Crowther Reinterpretation project

Statue of William Crowther in Franklin Square

The City of Hobart has commissioned a series of four temporary public art commissions, by local arts practitioners, each offering a response to the statue of William Crowther in Franklin Square.

The four works will present diverse perspectives and aim to acknowledge, question, provoke discussion or increase awareness about the story of Crowther and his treatment of the body of well-known Aboriginal leader William Lanne, after his death in the 1860s.

Members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community have expressed their discomfort with the existence of the William Crowther statue during previous consultations, and this project is in response for their desire for something to be done to recognise the story of what happened to William Lanne.

The City’s Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan, sets out a commitment to visibility and truth telling across the city, with an action under this commitment being:

  • Undertake an interpretation project to tell the layered story of Crowther in Franklin Square. (Action 6)

This project responds directly to this commitment and action and is intended to allow multiple voices to comment on and discuss this contested element within the city.

You can provide feedback on this project on the YourSay page, or by picking up a printed copy of the four-question survey from Town Hall.

Have your say

The current work installed is:

Roger Scholes and Greg Lehman, The Lanney Pillar, 2021. Mixed media.

The film component of this work, The Whaler's Tale, can be viewed online:
The Whaler's Tale

Previous works:

Allan Mansell, Truth Telling, 2021. Mixed media.

Upcoming artists selected for this project:

  • Julie Gough
  • Jillian Mundy

Each artwork will be in place for approximately two months, with the installations running one after the other throughout 2021.

FAQs

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following may contain references and images of deceased persons. This story and subsequent conversations may be upsetting as the details of our dark past are told.

Who is William Crowther?

William Crowther was a public figure in mid 19th century Hobart.

“William Lodewyk Crowther (1817–1885), surgeon, naturalist and parliamentarian, was born on 15 April 1817 at Haarlem, Holland, the elder child of Dr William Crowther (1788–1839) and his wife Sarah (1795–1863), daughter of George Pearson, sometime mayor of Macclesfield, Cheshire, England. William senior and his family migrated in the Cumberland (Captain Carns) and arrived in January 1825 at Hobart Town, where he set up practice.”

“In 1860 he was appointed one of the four honorary medical officers at the Hobart General Hospital, but was suspended in March 1869 over charges of mutilating the body of William Lanney…. An inquiry showed that two mutilations had taken place, the first at the Colonial Hospital, the other at the cemetery the night of the burial. Drs Crowther and G. Stokell, resident medical officer at the hospital, were suspected of the first, the Royal Society of Tasmania of the second. A petition with forty-eight pages of closely packed signatures was sent to Governor (Sir) Charles Du Cane seeking annulment of Crowther’s suspension, without success.”

“Crowther was also active in public affairs. Although a foundation member of the Tasmanian Club, he regarded parliament as his real club. Under the banner of ‘Retrenchment or Ruin’ he was elected to the House of Assembly as a member for Hobart where he was most popular with the public. He resigned but in 1869–85 held the Hobart seat in the Legislative Council. In 1876–77 he was a minister without portfolio in Thomas Reibey’s administration. Invited to form his own ministry in December 1878, he was premier until October 1879, the first medical practitioner to hold that office in Tasmania.”

The plinth on the statue in Franklin Square, has the following inscription:

Erected by a grateful public, and sincere personal friends, to perpetuate the memory of long and zealous political and professional services rendered in this colony by William Lodewyk Crowther, F.R.C.S. England, sometime premier of Tasmania, born 15th April 1817, died 12th April 1885.

Source: The above extracts are from the Australian Dictionary of Biography. https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crowther-william-lodewyk-3297

Who is William Lanne?

Willliam Lanne (aka Lanney) was born around 1835 near the Coal River on the west coast of Tasmania. Lanne’s family were thought to be the last Aboriginal family still living traditionally on the mainland of Tasmania. They were removed and sent to Wybalenna in 1842. In 1847, along with the other survivors of Wybalenna, Lanne was sent to putalina (Oyster Cove) and then to the Orphan School in Hobart from 1847–1851.

He was described as joyful and as having a love for the sea and the outdoors. While at Oyster Cove he started working on whaling ships – the Aladdin and the Runnymede. He was well known in the whaling community, especially for his great vision, and was said to have the ‘best eyes in the straits’. He remained close to his people and would often return to visit putalina. In 1864 he made official complaints to the colony about the treatment and conditions of the Aboriginal people still living at the Oyster Cove station.

He became known as King Billy and it is for him that the native plant the ‘King Billy Pine’ is named. He died at the Dog and Partridge hotel (corner of Barrack and Goulburn streets in Hobart) on the 3 March 1869 at the age of 34 from a mix of cholera and dysentery. His funeral was held at St David’s Church.

It is after his death that he was linked to William Crowther who became notorious for his acts in desecrating Lanne’s body in the stealing of his skull. The Tasmanian Aboriginal community fought a long battle to have his skull returned and buried properly. This happened in 1991, over 120 years after Lanne’s death.

Source: This account was compiled by the City’s Community Development Officer for Aboriginal Projects, Nunami Sculthorpe-Green, based on text-based research and local knowledge.

History of Crowther and Lanne

What did William Crowther do to William Lanne’s remains?

Crowther was an honorary medical officer at the Hobart General Hospital. But he was suspended in 1869 over charges of twice “mutilating the body of William Lanne”, first at the Colonial Hospital and then at the cemetery on the night of the burial. Crowther removed Lanne’s skull and sent it to the Royal College of Surgeons in London where it remained for over 120 years.

What happened to Lanne’s skull?

Tasmanian Aboriginal people fought a long battle to have Lane’s skull returned from the UK and buried in accordance with cultural practice. This happened in 1991, over 120 years after Lanne’s death.

Crowther Interpretation Project

Why is this arts project happening now?

The William Crowther statue has long been a painful reminder for Tasmanian Aboriginal people and others aware of this history. Concerns about the statue have been raised numerous times by local Aboriginal people in City of Hobart consultations for other community and arts projects.

City of Hobart felt it was the right time to explore this contentious part of the City’s history. This follows from the City’s Community Vision and Capital City Strategic Plan. Following these documents, additional interpretation for the Crowther statue was a specific action listed in the City’s Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan (ACAP), which was launched at the start of 2020.

Are you doing this project in response to the Black Lives Matters movement?

This project is not a direct response to the Black Lives Matters movement. Concerns about the statue have been raised repeatedly over time by local Aboriginal people in City of Hobart consultations for other community and arts projects.

However, recent events around the world have clearly underlined a very widespread and ongoing concern about racial equality in our societies. It would be a positive outcome for the whole community if this project contributes to healing past wounds and to building a fairer society.

Why can’t you just leave the past in the past?

This arts project is in response to ongoing concerns about the statue from members of the community, especially by many Tasmanian Aboriginal people. For many, the desecration of the remains of William Lanne needs to be acknowledged before we can move on as a society. Therefore, what happened in the past has consequences now. The City hopes that this project will allow the community to move forward into the future, together. 

Why is the City of Hobart leading this project?

The Crowther statue is owned by the City of Hobar and it sits in a City-owned park. Additional interpretation for the Crowther statue was a specific action listed in the City’s Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan (ACAP), which follows from the City’s Community Vision. It is our job to manage the arts project to ensure that it is done well and done respectfully.

Will everyone be able to have their say?

City of Hobart is launching this project to encourage broad public conversation about this contentious part of our city. We’re hoping to hear a wide range of views respectfully expressed about the issue over the coming months from all sides of the debate.

Crowther was a great figure – why can’t you focus on that rather than dragging him down?

It is true that Crowther was very active in nineteenth century Tasmanian public affairs. He served in the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council and was the first medical practitioner to serve as Tasmanian Premier. He was also a noted surgeon and naturalist. These are all commendable achievements which is why a statue was installed to him in the first place.

Sadly, he also chose to desecrate the remains of Tasmanian Aboriginal man William Lanne. Something for which he was punished at the time (by being suspended as an honorary medical officer at the Hobart General Hospital) and for which he is still criticised today.

Despite Crowther’s achievements in public life, his mistreatment of Lanne’s remains understandably is a source of distress for Tasmanian Aboriginal people in particular. They have expressed their discomfort about the statue and their desire for something to be done to recognise Crowther’s treatment of Lanne’s body. And that is why this arts project is happening now.

Why are they temporary public art projects?

Having several temporary public art projects (rather than one permanent artwork) allows for several different approaches and will prompt various kinds of discussions and engagement from the public. It also allows for responses from diverse arts practitioners.

Why are there four different public art projects?

There are differing opinions on the statue. It is important that several different voices are heard in discussing the monument.

What will happen to the statue long-term?

The artistic commissions and the responses of our community to them, will help inform a permanent response to the statue within the next two years. The permanent response to the statue does not form part of the current arts project and the nature of the permanent response is still unknown.

Will you remove the statue?

At this stage the City does not plan to remove the William Crowther statue, but the permanent response will be informed by this project.

Why are you giving priority to Aboriginal artists?

Priority was given during the selection process to Tasmanian Aboriginal artists. We welcomed applications from all arts practitioners, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and committed to at least two of the four proposals selected being by Tasmanian Aboriginal people. This is appropriate given that the project came about because of Crowther’s mistreatment of the remains of Aboriginal man William Lanne and the Aboriginal community’s long-standing call for a response to the statue.

Ultimately, the panel for this project selected four teams/solo artists that all include Tasmanian Aboriginal artists. Selection was based on a set of three criteria that addressed the strength of the proposal, the relevance and strength of past work and the capacity of the artist to complete the commission.

Will the artworks damage or desecrate the statue?

No. The temporary works will be installed around or even on the Crowther statue. But the selected works cannot damage the William Crowther sculpture in any way or be indecent or offensive. They must also avoid damaging the sprinkler system or landscaping in Franklin Square.

What will you do if someone vandalises the temporary artworks?

Repairs will be made to the work as and when needed, under the guidance of each of the artists.

How much is being spent on this project?

Each of the artists is being paid $5,000 for the delivery of their temporary art works, which includes artist fees and all costs associated with installation of the work (materials, engineering, fabrication etc.). With four projects, the total cost is $20,000.

Why are you spending money on an arts project – aren’t there more important things to spend money on right now with COVID-19?

We believe the creative industries are extremely important to Hobart, and the City has a role in supporting artists. The creative sector employs many people in Hobart and is a key economic contributor that has been significantly impacted through COVID. The creative industries and arts sector provides us all with many important things including connection, enjoyment, and insight. The planning and allocation of resources for this project have been underway since the launch of the ACAP in January 2020.

Why are you worrying about an old statue – aren’t there more important things to think about right now during COVID-19?

This arts project is in response to ongoing concerns about the statue from members of the community, especially by many Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Naturally, we’re all concerned right now by COVID-19. But our many other concerns have not gone away during the pandemic. It's important that we do not ignore those other concerns, even while we are focused on COVID-19.

Work 1: Truth Telling, 2021, by Allan Mansell

When was Allen’s artwork in display?

Allen’s artwork was the first to be displayed as part of the Crowther Interpretation project. Truth Telling was displayed in April – June 2021.

What do the different components of the Allan’s artwork mean?

Each component of the work has been carefully considered to symbolise various aspects of the story of William Lanne and of William Crowther’s actions against Lanne in the 1860s.

Allan’s artwork temporarily transforms William Crowther into a memorial for William Lanne. His head and hands are coated in red, and he holds an Aboriginal flag in one hand, a saw in the other and has a bone at his feet. Allan has also covered up the text on the statue with an explanation of Crowther’s actions against Lanne.

Following is from Allan’s statement for the artwork:
"The representation of the red hands and red head is the decapitation of head and hands.
The flag represents the strength of the Aboriginal people of Lutriwita.
The bone represents Coorinna (the Tasmanian Tiger), again abused and driven out by the colonists. It calls the tiger to come collect the bone, take it away, bury it.... Come and collect your statue! Whoever!”

What materials is Allan’s installation made of?

The red head is a flexible vinyl printed with an image of Lanne’s face. The red hands are a rubberised red paint. The Aboriginal flag is fixed to an aluminium pole. The bone is representative and is actually a cow bone.

Will Allan’s installation leave any damage to the statue?

All of the materials and processes have been selected to be easily removable. For example, the vinyl is the same as that used on car and bus wraps and is made with a low “tack” to ensure ease of removal and the rubberised paint has been selected for its ability to be peeled away cleanly at the end of the installation.

Work 2: The Lanney Pillar, 2021, a collaboration by Roger Scholes and Greg Lehman

How long will Greg and Roger’s artwork be on display?

The Lanney Pillar is the second temporary artwork in the Crowther Reinterpretation project. It will be displayed from June to August 2021 in Franklin Square.

What does the artwork mean?

Roger Scholes and Greg Lehman have created the artwork to share an “alternative narrative” about the story of William Crowther and William Lanne. Through presenting evocative imagery, historical records, and a film, they share what is known about the life of William Lanne; who he was, his relationship to Country and the facts of events that followed his death.

Roger Scholes and Greg Lehman’s Artist Statement

THE LANNEY PILLAR

The life of Aboriginal Tasmanian William Lanney [1835-1869] has been overshadowed by what happened to him after his death. Few of us know anything about his extraordinary life.

A statue of the man who stole his remains from the Hobart morgue is perhaps the only public icon that may lead us to Lanney's story. The statue of that man - William Crowther - erected by his colleagues with the blessing of the British Crown, now stands in Hobart’s Franklin Square along with that of King Edward VII and Sir John Franklin, Governor of Tasmania [1786 - 1847].

But nothing of Lanney’s life or death is marked on Crowther’s statue. You would have to dig into the archives or online to find out about the remarkable events of Lanney’s life - a life which offers deep insights for us today into the turmoil C19th Van Diemen’s Land - Tasmania - lutruwita.

William Lanney was one of the last Tasmanian Aboriginal children born on the traditional Country of their ancestors. In 1842 Lanney and his family were exiled by the Governor to Wybalenna on Flinders Island.

As a young man, Lanney joined the crews of the whaling ships sailing the Southern Ocean to Chile and beyond. Lanney’s shipmates called him 'King Billy’. In 1867 he sailed to England to meet Queen Victoria and later in Hobart he met with the Duke of Edinburgh, advocating for his people.

Lanney was an independent man, respected by the people of Hobart Town who lined the streets for his funeral. When Dr. William Crowther snatched his body from the morgue, Lanney’s dignity was also stolen - by a scoundrel whose statue still stands before you. Where is the memorial to Lanney’s extraordinary life?

This Pillar offers the public an alternative narrative, seeking to reclaim the story of Lanney’s life from under the cloak of the scoundrel Crowther up there on his bronze statue next door.

Images of Lanney’s life on the rear of the Pillar tell of his connection to his country, his exile and his whaling life.

The Lanney Pillar has a 3 minute movie evocation of Lanney the countryman, his exile and whaling life, in Pillar viewer box.

The QR coded 12 minute film The Whaler’s Tale that can be viewed online tells his extraordinary story and the absurd reasons Europeans like Crowther had for stealing Tasmanian Aboriginal bones for their English masters in London.

Why are there different spelling of Lanne and Lanney?

William Lanne was known by many names. There are multiple references in history to different spelling of William Lanne’s surname including Lanne, Lanney and Lanny. His traditional name is not known, and he was given the European name of William when he was seven years old. Many Aboriginal names have multiple spelling due to errors in records and historical interpretations.

What materials is Roger and Greg’s sculpture made of?

The sculpture is a free-standing timber structure that is fixed securely in the ground at its base. The artists have used timber, glass, paint, and print. The sculpture includes a solar-powered LED screen displaying a short film. A QR is visible on the sculpture’s base and can be scanned to view the full version of the film online.

Will Roger and Greg’s installation damage the statue of Crowther?

No. The sculpture will stand nearby to the statue of Crowther.

How can I view the full version of the film, The Whaler’s Tale?

The sculpture includes a solar-powered LED screen displaying a short film played on a loop. The film is a 4-minute excerpt of a longer film created by the artists called The Whaler’s Tale. The full version of the film can be viewed online by scanning the QR code displayed on the sculpture’s base or at the end of the film. Alternatively, the film can be viewed on The Whaler's Tale page. The film will also be displayed on the City of Hobart’s digital art platform, The Loop, for the duration of the installation period. Screening times can be viewed on The Loop website.

The Whaler's Tale

Does the film show real footage of William Lanney?

Film-maker, Roger Scholes, and academic, Greg Lehman, call the film, The Whaler’s Tale, an ‘evocation’ of William Lanny’s life. They have used a combination of historical records and images as well as film footage and music from contemporary sources and storytelling to create an artistic interpretation of what life might have been like for William Lanney. While the film includes some historical records of Lanney, including his portrait, the events of William Lanney’s life took place in a time when film was not available. The footage that appears in the film is from Roger Scholes’ career as a Tasmanian filmmaker and has been used to illustrate aspects of William Lanney’s life.

Contact

For more information, you can download an FAQ for this project, or feel free to contact the City of Hobart Public Art Team on 03 6238 2494 or publicart@hobartcity.com.au.