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Alexander Pearce (1790 – 19 July 1824) was an Irish convict who was transported to the penal colony in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), Australia for seven years for theft. He escaped from prison several times, allegedly becoming a cannibal during one of the escapes. In another escape, with one companion, he allegedly killed him and ate him in pieces. He was eventually captured and was hanged in Hobart for murder, and later dissected.
Pearce was born in County Monaghan, Ireland.A Roman Catholic farm labourer, he was sentenced at Armagh in 1819 to penal transportation to Van Diemen's Land for "the theft of six pairs of shoes". He continued to commit various petty offences whilst in the penal colony in Van Diemen's Land, from which he soon escaped. The 18 May 1822 edition of the Hobart Town Gazette reported this escape and advertised a £10 reward for his recapture. When caught, he was charged with absconding and forging an order, a serious crime. For this he received a second sentence of transportation, this time to the new secondary penal establishment at Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour.
On 20 September 1822, Pearce along with seven other convicts of Macquarie Harbour Penal Station: Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, William Kennerly, Matthew Travers, Edward Brown, Robert Greenhill and John Mather escaped while working on the eastern side of the harbour. Greenhill, who had the axe, appointed himself leader, supported by his friend Travers, with whom he had been sent to Macquarie Harbour for stealing businessman Anthony Fenn Kemp's schooner in an attempt to escape. About 15 days into the journey, the men were starving and drew lots to see who would be killed for food.Thomas Bodenham (or perhaps Alexander Dalton: see below) drew the short straw and Greenhill despatched him with an axe. At this point three of the company – Dalton, Kennerly and Brown – took fright and decamped. Kennerly and Brown reached Macquarie Harbour, but Dalton seemed to have died of exhaustion. That left Greenhill, Travers, John Mather and Alexander Pearce. With Greenhill and Travers acting as a team, it would be Mather's or Pearce's turn next. Pearce seems to have sided with Greenhill and Travers at this point, and Mather was the next victim. It was then that Pearce had some luck: Travers was bitten on the foot by a snake. Greenhill insisted they carry him for five days, but when it became clear he would not recover, killed him.
After that, it was a cat-and-mouse game. Greenhill had the axe, but they were both starving, and they had to sleep. In the end it was Pearce who prevailed. He grabbed the axe, killed Greenhill and dined on his body. He later raided an Aboriginal campsite and stole more food. When he saw sheep, he knew he had reached the settled districts. He was lucky again, as the shepherd who came upon him eating a lamb was an old friend. Pearce was inducted into a sheep-stealing ring, and was eventually picked up with William Davis and Ralph Churton, who were both hanged for bushranging and escaping from a military escort.
In total, Pearce had been on the run for 113 days, a little less than half of which was spent in the wilderness. Locked up in Hobart, Pearce made a confession to the Rev. Robert Knopwood, the magistrate and chaplain. However, Knopwood did not believe the cannibalism story and was convinced the others were still living as bushrangers. He sent Pearce back to Macquarie Harbour.
There are inconsistencies in Pearce's story. He made three confessions – the Knopwood confession; a confession to Lt. Cuthbertson, Commandant of Macquarie Harbour when he was in hospital after the second escape (in this version, Dalton is the first victim); and a confession to Father Phillip Connolly, the colony's Catholic priest, the night before his execution – and some of the details differed. What is incontrovertible is that eight men went into the bush at Macquarie Harbour, and only three came out; and of the four men alive when Dalton, Kennerly and Brown decamped, only one survived.
Within a year, Pearce escaped a second time, joined by a young convict named Thomas Cox. Pearce was captured within ten days and taken to the Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land in Hobart, where he was tried and convicted of murdering and cannibalising Thomas Cox. Observers noted Pearce did not look like a cannibal. He was only 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) in height, which was under average for that time, but had a strong wiry frame. He did not seem to be someone who was "laden with the weight of human blood, and believed to have banqueted on human flesh" as the Hobart Town Gazette wrote on 25 June 1824. His captors had found parts of Cox's body in Pearce's pockets, even though he still had food left, and his guilt was beyond doubt this time. Pearce confessed he had killed Cox because when they reached King's River, he discovered that Cox could not swim. Pearce was the first felon to be executed by the new Supreme Court and the first confessed cannibal to pass through the Tasmanian court system.
Alexander Pearce was hanged at the Hobart Town Gaol at 9am on 19 July 1824, after receiving the last rites from Father Connolly.It is reported that just before he was hanged, Pearce said, "Man’s flesh is delicious. It tastes far better than fish or pork."
Van Diemen's Land was the colonial name of the island of Tasmania used by the British during the European exploration of Australia in the 19th century. A British settlement was established in Van Diemen's Land in 1803 before it became a separate colony in 1825. Its penal colonies became notorious destinations for the transportation of convicts due to the harsh environment, isolation and reputation for being inescapable. Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur are among the most well-known penal settlements on the island.
The history of Tasmania begins at the end of the most recent ice age when it is believed that the island was joined to the Australian mainland. Little is known of the human history of the island until the British colonisation in the 19th century.
The Macquarie Harbour Penal Station, a former British colonial penal settlement, established on Sarah Island, Macquarie Harbour, in the former colony of Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania, operated between 1822 and 1833. The settlement housed male convicts, with a small number of women housed on a nearby island. During its 11 years of operation, the penal colony achieved a reputation as one of the harshest penal settlements in the Australian colonies. The formal penal station is located on the eight-hectare (twenty-acre) Sarah Island that now operates as an historic site under the direction of the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.
The Pieman River is a major perennial river located in the west coast region of Tasmania, Australia.
The West Coast of Tasmania has a significant convict heritage. The use of the west coast as an outpost to house convicts in isolated penal settlements occurred in the eras 1822–33, and 1846–47.
Hells Gates is the name of the mouth of Macquarie Harbour on the West Coast of Tasmania.
Richard Innes Davey was an Australian actor, director and writer. He was the founder of the Round Earth Company and advocate for the understanding of the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station on Sarah Island on the West Coast of Tasmania.
Thomas Jeffrey was a convict bushranger, murderer and cannibal in the mid-1820s in Van Diemen's Land. In contemporary newspaper reports of his crimes he was frequently described as a 'monster'. Jeffrey and three other convicts absconded from custody in Launceston in December 1825 and were subsequently responsible for five murders, characterised by extreme violence, including the killing of a five month-old infant. Another victim was a member of the gang, killed while he slept and his flesh consumed by his companions. Jeffrey was captured in January 1826; he was tried in Hobart and convicted of various of his crimes. Jeffrey was executed by hanging at Hobart in May 1826.
Between 1788 and 1868, about 162,000 convicts were transported from Britain and Ireland to various penal colonies in Australia.
William Sorell was a soldier and third Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land.
Robert Knopwood was an early clergyman and diarist in Australia.
The Young Lachlan was a schooner that was stolen and wrecked by convicts in 1819. Between 1812 and 1817 as the Henrietta Packet it provided passenger and cargo transport between colonial ports, and was possibly involved in exploration in the present-day Tasmania.
Tasmanian Gothic is a genre of Tasmanian literature that merges traditions of Gothic fiction with the history and natural features of Tasmania, an island state south of the main Australian continent. Tasmanian Gothic has inspired works in other artistic media, including theatre and film.
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce is a 2008 Australian-Irish film directed by Michael James Rowland starring Irish actors Adrian Dunbar as Philip Conolly and Ciarán McMenamin as bushranger Alexander Pearce and an ensemble Australian cast, including Dan Wyllie, Don Hany and Chris Haywood. The film was shot on location in Tasmania and Sydney between April and May 2008.
Van Diemen's Land is a 2009 Australian thriller set in 1822 in colonial Tasmania. It follows the story of the infamous Irish convict, Alexander Pearce, played by Oscar Redding and his escape with seven other convicts. The voice-over and some of the dialogue is in Irish.
William Buelow Gould was an English and Van Diemonian (Tasmanian) painter. He was transported to Australia as a convict in 1827, after which he would become one of the most important early artists in the colony, despite never really separating himself from his life of crime.
James Goodwin was a convict escapee and explorer in Van Diemen's Land. In March 1828, he escaped from the notorious Sarah Island prison with fellow convict Thomas Connolly, and the two were the first white men to pass through the Lake St Clair region. Assuming Goodwin was then taken on to Hobart, he is the first white man to have traversed Tasmania from west to east.
John Whelan was an Irish-born bushranger and serial killer operating in the Huon Valley in 1855 in Van Diemen's Land. He was a tall man for his times, standing at 6’1” (185 cm) and of heavy build, and was nicknamed Rocky for the crags and deep pock marks of his face.
The Frederick escape was an 1834 incident in which the brig Frederick was hijacked by ten Australian convicts and used to abscond to Chile, where they lived freely for two years. Four of the convicts were later recaptured and returned to Australia, where they escaped the death sentence for piracy through a legal technicality.
Cyprus was a brig launched at Sunderland in 1816. The colonial government in Van Diemen's Land purchased her in 1826. In 1829 as she was transporting convicts from Hobart Town to Macquarie Harbour Penal Station, some of the convicts seized Cyprus. They sailed her via Japan to Canton, where they scuttled her.