Hobart council to remove divisive statue of William Crowther

Hobart City Council has voted to remove the statue of former Tasmanian premier William Crowther.

Hobart City Council has voted to remove the statue of former Tasmanian premier William Crowther. Photo: AAP

A contentious statue of a former Tasmanian premier who mutilated the body of an Aboriginal man in 1869 will be taken down by the Hobart City Council.

William Crowther, a surgeon and politician, stole the skull of William Lanne from a morgue and sent it to the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

Crowther was suspended from a position at the Hobart General Hospital as a result. He became premier briefly nine years later.

Hobart City Council on Monday night voted 7-4 to remove the statue from Franklin Square in the capital’s CBD after years of campaigning from Aboriginal groups.

Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds described it as a practical and meaningful step to reconciliation and one part of a broader national conversation.

‘‘(This) does not change history. The records, the books, the articles, the stories all remain unchanged,’’ Cr Reynolds told the meeting.

‘‘We don’t want to celebrate a time in our history when scientists and doctors wanted to prove theories of European superiority (and) wanted to rank people by their race.

‘‘It was an appalling tradition.’’

The bronze eight-foot-tall statue was erected in Crowther’s honour in 1889, four years after his death.

Cr Reynolds said the statue would be conserved and potentially reinterpreted. The meeting was told preliminary discussions had been held with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

A council report noted Tasmanian Aboriginal people have expressed their pain about the continued presence of the statue.

Alderman Simon Behrakis voted against the statue’s removal, saying history should be preserved ‘‘warts and all’’.

‘‘That statue didn’t go up celebrating the horrors and appalling acts committed. It celebrated a man’s contribution to the state,’’ he said.

‘‘Removing the statue does sanitise history. We don’t learn anything from history if it is hidden away.’’

Crowther’s statue was in 2021 painted red and draped in the Aboriginal flag in one of several pieces designed to provoke discussion about his story.

Alderman Marti Zucco called for further public consultation but councillor Jax Fox said removal was the right thing to do.

‘‘This is such a small step to reconciliation. To say we’re committed to reconciliation and not do these little things is just ridiculous,’’ they said.

Crowther removed Lanne’s skull from his corpse while an associate removed his feet and hands. He is also believed to have exhumed the remains of other Aboriginal Tasmanians.

Lanne died aged 34 from cholera and dysentery. His body was later stolen from his grave.

Lanne was described as a whaler with a ‘‘joyful’’ demeanour who had a love for the sea and outdoors.


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