody anti-e, thus helping to establish the three-factor theory of the Rhesus system, and the Lewis factor and shared in the discovery of the Kell factor. With R.R. Race and R.R.A. Coombs he went on to develop the antiglobulin test.

In 1945 Mourant took up a post as Medical Officer with the Galton Laboratory Serum Unit before in 1946 being appointed Director of the Medical Research Council (MRC)'s newly established Blood Group Reference Laboratory, based at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, London, a post he held to 1965. Mourant's interests were increasingly anthropological and his work on human blood group distribution world-wide saw publication of two major books: in 1953 The Distribution of Human Blood Groups and other Biochemical Polymorphisms and in 1958 The ABO Blood Groups and Maps of World Distribution. In 1952 Mourant was appointed Honorary Advisor (de facto Director) of the newly established Nuffield Blood Group Centre. It was administered by and housed in the Royal Anthropological Institute, reporting to its Blood Group Committee. From 1952 to 1962 the Centre was funded by the Nuffield Foundation but the MRC then took over responsibility for financing the Centre, which changed its name to the Anthropological Blood Group Centre.

In September 1965 Mourant retired from the Blood Group Reference Laboratory to become Head of the MRC's newly established Serological Population Genetics Laboratory (SPGL). This was established to combine the testing work of the Blood Group Reference Laboratory with the statistical and bibliographical work of the Anthropological Blood Group Centre. The work of the SPGL was thus divided between two sections. The first was a testing laboratory, working principally for the Human Adaptability Section of the International Biological Programme. The second comprised the Anthropological Blood Group Centre, concentrating on preparing a second edition of The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups. In 1971 the MRC announced that it was to close the SPGL. However, Mourant was anxious that the SPGL complete its work on The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups and other projects, including its work for the IBP. The MRC agreed to extend its support of the work on the distribution of human blood groups to 1973. Through assiduous fund-raising Mourant found support for the other projects and was able to see them through to completion. The SPGL finally closed in 1976. Mourant retired to the family home in Jersey where he continued to publish on haematology and physical anthropology as well as geology.

Description of archive

Dates of creation of material: 1919-1996. Extent: 48 boxes

Biographical material includes the draft of Mourant's autobiography, Blood and Stones published after his death in 1995, together with the correspondence and papers Mourant assembled while writing it. There is also documentation of Mourant's education at Victoria College Jersey and at Exeter College Oxford. There are pocket diaries spanning 1915-1982, with a fairly continuous sequence 1922-1961. Biographical material also includes family and personal correspondence, much of which relates to the German occupation of Jersey. Mourantÿs other documented interests include his membership of the Methodist Church and his political affiliations, the League of Nations Union in particular.

There is a little material relating to Mourantÿs early career with the Geological Survey 1929-1931, miscellaneous material relating to Mourantÿs service with the MRC's Blood Group Reference Laboratory at the Lister Institute and the Blood Group Centre, and more extensive but uneven coverage of the Serological Population Genetics Laboratory. The surviving material consists chiefly of correspondence and papers relating to Mourant's largely successful efforts to find continued funding for the Laboratory. Haematological research material covers Mourant's work in a number of areas from research on blood serum in the mid-1940s to the mapping of blood groups in the 1960s and 1970s. There are early research notes, correspondence and papers relating to student and other expeditions undertaking blood group and physical anthropology research and some MRC material assembled by Mourant relating to projects in which he had an interest. The largest group of research papers is maps and data produced during preparation of the second edition of The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups.

There is a chronological sequence of drafts and correspondence relating to Mourantÿs publications, 1929-1991, with extensive material relating to editions of The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups and to The Genetics of the Jews (1978). There is correspondence and papers relating to some of Mourant's lectures and broadcasts, most notably lectures on blood groups given at the Collège de France, Toulouse, 1978-1979. Visits and conferences material covers the period 1960-1987. It is not comprehensive, though there is also considerable documentation of Mourantÿs visits and conferences in the papers he assembled in the course of preparing his biography and with lectures material.

Mourant's correspondence is extensive. Its complexity reflects Mourant's organisation of the material, the bulk of which was found in three main series: Foreign 1965-1977, Biological and Geological, together with a fragment of a fourth series Home 1965-1977, Principal correspondents include C.C. Blackwell, B. Bonné, O.J. Brendemoen, V.A. Clarke, L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, A. W. Eriksson, T.J. Greenwalt, J.K. Moor-Jankowski, T. Jenkins, W.S. Pollitzer, D.F. Roberts, J. Ruffié, D. Tills and J.S. Weiner.

Material relating to Mourantÿs membership of the Société Jersiaise, the Jersey earthquake of 1927, the activities of Channel Island exiles during the Second World War and other topics relating to Jersey and its geology are held in the Lord Coutanche Library at the Société Jersiaise, St Helier, Jersey.