Australian History: The Cannibal Convict

Alexander Pearce was executed for murdering and eating a fellow criminal

Born in Ireland around 1790, Alexander Pearce was transported to Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania, in 1820 for larceny.

His crime – stealing six pairs of shoes – carried a sentence of seven years.

Two years later, he was charged with forging a money order and moved to Macquarie Harbour to finish his time.

Macquarie Harbour Penal Station
[Macquarie Harbour Penal Station by convict artist William Buelow Gould]

In September that year, Pearce and seven fellow convicts hatched a plan to return to England. They hoped to reach Hobart, steal a schooner and sail home. Things did not go well.

The group’s supplies were woefully inadequate for a journey through some of Australia’s most inhospitable lands.

Face of Alexander Pearce

[Face of Alexander Pearce by Thomas Bock]

One by one, each of Pearce’s companions was murdered and was eaten by the remaining members of the group.

Once only Pearce and Robert Greenhill were left. When Greenhill fell asleep, Pearce seized his chance and killed him with an axe, before feasting on his carcass.

When Pearce was finally caught by authorities, they didn’t believe his grisly story.

A year later, Pearce escaped from Macquarie Harbour once again, along with a fellow convict.

This time, he was captured with human flesh in his pocket and sentenced to hang.

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