2007: Not Sina Paymard, saved by a flute 1514: György Dózsa, Transylvanian Braveheart

1824: Alexander Pearce, cannibal convict

July 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1824, Irish convict Alexander Pearce received the Catholic last rites and was hanged in Australia’s Hobart town jail for murdering and cannibalizing a fellow con during an escape attempt.

When Pearce, a petty thief who had been sentenced in England to penal transportation, was caught at King River after fleeing a Tasmanian prison colony. He had human flesh in his pocket … pretty much as alleged in this court scene from the docudrama “Exile in Hell”:

… or, at least, there is no record of Pearce, who was defended by no lawyer, contesting the charges. He is said to have had other food available at this time; it seems he killed his young companion when he realized the boy would hold him up … then ate him, because he liked the taste.

You’re wondering how he knew he liked human flesh, right?

Incredibly, the crime for which he was hanged was not Pearce’s first incident of cannibalism — not even his first incident of confessed cannibalism.

During a previous escape attempt in 1822 with six other men, the party had plunged ill-equipped into forbidding terrain, and fallen to … well, you know. Here’s a newspaper account by the author of a book about Pearce:

As the journey continued, one by one, the weakest man was killed with an axe and butchered to provide food for the others. After five weeks of endless walking, only three men were left: [Robert] Greenhill, Pearce and [Matthew] Travers.

Driven by extreme hunger, Greenhill finally faced the prospect of having to kill his injured friend Travers, who had been bitten on the foot by a venomous tiger snake. With Travers’ foot now gangrenous, Greenhill and Pearce half-dragged and carried their injured companion for five days until Travers begged them to kill him. The only weapon left was the axe. They killed him in his sleep, and ate his flesh.

Pearce and Greenhill struggled on for eight days, playing cat and mouse with each other, desperate to stay awake, fearing that the other would attack him if he closed his eyes and nodded off. It was Pearce who kept awake long enough to grab the axe and kill the sleeping Greenhill with a blow to the head.

Months later, when the law finally caught up with Pearce, he admitted to killing and eating his companions. He wasn’t believed: authorities figured his collaborators were still on the run and Pearce was covering for them, so they sent him back to the prison colony.

Whoops.

This unpleasant story is the subject of a forthcoming film, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism

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