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Cassandra Pybus - Dr William Crowther as the fall guy

Published: Tuesday, 8 August 2023

The demand to remove William Crowther’s statue from Franklin Square is another episode in a long history of deflecting public attention from the systematic salvaging of the bodies of  Tasmanian’s First People by the colonial elite that began at the same time as the colony itself. By the turn of the 19h century there were over 160 Tasmanian Aboriginal skulls and seven full skeletons held in museums in Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria, Britain, France, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Poland and the United States. One of the 12 Tasmanian skulls held in the University of Edinburgh was taken from William Lanne by William Crowther. None of the human remains in any other museum was donated by William Crowther. My research into the donors of remains, often for multiple donations, were colonial figures honoured with statutes, named landmarks and institutions, who have glided into posterity with their reputations pristine. Not a whiff of odium or censure lingered around their name. My talk will tease out two questions: Why do we not know about this; and why has William Crowther been made the fall guy?

Professor Cassandra Pybus is an independent scholar who has held two ARC Professorial Research Fellowships at University of Tasmania and University of Sydney. She was also a Fulbright Professor at Georgetown University DC, Visiting Professorial Fellow at Centre for Jefferson Studies at Charlottesville, Virginia, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Texas, Leverhulme Visiting Professor at King College, London and a Fellow of the Academy of the Humanities. Cassandra is the author of a dozen books and winner of the Colin Roderick Award for Gross Moral Turpitude: the Orr Case Reconsidered; the Adelaide Festival Award for National Non-Fiction for The Devil and James McAuley and the National Biography Award for Truganini which was also short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. Her next book Mortal Possession will be published by Allen and Unwin in June 2024.