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Statue of colonial-era politician who stole Aboriginal man’s head toppled

Callan Morse -

The statue of a controversial colonial-era Tasmanian politician who mutilated the body of an Aboriginal man's corpse has been cut down in Hobart's CBD overnight.

On Wednesday morning the statue of Wiliam Crowther, a surgeon and former premier of the state, was found face down in Hobart's Franklin Square after being cut from its foundation during the night.

The vandalism of the statue comes a day after an attempt was made to cut through the statue's ankles - the previous attempt stopping about two-thirds through - and following demonstrations protesting the treatment of Aboriginal remains recently handled by the state.

Phrases "What goes around" and "decolonize" had also been spray painted in red on the statue's plinth.

The vandalism of the statue comes after the Hobart City Council voted for its removal in 2022, a decision appealed to the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (TASCAT) with opponents arguing the statue's removal would detract from the site's heritage value.

However in its decision, which was handed down on Wednesday after the vandalism of the statue had occurred, the Tribunal upheld the council's decision for it to be removed.

"The proposal will change the monument and its appearance by removal of the statue and placement of an adjacent sign," TASCAT president Malcolm Schyvens said.

The statue of Crowther was found vandalised on Wednesday. (Image: Kate Doyle)

"That may be regarded as having some negative outcome historically, visually and aesthetically, but there are also positive resulting impacts.

"An understanding of the change will be fostered through the appropriately sited and scale temporary signage, which is intended to be replaced in time with permanent signage."

The statue is shrouded in controversy as Crowther cut off and stole the head of Aboriginal man William Lanne from a Hobart morgue in 1869, with plans to send it to the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

History suggests Lanne's skull was instead taken to the Royal College of Science by Crowther's son when he moved to London to study.

Members and supporters of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community have been longtime campaigners for the removal of the statue, which was first erected in 1889.

Following the act of vandalism, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre campaign manager, Nala Mansell said the event reflected community attitudes.

"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," Ms Mansell said, as reported by the ABC.

The statue was laid face down next to its plinth in Hobart's Franklin Square. (Image: Luke Bowden/ABC News)

"We've been fighting for decades for it to be gone.

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

On Wednesday Tasmanian Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson labelled the vandalism of the statue "regrettable".

"Regardless of anybody's sentiment or feeling, good intentions or otherwise, that's not how we run a civil society," he said, via the ABC.

"Horrible things happened in our history, but you don't resolve history (through) vandalism."

In condemning the statue's destruction, Hobart City Council chief executive, Michael Stretton said the incident was being investigated with CCTV footage from Franklin Square under review.

"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.

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