State Library of New South Wales

Narrative of the escape of eight convicts from Macquarie Harbour in Sep. 1822, and of their murders and cannibalism committed during their wanderings

Bequest of Sir William Dixson, 1952

Alexander Pearce arrived in Hobart on the Castle Forbes in February 1820, transported for seven years for stealing six pairs of shoes. In June 1822 he was convicted of forging a money order and being illegally at large, and was ordered to the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour for the remainder of his original sentence. In September, with seven other convicts, he escaped from Macquarie Harbour with the intention of crossing the island to Hobart, where they planned to steal a schooner and sail to England. However, their provisions were totally inadequate for such an enterprise.

Pearce was the only survivor of a nightmare journey during which, one after another, his companions were murdered and eaten by the remainder of the group.

When Pearce was finally captured on the outskirts of Hobart, authorities refused to believe his horrific tale of cannibalism. There were no bodies to support his claim and they were sure he was protecting his companions, who were still believed to be at large.

Pearce was one of only a handful of convicts to escape twice from the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour. A year after his recapture, he escaped again with one other convict. He was apprehended after a week, camped alone on a remote beach. In his pocket was a chunk of human flesh. He was promptly tried and hanged.

Alexander Pearce is the subject of the Australian band Weddings Parties Anything's song ‘A Tale They Won't Believe’. The Drones also recorded ‘Words from the Executioner to Alexander Pearce’.

A biographical film, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce was shot on location in 2008 in Tasmania and Sydney. Also in 2008, Dying Breed, a horror film about Pearce was released. It featured fictional ‘descendants’ of Pearce. Most recently the story of Pearce's cannibalism was made into another feature-length movie called Van Diemen's Land, released to Australian cinemas in September 2009, and starring Oscar Redding as Pearce.

Pearce’s seven companions were Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, William Kennerly, Matthew Travers, Edward Brown, Robert Greenhill and John Mather. After Bodenham was killed and eaten, Dalton, Kennerly and Brown took fright and turned back for Macquarie Harbour, preferring capture to being eaten.