University Of Tasmania

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A Funny Old Hobby: Sir William Crowther's Collection of Aboriginal Remains

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 10:05 authored by Caroline EvansCaroline Evans
William Edward Lodewyk Hamilton Crowther (1887-1981) was a Tasmanian medical doctor who collected historical documents and objects. He also collected the stone tools and remains of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, widely believed at the time to be extinct. Crowther created his collection through the exhumation of Aboriginal remains at Oyster Cove and by information supplied to him about finds. He may also have acquired them through exchange and during his searches for stone tools. An important motive for his collecting was social engagement with friends and colleagues in Tasmania and elsewhere. The collection also enabled Crowther to engage in contemporary anthropological debates. Crowther belonged to a group of physical anthropologists who believed that the remains of Tasmanian Aborigines, thought to be especially primitive, could provide clues to the evolution of the human race. During his lifetime physical anthropology was challenged by the functionalists who were more interested in the mechanisms by which societies operated than their place on the evolutionary scale. Their research involved going into the field where many gained some understanding of the Aborigines. This did not happen to Crowther - as a doctor he was committed to physical anthropology and he believed, like many others, that in Tasmania fieldwork was impossible because there were no Aborigines. In later life, however, he wrote a paper about the final days of the Aborigines at Oyster Cove that gave him some empathy for their plight. The experience led him to express remorse about his part in the exhumation of their remains. Even so, he never doubted the scientific value of his collection and that it should be kept for future generations.


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School of Humanities


Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology

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