Alexander Pierce PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 23 February 2009 14:13






Alexander Pierce

Born: 1790

Died: 19 July, 1824

Age:  34

Cause of death:  Hanged by order of court.

Notable Because: Reduced circumstances led him to cannibalism. Just before he died, he said: ‘Man’s flesh is delicious. It tastes far better than fish or pork.’

Alexander Pierce was known as an Irish penal convict in Tasmania who was hanged in Hobart in 1824, for murder and cannibalism.

He originally was a farm labourer from County Fermanagh who was sentenced at Armagh in 1819 to penal transportation to Van Diemen's Land for "the theft of six pairs of shoes". He arrived on the ship "Castle Forbes" and between 18th May and 29th November 1821 received no less than 150 lashes for various misdemeanours. On 18 May 1822 he was advertised in the Hobart Town Gazette as an absconder with a 10-pound reward on his head. On his recapture he received a second sentence of transportation, and was sent to the new secondary penal establishment at Sarah Island, Macquarie Harbour.

He arrived on the ship "Castle Forbes" and between 18th May and 29th November 1821, received no less than 150 lashes for various misdemeanours. As this miscreant could not behave himself, the authorities sent him away to Macquarie Harbour, which had a notorious reputation of being one of the worst penal establishments in the colonies.

Some months later, on 20th September 1822, in the times of Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, eight prisoners escaped from the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour. They were: Thomas Bodenham, James Brown, Bill Cornelius, Alexander Dalton, Bob Greenhill, John Mathers, Alexander Pierce, and Matthew Travers. They hid in the mountains opposite the settlement during the day, and then walked all night and the next eight days over very rough country. Cold and wet, tired and weak from hunger, four men - Cornelius, Greenhill, Mathers and Travers agreed on committing a devilish atrocity: someone must be killed and eaten to save the others from dying of hunger! Greenhill said that they all had to be equally guilty, and offered an "encouragement" - he would do the first killing and eat the first bit. They decided to kill Dalton, because while in prison, he had voluntarily offered himself to act as a flogger. When Dalton slept, Greenhill killed him by striking him on the head with an axe. Then the men ate the heart and liver, Greenhill having the first bite before it had turned cold. "To my taste, it is like pork", he commented. The body of the dead man was divided so that everyone got his share. the next four days they crossed a river, and noticed that Cornelius and Brown, who went ahead, were missing. Still, the remaining group went on, got up a steep hill and found very barren ground in front of them, covered with scrub. Hunger and tiredness claimed another victim - this time it was Bodenham. Greenhill, who emerged in Bodenham's shoes, announced in cold blood: "Done!" Next day they rested and dried the meat, then they were on the move again. Mathers and Pierce secretly agreed to disappear, before Greenhill killed them, but it was too late - within two days, Mathers became Greenhill's third victim. Soon Matt Travers became the fourth one, but his murderer didn't live long either.

While asleep, Pierce snatched Greenhill's own axe and killed him. He survived the next six days on a thigh and one arm he took, and later, travelling along a river, he came on a flock of sheep, belonging to Mr Tom Triffet. He survived on the meat from several of these animals for three weeks, then moved on, and finally met two rogues and joined them in stealing sheep and robbing the stations until the day when soldiers captured them. Pierce confessed to the theft of 250 sheep, while one gold and two silver watches were found on him.. As a "bolter", he was sent back to Macquarie Harbour, but on 16th November, 1823, he managed to escape again, this time with another prisoner, named Thomas Cox. When recaptured, Pierce, who wore Cox's clothes, confessed that he had not only killed Cox, but also ate part of his body. He told his captors where the remaining pieces of the body were to be found, and without remorse, he boasted about his cannibalism and atrocities in the bush.

As could be expected, Alexander Pierce was sentenced to death and hanged in early 1824,   and as instructed by the court, his body was dissected before burial.

These shameful revelations about "bolters" remind us of the incredibly ugliest and lowest kind of bushranging in the early days of colonial Australia.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 September 2012 15:53

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