Alexander Pearce was an Irish convict and thief who was sentenced to seven years of hard labor on Sarah Island, the Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania in March 1822. Shortly after his arrival, Pearce and seven other inmates escaped and became fugitives. Pearce later confessed to killing the other men with an axe and eating their remains for sustenance and survival. Pearce was found guilty of murder and hanged in the Hobart Town Jail on July 19, 1824.
Alexander Pearce was born in the County of Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland. A judge convicted him of stealing six pairs of shoes in 1819, and at age twenty-six, he received seven years’ imprisonment.
Pearce’s original sentence was to be served in a regular’s convict prison, but he would regularly break prison rules and receive infractions.
He had attempted to escape at least twice, stolen from the prison, and was caught drunk, all of which he received multiple floggings.
In March 1822, Pearce had another failed escape attempt and was sent to serve the rest of his sentence at Macquarie Harbor on the west coast of Tasmania.
Macquarie Harbor is on Sarah Island and is known for its terrible weather and unforgiving terrain and was thought to be the “most remote penal hellhole in the British Empire”. They would force inmates sent here to work in the harshest conditions imaginable, which mostly included cutting down Huon pine trees, one of the strongest trees on earth and native only to Tasmania.
Alexander Pearce made his escape from the island almost as soon as he arrived. Out of the seven other convicts that escaped with him, he would be the soul survivor after a harrowing journey that lasted three months.
Pearce’s initial plan was to commandeer a whaleboat, traveling north until arriving in China or a neighboring island.
The men easily overpowered the guard, grabbed an axe, and started their 225 kilometer journey.
The eight escapees had bread rations with them on their journey. However, they had baked it with ergot bacteria that speeds up the rate at which it rots. Before becoming completely unedible, the molded bread caused hallucinogenic effects, which severely slowed down the men as they became confused about the direction they were traveling.
The men were now starving to death, and to use a quote from serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, “And that’s when the cannibalism started.”
Once the bread became no longer edible, the men survived off eating their jackets, which were fashioned out of kangaroo skin, but this did not provide enough sustenance for survival
“On the eleventh night, we consulted what was best to be done for our preservation, and made up our minds to a dreadful result.”
The fundamental problem with eating human flesh is that even though it is rich in protein, it lacks sufficient carbohydrates, which provide the body with energy.
Alexander Dalton was the first to be killed and cannibalized. Dalton had volunteered to be a flogger and has in the past whipped the others.
The men cooked his flesh and innards, but in time, the men would just eat the human raw.
“We dressed part of the flesh immediately and continued to use it as long as it lasted.”
“We then drew cuts again (drawing straws), and it fell to the fate of Mathews. Traverse and Greenhill killed him with an axe, cut the flesh from his bones, carried it on, and lived upon it as long as it lasted.
After 42 days of the harrowing journey, only three starving men remained alive, Greenhill, Pearce, and Travers.
A venomous tiger snake on the foot bit Travers while resting. His wound eventually became gangrenous, but despite his near crippled snake, the other two men “half-dragged and carried their injured companion for five days.”
After days of begging to be left to die, Pearce and Greenhill killed Travers with an axe while he slept and then ate his flesh uncooked.
Greenhill and Pearce were the last two men alive and played a ‘cat and mouse’ game and wondered who would be next.
Ultimately, Alexander Pearce killed Greenhill while he slept and at his flesh.
Alexander Pearce finally reached civilization, being the sole survivor of an epic journey. He regained his strength by eating stolen sheep. Locals described Pearce as looking like a “ghost”, barely living.
The escapee was recaptured three months later and sent back to prison after the judge did not believe his story.
The judge thought Pearce was lying and simply covering up for his escaped convicts. Pearce received a hero’s welcome back at the prison because they also believed that he wouldn’t give up on the other men’s location.
Several months later, Alexander Pearce escaped again, this time with a convict named Thomas Cox.
For days, the men traveled and survived off stolen bread and other provisions.
However, when Pearce discovered Cox couldn’t swim, he flew into a rage and struck him four times on the head with his axe.
Alexander Pearce admitted to killing and eating Thomas Cox and was hanged on July 19, 1824.