Art exposes statue’s dark past

Published on 27 April 2021

Allan Mansell

Celebrated Tasmanian Aboriginal artist Allan Mansell will be the first contributor to an arts project designed to encourage public conversation about the future of the William Crowther statue in Franklin Square.

Artists were invited last year to submit proposals for temporary artworks to be installed on or near the statue, with four selected to be displayed over a 12-month period.

The statue of Crowther – which has stood in Franklin Square since 1889 – is seen as contentious by many because of Crowther’s desecration of the remains of Aboriginal man William Lanne, also known as ‘King Billy’. 

“This project is an action in the City of Hobart’s Aboriginal Commitment and Action Plan and is part of a broader commitment to telling a more complete and truthful history of our city,” Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds said.

“We look forward to seeing the impacts of these artworks in promoting awareness, discussion and empathy for others within our community.”

Allan Mansell is a well-known Tasmanian Aboriginal artist whose work has been sold to collectors around the world.

His work for Franklin Square is entitled Truth Telling and 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 and a saw in the other. Allan has also covered up the text on the statue with an explanation of Crowther’s actions against Lanne.

The artist says this project is a chance for him to be able to rectify past wrongs.

“I’m driven by putting the wrongs right and telling the truth of our history,” he said. “I’ve spent all my life battling white bureaucracy and telling the truth of what happened, as it isn’t happening in our schools and libraries. 

“Aboriginal people have been fighting all our lives. For our right to be a person. For our rights to our land and our waterways. 

“What happened to Lanne happened to many of our ancestors as they fought to keep their lands. This is the truth of what happened.” 

Dutch-born William Crowther was a 19th century naturalist and surgeon and briefly Premier of Tasmania but is also known for mutilating the remains of Tasmanian Aboriginal man William Lanne in the 1860s.

Lanne was well regarded as an advocate for his community. The partner of ‘Queen’ Truganini, he became known as King Billy and the native plant the ‘King Billy Pine’ is named after him. He died in 1869, aged 34.

The Crowther Reinterpreted project will deliver four temporary artworks, from solo arts practitioners or small teams of artists, with priority given to Tasmanian Aboriginal artists.

The further three successful artworks will be produced by Tasmanian filmmaker Roger Scholes working with Professor Greg Lehman; Hobart-based artist and writer Julie Gough, and Hobart journalist and photographer Jillian Mundy.

Each of the four artworks will be in place for up to two months.

The artworks themselves, along with the community feedback and discussion they provoke, will help to inform a permanent response to the statue.

To learn more about the project, visit

To contribute to the discussion or provide feedback on the artwork, visit

Crowther reinterpritation

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