Dr (later Sir) William Edward Lodewyk Hamilton Crowther donated his large collection of books, manuscripts, pictures and objects to the State Library of Tasmania in 1964. This generous gift shows his passion and determination for saving records that now paint a rich picture of colonial life, including important evidence of the mistreatment of Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

Born in Hobart in 1887 Sir William was a fourth-generation Tasmanian. Like his great grandfather, grandfather and father he was a medical practitioner.

William Crowther (1788-1839) established a medical practice in Hobart in 1825. An active member of the faction opposed to Governor Arthur, he was an early campaigner for the end to convict transportation, and established the Hobart Dispensary and Sick Poor Society, an initiative aimed at equity of access to medical care.

William Lodewyk Crowther (1817-1885) continued his father’s medical practice, and expanded his business interests into logging, whaling, sealing, and guano mining. He was a foundation member of the Tasmanian Club, a Member of the Legislative Council 1869-1885, and Premier 1878-1879. As a child he began collecting specimens of birds and animals. In 1839 he sold his collection of 493 skins and two live Tasmanian devils to the Earl of Derby; the sale financed his medical studies in London and Paris. Medical education has always required access to human bodies. In 19th-century Europe these were usually prisoners or the destitute, taken without the knowledge or permission of their families. When the Tasmanian Aboriginal man William Lanney died in Hobart in 1869, Dr Crowther orchestrated the mutilation of his body while it lay in the hospital morgue.

Edward Lodewyk Crowther (1843-1931) followed his father into medicine and politics, served as an officer in the Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery, and developed interests in tin mining in Tasmania’s north-east. He also continued his father’s scientific interests, and amassed a collection of Tasmanian skulls.

William Edward Lodewyk Hamilton Crowther (1887-1981) accompanied his father on archaeological expeditions, and as a student in 1908 was involved in disinterring bodies of Aboriginal people buried at Oyster Cove. During World War 1, he served with distinction as an army medical officer at both Gallipoli and the Western Front. Among the family papers he donated was extensive material about his military service, including the diaries he kept throughout the war.

After giving his collection of Aboriginal skeletons to the Tasmanian Museum, he continued to collect books and documents. His interests spanned many subjects including medical and maritime history, early printing, and Antarctic exploration. A particular interest was the Tasmanian whaling industry including logbooks, whaling tools and scrimshaw. His manuscript collections include records of the Derwent Bank and papers of early colonial notables such as sealer James Kelly, financier Charles Swanston and doctor and naturalist George Fordyce Story. He was knighted in 1964.

Crowther descendants were instrumental in the return of land at Oyster Cove to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community in the 1980s.

The State Library of Tasmania is the beneficiary of the Crowther Collection through the donation of the WL Crowther Library, and of the Allport collection by bequest of the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts. As a cultural institution, we also respectfully acknowledge the lasting trauma experienced by Palawa / Tasmanian Aboriginal people that has resulted from the actions of W L Crowther, Morton Allport and other individuals in the name of scientific research.

Explore the W L Crowther Collection

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