A bitter battle is brewing in one Australian city over a council’s ‘woke’ plans to remove the statue of a disgraced politician, who mutilated an Aboriginal man’s dead body.
The statue of William Crowther, who removed the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne in 1869 and sent it to London nine years before he became Tasmania’s premier, will be torn down after years of debate and criticism.
The removal of the sculpture from Franklin Square, in Hobart’s CBD, will cost around $20,000 but there are also plans to move it somewhere else.
The bronze statue, erected in 1889, has long been contentious in Hobart.
In 2021, an artist painted its head and hands red as part of a reimagining of the statue, symbolising the body part Crowther removed and that he had ‘blood on his hands’ over the mutilation.
The statue of William Crowther, who removed the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne in 1869 and sent it to London nine years before he became Tasmania’s premier, is set to be torn down
William Lanne was thought to be the last ‘full-blooded’ Aboriginal when he died in 1869
A row has blown up over ‘woke’ plans to remove the statue of disgraced colonial Australian politician, William Crowther, who mutilated an Aboriginal man’s dead body
The proposal was outlined in a Hobart council report that claimed too many white men were memorialised in the city and that there would be more ‘removals’, The Australian reported.
Council member Simon Behrakis attacked the plan as a ‘distraction with woke left wing issues over working on solving issues that actually affect the lives of Hobartians’.
‘It’s important that we acknowledge all aspects of history, including the bad parts. That is not the same as sanitising or censoring history,’ he said in an earlier social media post about the statue.
Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chair Michael Mansell, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the William Crowther statue, said the plan to move it somewhere else was ‘illogical’.
‘If the reason you’re taking a statue down is because what the person did was so offensive, you couldn’t put it up in any other context because people will remember what that guy stood for,’ he said.
‘Cutting up dead bodies just because they are Aboriginal and treating them as fair game, (as) animals, it wouldn’t matter what good that person did, the scale of the atrocity stands out.’
Mr Mansell said any other statues with similarly ‘horrible histories’ should also be taken down.
Lanne was regarded as Tasmania’s last ‘full-blooded’ Aboriginal man when he died from cholera and dysentery at 34.
In a gruesome piece of history, Crowther broke into the morgue where Lanne’s body lay, on behalf of London’s Royal College of Surgeons.
Inside, Crowther ‘decapitated (Lanne), sliced open his face and peeled off the skin, removing his skull and replacing it with the skull of a white man, stolen from another corpse in the morgue. He then stitched him back up, attempting to cover his crime.’
The move was condemned even back then.
Lanne’s brain was put on show in an exhibition in London in 1912.
Crowther was known as a naturalist and surgeon but his life was defined for his infamous actions in exhuming and mutilating bodies in the name of science.
Council member Simon Behrakis attacked the plan as a ‘distraction with woke left wing issues over working on solving issues that actually effect the lives of Hobartians’
Crowther is believed to have exhumed the remains of other Aboriginal Tasmanians including a seven-year-old girl named Mathinna.
After removing Lanne’s head, Crowther was suspended from his role as an honorary medical officer at Hobart General Hospital.
In 2021, historian Reg Watson told the ABC that statues such as Crowther’s could be left in place and their stories explained, whether good or bad.
‘To me, politics comes into play here. The statue should be left alone and my fear is, what statue is next?’
‘A suitable interpretation plaque can be placed next to the statue in the future, with the sad story told, but attacking statues is an American fashion.’