Grey River Argus/1869/04/06/Atrocious Outrage on the Last Native Tasmanian

Atrocious Outrage on the Last Native Tasmanian.

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(From the Age.)

Billy Lanne, or King Billy, the last male representative of the {aboriginal natives of Tasmania, died on Wednesday, 3rd March, 1869, and was supposed to have been buried with appropriate religious ceremonies on the following Saturday ; but horrible as it sounds, and repugnant as the practice of mutilating the dead is to civilised minds, we have to chronicle the fact that before burial the head and feet of this last scion of an interesting race were removed from the body by some person, who has sacrificed the common feelings of humanity to zeal for science. It was known that the surgeons of Hobart Town wished much to obtain the perfect specimen of a male native, for, strangely enough, no one had ever taken steps to secure one, although the race was known to be dying out, and it was feared that some scientific zealot would steal the body of King Billy as being the last chance of obtaining a complete skeleton; hence the body was removed from the Dog and Partridge Hotel, where the man died, to the deadhouse at the hospital, and an application for its removal to the undertaker's was refused, as the authorities were determined that the remains of the last native of the land of Tasman should not be mutilated. With the same object in view Sir Richard Dry ordered that the body should not on any account be tampered with. Dr Crowther, hon. surgeon to the hospital, made application to Sir Richard Dry that the skeleton should be given to him for the Royal College of Surgeons, England, but was informed that the local Royal Society had the prior claim, as if the skeleton were preserved at all it should be in the Hobart Town Museum, where all scientific inquiries respecting the aboriginal race would probably be made. Dr Crowther concurred in this view, and was assured that if at any future period an opportunity should present itself of providing a skeleton for the English Royal Society from the graves of the aborigines, without violating the feelings of individuals or the community, no impediment would be placed in Dr Crowther's way by Sir Richard Dry. The Government allowed the local Royal Society every opportunity to obtain casts, photographs, &c., but would not permit any interference with the body, although in all probability, no opposition would have been offered to the removal, after burial, of the body in the interests of science, if affected with decency and without any violation of feelings. It would be idle to imagine that so valuable a skeleton would have been allowed to lie buried, and therefore the atrocity we are about to disclose appears the more inexcusable in that the object might undoubtedly have been obtained much more completely in a proper manner. On the night previous to the funeral Dr Crowther, and his son, who was a student of the hospital, and the barber of the institution, were the only persons in the dead-house where the body was, and these persons were seen to leave there without removing anything with them. The following morning the members of the Royal Society discovered that the head had been skinned and the skull carried away, the skull of a patient lying dead in the hospital also having been placed inside the skin, and used as a stretcher over which the skin of the face was pulled so as to give a superficial appearance of completeness. The Council of the Royal Society were of course greatly irritated at this, and feeling assured that the person who had taken the skull would subsequently exhume the body and take the complete skeleton, they carefully took off the feet and hands and lodged them in the Museum. It is thought that the skull was flung over the wall at the back of the dead-house to a confederate, so that those who were in the dead-house did not carry anything out with them. A rumor got abroad that the body had been mutilated, and the coffin was opened just before the funeral, when the body was found as described. The lid was again screwed down and the coffin sealed. Soon after two o'clock the funeral took place, a concourse having assembled, and those who knew of the mutilation hoped that the remnants of the body would be allowed to rest in peace. Steps were taken to have the grave guarded by the police, but the arrangements not having been made through the Mayor, some miscarriage occurred and there was no guard. Next morning, it was found that the grave had been disturbed, and a skull, no doubt the “dummy” one, was found on the surface. The Attorney-General and other Ministers inspected the spot, when it was found that the coffin was there, but the body gone. Blood was traced from the grave to the gate opposite the Anglo-Australian Guano Company, in Salamanca-place but here the traces were lost. Doubtless, the same party who stole the skull took the body and perhaps an eagerness to obtain the feet and hands will lead to a discovery of the perpetrator of the atrocity. An inquiry into the whole circumstance was held in the morning, and resulted in the suspension of Dr Crowther as an hon. surgeon of the hospital, and also of his son, as a student of the hospital. Dr. Crother, the same afternoon, endeavored to force his way into a ward in the hospital, and it is anticipated that proceedings will be taken against him. We are indebted to the Hobart Town and Launceston papers for the substance of the above statement.

The barbarous mutilation and theft of the remains of the last Tasmanian aboriginal, connected with a similar outrage on the body of a European who had simultaneously died in the hospital, continues to excite a species of horrible interest. Dr. Crowther has published a letter indignantly denying that he was the perpetrator of the outrage, and retorting by charging the hospital authorities therewith. According to the Tasmanian Times “the skeleton is now in the possession of the secretary of the Acclimatisation Society (Mr Graves), with the full knowledge and consent of the Government. The more the circumstances are considered the more clearly will it appear that the Government and the hospital authorities have connived throughout at the mutilation of the body and the plunder of the grave for the benefit of the Royal Society. If any other explanation can be offered let us hear it.”

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