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Dr Crowther statue removal: "Our historic record is censored, sanitised and trashed...."

The below statement is from Tasmanian Historian, Dr Ian McFarlane.

Concerning the public charges laid against Dr William Crowther I would first like to refer to the principle of presumption of innocence enshrined in International Law The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 14, paragraph 2 that states "Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law." Or in the Australian context “The presumption of innocence imposes on the prosecution the burden of proving the charge and guarantees that no guilt can be presumed until the charge has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

I would argue that this time-honoured principle should apply to historic figures as much as it does to our present citizens, and even more so as they are vulnerable targets being no longer here to defend themselves.

As a Historian who has lectured and researched in this field for a number of years I have major difficulties with the proposed removal of the Crowther Statue. Indeed, the removal of any Statue raises a number of objections in principle which have been well publicised in recent years.

Statues represent our past and as a consequence different standards and values from our own. As such they inform us not only about our cultural development and progress but as in the case of Crowther they introduce us to earlier societal debates concerning issues still topical.

To take them down is to not only erase that persons proper place in our history, good or bad, but it also represents a forlorn and pointless attempt to rewrite the past.

To take them down is to not only erase that persons proper place in our history, good or bad, but it also represents a forlorn and pointless attempt to rewrite the past. The removal of statues and monuments is an action that should not be embarked upon lightly, as a trend can be quickly established with one argument or precedent simply strengthening another as they are applied according to the social whims of the period. As a consequence, our historic record is censored, sanitised and trashed, as these statues and monuments are quintessential signposts to our past. One cannot learn from History if it is erased.

I can understand arguments for removal when statues of such persons as Hitler or Mussolini are concerned, as there is a very real chance that they could encourage dangerous antisocial movements such as Fascism. However, I am not convinced that there is any danger of a mass movement to bring back the British Empire or reinstate and expand Colonialism being incited by the Statue of William Crowther.

We have been witness to the orchestration of a series of highly publicised charges laid against Crowther's conduct as though they were established 'givens' whilst they are certainly not. Any connection whatsoever between Crowther and any of the events relating to the mutilation of Lanne's body have yet to be demonstrated. Simply put, there is not one shred of evidence yet provided to support any one of the claims made against him.

Simply put, there is not one shred of evidence yet provided to support any one of the claims made against him.

The digging up and dismemberment of Lanne's body and cutting off his hands and feet was performed by Dr Stokell on behalf of the Royal Society, deeds he freely admitted to at the inquiry. The use of Lanne's scrotum as a tobacco pouch simply did not happen, though the source - Lyndal Ryan attributes that deed also to Dr Stokell not to Crowther.

These charges are also rebutted by Stefan Petrow whose paper is curiously cited as a supporting document by those prosecuting the case against Crowther. The following quotes from Petrow's paper give them little support.

"After Lanne's burial, Stokell and his colleagues removed Lanne's body from his grave".

"Stokell was also at fault for cutting off Lanne's hands and feet".

"According to Ryan, Stokell made 'a tobacco pouch' out of part of Lanne's skin".

It is well documented that the Royal Society though part of the drive to remove Crowther's statue through the agency of Greg Lehman, was itself guilty of every charge levelled against Crowther throughout this campaign, with the sole exception of the removal of Lanne's skull.

While there is no evidence as to the fate of Lanne's skull (the skull recovered from Edinburgh University was that of a female) there is some indication that it was still in Hobart in 1904. There is however a paper trail that developed between Crowther and Sir William Flower of the Royal College in London that would excite the interest and prompt a 'gotcha' moment from any amateur historian who was not familiar with either the details of the case or the context.

In particular the first of these letters if not read in conjunction with ensuing correspondence. This evidence hasn't formed part of the public discourse as yet and probably with good reason, but it needs addressing nonetheless. Rather than proof of any guilt as far as Lanne's skull is concerned all they reveal is human frailty, foolish vanity and a little bravado on the part of Crowther.

Rather than proof of any guilt as far as Lanne's skull is concerned all they reveal is human frailty, foolish vanity and a little bravado on the part of Crowther.

The first letter to Flower, was written while Crowther was feeling humiliated in the eyes of the Royal College after giving his assurance that he could obtain Lanne's skeleton for them rather than it go to the Royal Society in Hobart.

Circumstances beyond his control found him empty handed with the knowledge that the Royal Society had acquired the skeleton complete with hands and feet. This left the outstanding matter of the whereabouts of Lanne's skull which Dr Stokell, working for the Society, denied taking.

Crowther first accused Stokell of taking it nonetheless, but then just six days later on the 16 March 1869, he changed his position by stating that he only inferred that he took the skull. Not long after this retraction Stokell in turn gave a character reference to Crowther in the Media acknowledging 'former kindnesses on the part of Dr Crowther' actions suggesting that both men had come to the realisation that neither had taken the skull. A position that indicates that they both had a reasonable idea who had. It was in this context that Crowther wrote his first letter to Flower, with a good idea on who had really taken the skull and perhaps confident he could acquire it. In this letter he attempts to take ownership of the deed and some agency in order to save face with his peers after being outmanoeuvred by the Royal Society. He wrote “I had determined to stand upon my rights, and if possible outwit the Saxons; and with considerable difficulty obtained the head the removal of which by my order having been very cleanly effected.” His claim to have employed a third party to do the deed is not very credible, as that would have entailed placing his whole reputation and career prospects in another's hands - and a thief at that. If he had the skull as he claimed he would have sent it on to the Royal College as promised, but he took no further action until some 4 years later in 1873. After hearing reports that the Royal Society was about to donate Lanne's skeleton to the College, he realised that this was an action that would naturally lead the College to expect the skull from him in order to complete the skeleton. This news prompted two letters from Crowther, both offering to send the skull but both dependent upon the sending of the skeleton. In the first letter of the 25 March he made an embarrassing retreat from his previous position of 'having' the skull to that of having to 'find' it, "I will find the head with axis & atlas". In the second letter on the 19 April he offers to send the College the skull but only 'after' they take receipt of the skeleton "should this be the case I will then send you the head". The sending of the skull being dependent on the donation of the skeleton makes little sense unless it was simply a device to stall for time and to provide an excuse for not sending it should the Royal Society change its mind. In any event the skeleton was never sent and neither was the skull. We find from the minutes of the Royal Society in 1904, that Crowther had later excused himself for not sending the skull on the grounds that owing to some sort of social 'agitation' he had to dispose of it. If he ever did manage to 'find' the skull in 1873, he could have simply sent it on. The Royal Society had not been penalised for exhuming the body and the taking of the skeleton so any perceived 'agitation' on his part would appear to be unfounded. In any case he could have simply arranged with the person who possessed the skull to send it on to the Royal College on his behalf. To take possession of the skull and then dispose of it locally as the letter suggested would have incurred a greater degree of risk if the situation was indeed delicate as claimed, and raises a couple of questions - Crowther only wanted the skull to give to the College so why would he have given it to someone else? - a private collector? Why would a private collector agree to purchase a skull which they could not exhibit, talk about or pass on to someone else without disclosing the provenance? The previously mentioned Royal Society Minutes of 14th September 1904, contain a letter that asked the Royal College for a cast of Lanne's skull thinking that they were in possession of it. In response the College made it quite clear that Crowther had not sent them the skull. However, further comments noted at the meeting reveal that the party who did have the skull was known to Morton Allport, that it was most likely in Hobart, and there was hope that it would be donated to the Society - we are left wondering if this did indeed occur.

Dr Ian McFarlane


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