The Hobart City Council voted in 2022 to remove the statue of Dr William Crowther that has stood in Franklin Square for over 130 years. Their decision was not unanimous. Most Tasmanians want the statue to remain.
The Council will soon vote on its own development application, likely granting itself permission to remove the statue that it has already decided it wants to remove.
If we are tearing down statues, the basis on which the statue is being removed must be clear, fair, just and consistent.
View the Crowther Development application below. Representations close 24 July.
Crowther was never found guilty. There is no evidence.
Over the years, several statements have been made directly by Council as if they were proven facts, when they are not. Several statements have also been promoted as fact indirectly by Council through its 'Crowther Reinterpreted' project where people were given $5,000 to create an 'artwork'. Ratepayers funded $20,000 in 'art' that was riddled with errors and false statements.
If we are 'truth-telling' should it not be the truth?
Below is a summary of statements that have been made and the real situation.
Crowther removed Lanne's skull
There is no evidence of this and Dr Crowther was never found guilty. Crowther was likely made scapegoat for actions by Dr Stokell from the Royal Society by a Government that had close links with the Royal Society and would protect their interests against his own as he was a vocal and political opponent of the Government.
It is very possible that Dr Crowther was a scapegoat for the actions of another, with political motivation. During an inquiry into the matter Crowther abandoned his insistence that Dr Stokell had taken the skull, a change in position quickly reciprocated by Stokell who went to the Press to give support to Crowther's character in the midst of the campaign to discredit him. The complete abandonment of former accusations and counter accusations on the issue could well indicate that they had both come to the realisation that neither of them had taken the skull.
The person responsible may have been Mr John Sugrue, also known as ‘Dan the barber’, oversaw and had access to the hospital morgue (dead house) where Lanne’s body was kept. Mr Surgue is on record stating that when Crowther and his son left the morgue that they were not carrying anything. It is also on record that after Crowther and his son left, that Mr Surgue went and ‘cleaned up’ the morgue before locking it.
Further, Mr Surgue’s had an interest in skull collecting. As part of an inquiry into the alleged ill treatment of patients at the hospital, its Chairman, Mr George Edwards, stated that a local man refused to attend the hospital when unwell (and soon after died) as he had been previously been roughly treated by Mr Surgue. The unwell man had also said that should he die in the hospital, that Mr Surgue had previously told him that Mr Surgue “would have” his head as it was “so much like King Billy’s”.
Nine years after Lanne’s death, in 1878, the remains of a ‘black’ man, Henry Tanna/Tanner, also went missing from the morgue. Mr Surgue was still working at the hospital at this time.
Lanne's skull was returned from Edinburgh and buried on the Tasmanian West Coast
A female skull was returned and buried. It cannot have been Lanne's.
Crowther removed Lanne's hands, feet and skeleton
Reliable experts attribute this to Dr Stokell and the Royal Society. In 1873, Morton Allport admitted publicly that the Royal Society were in possession of Lanne's skeleton minus the skull.
Lanee's scrotum used as a tobacco pouch
False. Urban myth originating from Lyndal Ryan's first book and subsequently removed in her second edition.
Professor Petrow also stated on local ABC radio that he did not support the removal of the William Crowther statue and that “history has many perspectives”.
Her an interview with Professor Petrow here https://fb.watch/lLnNmlAKBk/
Crowther was suspended for being found guilty of interferring with Lanne's remains
False. Crowther was never found guilty, an inquiry was inconclusive. Crowther did not participate.
Crowther was wrongly accused of disinterring the body of the William Lanne and then stealing his skeleton. The charges were dropped.
Sir Richard Dry removed Crowther from his position at the Hospital for refusing to appear before the Inquiry. He was not suspended "over charges of mutilating the body of William Lanne" as currently claimed by the Lord Mayor.
Dr Ian McFarlane, historian, has stated: The Mayor also persists with the false claim that Crowther was suspended for mutilating Lanne’s body (with no evidence), this is not true. He was suspended for refusing to appear before the enquiry believing, with some justification, that it was biased against him. To repeat, he was not suspended for any mutilation, and it was such a grievous public stain that only a week after the enquiry he was elected to the Tasmanian Legislative Council as a representative of Hobart, a seat he held until his death and was then later elected as Premier. I need not mention that his funeral was one of the largest ever attended in Hobart and that the very Statue the HCC is intent on removing was paid for by a grateful public.
Council relies on Australian Biographical Dictionary
Secondary source only, primary sources required. The article claims that Crowther was suspended 'over' charges, but he was never found guilty. Inquiry was found to be 'inconclusive.'
Council relies on Helen MacDonald’s book Human Remains
Secondary source only, primary sources required. Interesting and well written book capturing practices of the time around the use of dead bodies for medical education and research. The book makes several claims attributing the taking of Lanne's skull to Crowther but there are no primary sources for these claims. The book is mostly assumption, opinion and informed guesswork.
All Aborignal people want the statue removed
This is false. Many Aboriginal people believe the statue should stay, including the Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation who are pushing for a federal inquiry into the Council's process and decision.
This is an issue for Hobart
Dr Crowther was a Premier of the state and his surgical and medical work benefit well beyond the boundaries of Hobart. As does his significant contributions to our museums and archives.
"Crowther removed his skull and sent it to the Royal College of Surgeons in London where it remained for many years"
This is unproven and known to be false.
Correspondence from the College states "Dear Sir, - In reply to your letter of May 27, I am desired by the president to inform you that the skull of William Lanne, to which you refer, is not in the possession of this college."
But wait, there is more....
Who was William Crowther?
Beyond his renowned medical and surgical expertise and political and business success, Dr Crowther provided free medical care to the poor and made large donations to charities and community projects. He advocated for increasing healthcare resources and the damaging impacts of alcohol, and had an important role in ending the public flogging of convicts. He also helped to launch one of the early resolutions in the struggle for cessation of convict transportation. Dr Crowther made vast and highly valued contributions to our museums and was recognised with an honorary fellowship and a gold medal from the Royal College of Surgeons. Dr Crowther's funeral was one of the largest ever seen in the State and that he’s on record as being remembered for his “profound sympathy and kindness”.
Less than a week after the closing of the inquiry into interference with Lanne's remains, Dr Crowther was elected to the Tasmanian Legislative Council as a representative of Hobart and held this seat until his death.
Dr Crowther treated hundreds of people without charge at his own home in the mornings before starting his shift at the hospital. The Reverend F H Cox was quoted in The Mercury as saying “he had met Dr. Crowther at the bedside of the poor, more than any other man in the colony.”
In 1869, his friends and supporters presented him with a purse of 240 sovereigns in gratitude for his “unremitting and disinterested services in attending without charge the suffering poor of Hobart Town”.
Dr Crowther wrote research papers that were published in the Lancet dealing with issues ranging from difficulties associated with Aged and Debilitated People to Hydrophobia. He was also the only fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in the colony, and they awarded him a ‘gold medal’ and made him an honorary fellow in 1874.
On his death, the following was published in the Launceston Examiner in 1885:
Having through a long and honourable career given his time, his talents, and often his money to the relief of suffering humanity, with the prospect of no other reward than the consciousness of having done a good deed. It was these traits in his character which have made Dr. Crowther so popular throughout the colony.
In The Mercury regarding his funeral:
One of the largest funeral processions that has ever been accorded to the remains of any Tasmanian citizen was that of the late Hon. Dr W. L. Crowther, M. L. C., at the Sandy Bay Cemetery yesterday afternoon. The Government offices has been closed out of respect for the deceased ex-Premier of the colony, and a number of the private business establishments and hotels followed suit, whilst in others the lowered blinds and raised shutters, and other marks of respect, showed the proprietors to be in harmony with the general feeling of sorrow which pervaded the community…
The procession to St David’s Cathedral passed through crowds of people, who thronged the pathways and roads, and filled every window on the line of route. To mention those who were unavoidably absent from the Cathedral would be an easier task than to enumerate those who were present, for nearly everyone was there.
Four years after his death on erection of the statue:
The Mercury: The statue erected in Franklin-square to perpetuate the memory of the late Hon. W. L. Crowther, was yesterday afternoon un-veiled by the Premier (Hon. P. O. Fysh). Sometime before the hour appointed for the ceremony, the whole of the available space around the statue was taken up : Macquarie-street, at that particular point, was almost impassable, and the windows of the Government offices facing the Square were lined with spectators…
Many thanks to Dr Ian McFarlane and Scott Seymour for their expertise and contributions.
The vast majority of the community want the statue to stay, with interpretation and context added as required (based on proven factual information).
If we are 'truth-telling' it must be the truth.