National Library of Australia

Alexander Pearce: convict and cannibal

Alexander Pearce (d.1824)Narrative of the escape of eight convicts from Macquarie Harbour c.1824

manuscript; 26.4 x 22.0cm

Bequeathed by Sir William Dixson, 1952

Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales
Narrative of the escape of eight convicts from Macquarie Harbour c.1824

Just four years after he was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing six pairs of shoes, Irishman Alexander Pearce (d.1824) was hanged for murder.

The story of Pearce is contained in a narrative by Reverend Robert Knopwood (1763–1838), who interrogated the convict in 1824.

In 1822, Pearce and seven other convicts escaped from the penal colony of Macquarie Harbour and headed east across the mountains toward Hobart.

Three men dropped out. After 15 days without food, the remaining members of the party began to kill, and eat, each other. Pearce was the only survivor. He made his way to the Derwent River, where he joined some bushrangers.

Pearce was later captured but the authorities did not believe his grisly story. He was sent back to Macquarie Harbour, escaped again and once more reverted to cannibalism. Again he was captured. This time he was sentenced to death.

Two sketches of Pearce, made after his execution, are preserved in an album of drawings of Tasmanian bushrangers by skilled convict artist Thomas Bock (1790–1855).