William Lanne’s pipe- <em>digging up bodies</em>

No. 38 William Lanne’s pipe- digging up bodies

William Lanne, known as ‘King Billy’ is thought to have left this pipe at the door of the Dog and Partridge Hotel, on the corner of Goulburn and Barrack streets in Hobart, just before he died. The undignified treatment of Lanne after his death brought about a change in Tasmanian legislation – his lasting legacy has been the posthumous protection offered to others. more...

Lanne’s family was the last Tasmanian Aboriginal family to be sent to Wybalenna, Flinders Island, in 1842. When Wybalenna closed in 1847 Lanne was sent to Oyster Cove and then to the Queens Orphan School in New Town until 1851. From 1859, Lanne worked on the whaling ships, Aladdin and Runnymede, and became an expert whale spotter. In 1869, he returned from a whaling trip ill with cholera – and died within a few days, aged just 34.

There was much scientific interest in Lanne at this time as he was considered the last tribal male Tasmanian Aborigine. His body was placed under guard in the Colonial Hospital because of rumours of possible foul play. It did not, however, prevent his mutilation at the hands of the Royal Society of Tasmania and Dr W.L. Crowther of the Royal College of Surgeons. In the night his head was cut off and swapped with that of another man, and his hands and feet were also removed. Buried the following day in St David’s cemetery, his body was subsequently dug up and further mutilated.
The indignity shown to Lanne sparked outrage and led the Tasmanian Parliament to pass the Anatomy Act of 1869. This Act made it illegal for posthumous medical experiments to take place without permission from the deceased. However this did not prevent similar atrocities on other skeletal remains of Tasmanian Aborigines. Lanne’s hands and feet were later found in the Royal Society rooms in Argyle Street, now the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and a skull identified as Lanne’s was discovered at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

In 1991, after a lengthy battle, Lanne’s skull was returned to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community – who finally laid him to rest in his Country.

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  • Object maker: unknown
  • Object date: c. 1860
  • Object size: 3.8 x 47 x 2.2 cm
  • Object location: Hobart
  • Object display location: Henry Hunter Galleries level 1: Tasmania. Life and Environment.
  • Object source: Presented by Miss R.G. Gourlay, 1953
  • Accession number: S516