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Invasion, Theft, Rape, Murder: The Aboriginal Holocaust in Tasmania

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Lanney, the subject of ridicule in life, became, in death, a desirable object. Even while he lay in the Colonial Hospital at least two persons determined to have his bones. They claimed to act in the interest of the Royal Society of Tasmania. On March 6, 1868, the day of the funeral, 50 or 60 residents interested in Lanney gathered at the hospital. Rumors were circulating that the body had been mutilated and, to satisfy the mourners, the coffin was opened. When those who wished to do so had seen the body, the coffin was closed and sealed.

Meanwhile it was reported that, on the preceding night, a surgeon had entered the dead-house where Lanney lay, skinned the head, and removed the skull. Reportedly, the head of a patient who had died in the hospital on the same day was similarly skinned, and the skull was placed inside Lanney’s scalp and the skin drawn over it. Members of the Royal Society were “greatly annoyed” at being thus forestalled and, as body-snatching was expected, it was decided that nothing should be left worth taking and Lanney’s hands and feet were cut off. In keeping with the tradition, no one was punished. William Lanney, the last Black man in Tasmania, was gone.

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