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Crawford Henry (Mollie) Mollison (1863–1949)

by J. Birrell

This article was published:

Crawford Henry Mollison (1863-1949), medical and forensic pathologist, was born on 1 August 1863 at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, son of Crawford Mollison, goldfields warden, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hobson. At 7 he was sent to school at Tunbridge Wells in England and later to Geelong and Melbourne Church of England Grammar schools. He then studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., 1884; B.S., 1885). Resident medical officer at the Melbourne Hospital for two years, he subsequently travelled overseas gaining membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in England in 1887. After studying ophthalmology and dermatology in Vienna for seven months, he returned to Melbourne to set up in general practice and become demonstrator in anatomy at the university.

Mollison married Emily Beatrice Smith at Hawthorn on 23 October 1889. After her death in childbirth in April 1891 Mollison, feeling that he could no longer practise medicine, turned to pathology and became honorary pathologist at the Children's Hospital (1891-1904). He was appointed assistant pathologist at the Melbourne Hospital in 1892 and senior assistant pathologist in 1911, holding that post until 1938 when he was appointed consulting pathologist. In 1893 he became coroner's surgeon and pathologist to the Women's Hospital, a position he occupied until the appointment of a full-time pathologist in 1939. He was lecturer in forensic medicine at the University of Melbourne in 1904-43.

As coroner's surgeon for over fifty years Mollison was involved in most of the famous criminal cases of that period, including the Deeming trial (1892), the Gun Alley murder (1922), the Leonski murders (1942) and the 'pyjama girl' case (1934-44). A short, stocky man of 'almost cherubic countenance, with rosy cheeks, pleasant smile and soft voice', Mollison was quiet and unassuming, with a dry sense of humour. He was the ideal scientific witness who presented his findings in simple, unambiguous English, and insisted on giving only factual evidence. His composure impressed hearers and carried conviction. He remained even tempered although, as a disinterested expert witness, he sometimes felt that remarks made by legal counsel were unfair.

A fine histo-pathologist and a keen observer, Mollison attracted only one pupil, Dr Redford Wright-Smith, who died three years after succeeding Mollison at the morgue. In 1946, aged 83, Mollison returned to work until a replacement could be found. He published one book, Forensic Medicine Lectures (1921), and some contributions to the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria, of which he was elected first medical president in 1932.

Active in many professional organizations Mollison was a member of the board of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Research in Pathology and Medicine, chairman of the British Medical Insurance Co. and of the British Medical Agency of Victoria Pty Ltd, and a member of the Victorian Medical Board. Treasurer of the Victorian Medical Society from 1895, he was one of the movers for amalgamation of the society with the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association. In 1943 he was awarded the B.M.A.'s gold medal.

Mollison was surgeon to the Victoria Racing Club for many years and was a champion royal tennis player. He loved bridge and was a keen rosarian. On 18 December 1900 at St John's Church, Toorak, he had married Corientia Elizabeth (d.1920), daughter of Thomas Browne ('Rolf Boldrewood'); they had three sons. Mollison died in Melbourne on 6 April 1949 and was cremated. He was survived by his third wife Grace Elizabeth, née Thomas, whom he had married on 16 October 1929, a daughter from each of his first and third marriages and two sons from his second. His eldest son was lost on service in World War II. Mollison's portrait by W. B. McInnes is in the council-room of the Australian Medical Association (Victorian branch).

Select Bibliography

  • K. F. Russell, The Melbourne Medical School 1862-1962 (Melb, 1977)
  • Medico-Legal Society of Victoria, Proceedings 2, 1933
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital, Clinical Reports, Dec 1949
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 28 July 1951, 12 Jan 1957
  • Punch (Melbourne), 1 Oct 1908, 25 Sept 1924
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Apr 1949.

Citation details

J. Birrell, 'Mollison, Crawford Henry (Mollie) (1863–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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