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Hampton's Doctor Death
Tuesday 22nd August 1922:
Victoria's Worst? Domestic Tragedy
To all intents and purposes, Dr George Cranstoun was a pillar of society in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Hampton. He lived in an extremely comfortable Queen Anne villa in Station Street, just 50 metres from the Hampton railway station, and had a thriving practice. His wife regularly attended the local Congregational Church and their five children went to Sunday School.
    Dr Cranstoun, forty-five, was a pharmacist until he graduated in medicine at the University of Melbourne in 1914; he practised in Gippsland for several years before establishing the practise in Hampton. He was well liked and another Hampton medical practitioner. Dr Garner Leary, said he had 'never met a more charming personality'. He added 'Everyone who met him liked him.'
    However, Dr Leary shared one of Dr Cranstoun's darkest secrets as just a month after the former pharmacist opened his practise in Hampton, Dr Leary had to treat him for an over-injection of morphia. Dr Cranstoun was unconscious for sixteen hours, but then made a full recovery, only to continue his drug addiction.
   Dr Leary could not possibly have known what Dr Cranstoun's drug addiction would lead to, and on the morning of August 14th 1922 Melbourne newspapers trumpeted what they described as the worst domestic tragedy in the history of Victoria. Dr Cranstoun had killed three of his children and a servant and had tried to kill his wife and their other two children before suiciding. The victims were servant Gladys Baylis, 22, John Cranstoun, 15, Robert Cranstoun, 10, and Colin Cranstoun, 8. Mrs Cranstoun and daughters Margaret, 13, and Belle, 6, survived Dr Cranstoun's deadly attacks by hypodermic needle.
   The discovery of the family tragedy which shocked Victoria was made by one of Dr Cranstoun's patients, whose baby was having treatment by the Hampton doctor. She telephoned for an appointment but there was no answer.
...lying in the hall
    The woman then rang the doorbell, but again there was no answer. However the hall light was on and she could hear the telephone ringing in the house. In exasperation, she lifted the letterbox slot and saw the pyjama-clad Dr Cranstoun lying in the hall. The woman yelled out to local butcher Alexander Dick, who was driving past the Cranstoun house, and he and the woman entered the house. They then called the Sandringham police, who arrived within minutes along with Dr Leary.
    They discovered a hypodermic needle on the hall floor near Dr Cranstoun, who was still alive. Fearing the worst for the rest of the family, police rushed to the other rooms. They found John, Robert and Colin Cranstoun and Miss Bayliss dead, but Mrs Cranstoun and her two daughters were still alive. In fact little Margaret Cranstoun was still conscious, despite being desperately ill. Dick asked Margaret if she recognised him and she replied: 'Yes, you are Mr Dick' He then asked her what happened and the 13yo girl said: 'We are sick. We got an inspection last night'
    Mrs Cranstoun was found in an extremely distressed condition in her bedroom. She was fully dressed, but in great pain as she groaned: 'Oh George, oh George.' Miss Bayliss' body was discovered in her room and apparently she had died only minutes before the house was entered. She was fully dressed. Colin and Robert Cranstoun were found dead in their room and had been dead for several hours.
    Dr and Mrs Cranstoun were rushed by ambulance to the Melbourne Hospital (now the Royal Melbourne) and the two girls by taxi, but Dr Cranstoun died shortly after 4pm. He lapsed into unconsciousness before being questioned. However, Margaret was interviewed by police and she told them: 'I think my father gave me an injection last night, I think he did the others too.'
    Senior-Detective F. J. Piggot, in charge of the investigation found a fully charged hypodermic needle in Dr Cranstoun's house and also a broken glass tube marked 'strychnine' in one of Dr Cranstoun's pockets. There were four other tubes of strychnine on the drug table. One of them was open.
    Strychnine is used medicinally as a stimulant, despite being extremely lethal in large doses. It is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and affects the central nervous system. Breathing becomes extremely difficult and there are convulsions before death.
    Police also found an addressed unstamped envelope on Dr Cranstoun's desk in his consulting room. Dated August 13th, 1922, it read: 'It may make it easiwer for you if I formally acknowledge that I owe you 110b pounds for money lent to me and interest. I have felt for some time that I should have given you a P.N. for the amount, and if you think the same we can fix it up next time we meet.' Police did not reveal the name of the intended recipient.
    Dr Cranstoun obviously was heavily in debt and this was confirmed by the discovery of a number of race programs and form guides in his surgery. It was also learned that Dr Cranstoun had attended the Caufield races the previous Saturday and was, in fact, a keen race-goer.
    Mrs Cranstoun and her two daughters eventually made a full recovery from their poisonings by injection, but Melbournians were shocked when they read that 15yo John Cranstoun had struggled vigorously before being lethally injected. His room was a mess, with books thrown around the room, chairs disarranged and a vase broken. There was a puncture mark on his left wrist and he must have fought with all his strength to fight off his deranged father. Tragically, Dr Cranstoun had seen the headmaster at John's school, the Hampton State and Higher Elementary School, to check on his son's progress only days before the tragedy; Dr Cranstoun was told that John was doing well.
    The doctor, so revered in the Hampton community, had taken not only his own life, but the lives of four innocent people, including his own three sons.
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