ARTHUR MOURANT was an anthropologist, a haematologist and a geologist. But his main interest became the blood groups of the various races of mankind. This was the principal focus of his research activities and the subject of his magnum opus, first published in 1954, The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups.
Mourant was born in Jersey and received his early education at Five Oaks School, Jersey Modern School and Victoria College. He was a student of exceptional ability and was awarded the King's Gold Medal for modern languages and for mathematics before going up to Exeter College, Oxford, in 1922 as the recipient of the King Charles I Scholarship. His studies at Oxford culminated, in 1931, with the award of Doctor of Philosophy for a dissertation on the geology of the Channel Islands. He returned to Jersey, where he established a chemical pathology laboratory before becoming a student of medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.
The Second World War years heralded a period of discovery and innovation which was to lay the foundation of the modern Blood Transfusion Service. After qualifying in medicine in 1943, Mourant became interested in blood transfusion work. An appreciation of the clinical significance of the Rh, or Rhesus factor, as a cause of haemolytic disease of the newborn and adverse reactions to blood transfusions had emerged in the early 1940s from the work of P. Levine and AS Wiener in the United States. However, it was becoming clear that Rh was not a single factor and RR Race, together with Sir Ronald Fisher in Cambridge, devised a theory based on three genes (C, D and E) to explain their experimental observations. According to this theory, an individual inherited a combination of three Rh factors; C or c, D or d and E or e. Rh factors C, c, D, E were known, but the d and e factors predicted by the theory had not been described.
In 1945 Mourant found a serum with antibody to the e factor. (The joy of that discovery was still fresh in his mind more than 40 years later when he related it to me over lunch in Oxford in 1987.) Also in 1945, Mourant collaborated with RRA Coombs and RR Race in the development of a new test for blood group antibodies, the antiglobulin test. This test is still used throughout the world to ensure the compatibility of blood used for transfusion.
In 1946, Mourant accepted a post at the Lister Institute in London as Director of the new Medical Research Council Blood Group Reference Laboratory (BGRL). He was to direct the laboratory for the next 20 years, during which time it was designated a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre and played a major role in the provision of reagents for blood testing, the elucidation of complex blood grouping problems, instigating the International Panel of Donors of Rare Blood Type and the teaching of doctors and scientists in the methods of blood typing.
Mourant received many awards and honours during his time at BGRL, including the Huxley Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society when he retired and became Director of the Serological Population Genetics Laboratory at St Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1976 the second, revised and extended, edition of The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups, prepared with AC Kopec and K. Domaniewska- Sobezak, was published. This book remains the definitive reference work on the subject.
Blood groups and anthropology did not entirely replace Mourant's earlier love of geology and prehistory and he continued to publish many papers on the geology and prehistory of the Channel Islands. In recognition of this work he received the Worth Award of the Geological Society of London in 1982. In 1990, his enduring contribution to the intellectual life of Jersey and his major contributions to anthropology, haematology and geology were marked by the Societe Jersiaise, who commissioned a portrait bust by the sculptor John Doubleday which was unveiled on 27 April in the gardens of the Societe's museum in St Helier. Mourant responded to this - as in all things - with grace and humour.Reuse content