"Manís flesh is delicious. It tastes far better than fish or pork."
Alexander Pearce was an Irish convict who was transported to Van Diemenís Land for seven years for theft. He escaped from prison several times, but was eventually captured and was hanged and dissected in Hobart for murder.
Pearce led an escape from Macquarie Harbour Penal Settlement and became notorious for cannibalizing his fellow escapees as they traversed the West Coast of Tasmania.
Pearce escaped with seven other men. About 15 days into the journey, the men were starving and drew lots to see who would be killed for food. Three of the men decamped and one died of exhaustion, and two were killed. After that, it was a cat and mouse game between Pearce and Greenhill. Greenhill had the axe, but they were both starving, and they had to sleep. In the end it was Pearce who prevailed. He grabbed the axe, killed Greenhill and dined on his body. He later raided an Aboriginal campsite and stole more food. When he saw sheep, he knew he had reached the settled districts. He was lucky again, as the shepherd who came upon him eating a lamb was an old friend. Pearce was inducted into a sheep stealing ring, and was eventually picked up with William Davis and Ralph Churton, who were both hanged for bush ranging and escaping from a military escort.
In total, Pearce had been free for 113 days, a little less than half of which was spent in the wilderness. Locked up in Hobart, Pearce made a confession to the Rev. Robert Knopwood, the magistrate and chaplain. However, Knopwood did not believe the cannibalism story and was convinced the others were still living as bushrangers. He sent Pearce back to Macquarie Harbour.
Within a year, Pearce escaped a second time, joined by a young convict named Thomas Cox. Pearce was captured within ten days and taken to the Supreme Court of Van Diemenís Land in Hobart, where he was tried and convicted of murdering and cannibalizing Thomas Cox. Observers noted Pearce did not look like a cannibal. He was only 1.6m (5 feet 2 inches) in height, which was under average for that time, but had a strong wiry frame. He did not seem to be someone who was ďladen with the weight of human blood, and believed to have banqueted on human flesh" as the Hobart Town Gazette wrote on 25 June 1824. His captors had found parts of Coxís body in Pearceís pockets, even though he still had food left, and his guilt was beyond doubt this time. Pearce confessed he had killed Cox because when they reached Kingís River, he discovered that Cox could not swim. Pearce was the first felon to be executed by the new Supreme Court and the first confessed cannibal to pass through the Tasmanian court system.
Pictured: The skull of Alexander Pearce