Controversial colonial-era William Crowther statue toppled in Hobart’s Franklin Square as appeal decision due

Controversial colonial-era William Crowther statue toppled in Hobart’s Franklin Square as appeal decision due
  • PublishedMay 15, 2024

A colonial-era statue honouring a controversial former premier who mutilated the body of an Aboriginal man has been vandalised and cut down from its plinth in Hobart’s CBD.

On Wednesday morning, the statue was found face down on the ground next to the plinth, after being sawn off through the ankles.

The plinth was spray painted with the graffiti “What goes around” and “decolonize”.

The downing of the statue comes a day after someone attempted to saw through the statue’s ankles but stopped about two-thirds through.

A cut halfway through the leg of a bronze statue.
The legs were cut halfway through the day before.(Facebook: Louise Elliot)

‘They are coming back,’ councillor upset as ‘foreseeable’ incident

Hobart City Councillor Louise Elliot said she had noticed graffiti on the statue at midday yesterday and reported it, and then the cuts were found.

Cr Elliot, who was visibly upset at the scene this morning, said she visited the statue at 8pm last night, worried that there would be further vandalism.

“I stood here for half an hour. No security was here,” she said.

A woman looking at a vandalised statue.
Hobart councillor Louise Elliot was visibly upset at the scene of the vandalism on Wednesday morning.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The councillor said she took her concerns to the council’s chief executive and was told there would be an increase in police patrols.

“I expressed that increased patrols was not good enough — they [the vandals] are coming back, the job is two-thirds done — and I was right,” Cr Elliot said.

She said she was “appalled” that a statue had been vandalised in a “completely foreseeable” incident.

A woman looking at a vandalised statue.
Councillor Louise Elliot (left middle) looks on at the crime scene.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“I found out about this from Crowther’s great-great granddaughter in tears ringing me,” she said.

“I’m really disappointed that the council, in my opinion, didn’t take enough protective and preventive action to protect [the statue].”

The council’s chief executive, Michael Stretton, said an investigation had been launched and CCTV from Franklin Square reviewed after the first night of vandalism.

A man with headphones on speaking to radio.
Hobart City Council chief executive Michael Stretton is disappointed by the vandalism.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

He condemned the destruction of the statue.

“It’s disappointing when you see an act like this where [vandals have] taken the future of the statue into their own hands,” he told ABC Mornings.

Workers at the site have removed the statue.

A crane attempted to remove the plinth, however, it was too heavy and was left at the site and wrapped up.

Mr Stretton said the statue would be moved to a secure location while the council worked with stakeholders to determine what the next steps were.

Tribunal upholds decision to remove statue

Last year, the council voted to remove the statue, which was appealed in the Tasmanian Tribunal of Civil and Administrative Tribunal on the basis its removal would detract from the site’s heritage value.

But in its decision, which was handed down today after the statue was toppled, the tribunal upheld the council’s original decision to remove it.

Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson said it was” regrettable” that someone thought to take the law into their own hands. 

“Regardless of anybody’s sentiment or feeling, good intentions or otherwise, that’s not how we run a civil society,” he said.

“Horrible things happened in our history, but you don’t resolve history [through] vandalism.”

A historical statue cut down and vandalised.
The statue was vandalised one night and then successfully toppled last night.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

In 1869, politician and surgeon William Crowther cut off and stole the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne, with the intention of sending it to London’s Royal College of Surgeons.

To conceal the act, he replaced the skull he stole with one from another corpse.

It is believed Lanne’s skull was taken to the Royal College of Science when Crowther’s son moved to London to study.

In 1889, a statue of Crowther — who served as premier for less than a year — was erected in Hobart’s Franklin Square.

Statue honouring William Crowther, Tasmanian Premier 1878-1879.
The statue of William Crowther is 135 years old.(ABC News: Andy Cunningham)

‘Good for them’: Aboriginal Centre welcomes statue’s vandalism

Members of Tasmania’s Aboriginal community have been campaigning for years to have the controversial statue removed.

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) campaign manager Nala Mansell said the desecration of the statue reflected community attitudes that the statue should be removed. 

A woman wearing a t-shirt that says "always was always will be" looks at the camera
Nala Mansell says Tasmania’s Aboriginal community have been fighting for years to take the statue down. (ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“I’m not endorsing what’s happened but I think it goes to show that the people of Tasmania are people who understand right from wrong [and are] saying ‘enough is enough.’

“We’ve been fighting for decades for it to be gone,” she said. 

“Good on them for taking that action and doing what needed to be done a long time ago.”

A historical statue cut down and vandalised.
The statue has been removed from the site but a crane was not able to lift the plinth.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)


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