The Newgate Calendar - ALEXANDER PIERCE

ALEXANDER PIERCE
Executed for Murder and Cannibalism.

            Although the offence for which this person was executed did not occur within the district of our own country, yet as the malefactor was a British subject, the particulars of the horrid deed of which he was guilty, and which was of a nature most disgustingly appalling, may not be considered out of place in our catalogue.

            In the month of November 1823, the prisoner surrendered himself at a place called Macquarrie Harbour, in Van Diemen's Land -- of which place it was the penal settlement, and which was therefore inhabited only by persons twice transported, and the guards necessary to keep them in subordination -- and charged himself with having been guilty of the murder of one Cox, a convict, who had escaped with him from the same settlement only a short time before, and whom he had despatched, for the purpose of preserving himself from starvation by devouring his flesh. It would be useless for us to go into a detail of the circumstances proved on his trial at Hobart Town on the 21st June 1824, which were of a nature far less horrible than those which he confessed immediately before his execution for the offence with which he charged himself.

            This confession was in the following terms. "I was born in the county of Fermanagh, in the north of Ireland, where in the 26th year of my age I was convicted on a charge of stealing six pairs of shoes, and received sentence to be transported for seven years. I arrived at Hobart Town, in the ship Castle Forbes, and was assigned to Mr. John Bellenger, with whom I remained about nine months, at the expiration of which time I was returned to the government superintendant, in consequence of some misconduct of which I had been guilty. In a few months afterwards, I was assigned to a constable named Cane; but I had stayed with him only sixteen weeks, when being carried before a magistrate for some offence, of which I had been guilty, I was ordered to receive fifty lashes, and to be returned again to Crown labour. I was subsequently again assigned to a Mr. Scattergood, at New Norfolk, but I absconded from his service into the woods, where I joined Laughton, Saunders, Latton, and Atkinson, who were at large in the bush. After about three months spent in 'ranging,' I surrendered upon a proclamation issued by the Governor, and was pardoned; but I shortly afterwards forged some orders, upon which I obtained property. On learning that the fraud was discovered, I was induced once more to make off, and I did so; but after a stay of about three months in the woods, I was taken by a party of the 48th regiment, and being tried for the forgery, was found guilty, and ordered to be transported to the Penal Settlement at Macquarrie Harbour, for the remainder of my original sentence, I was not there more than a month before I made my escape with seven others, named Dalton, Traverse, Badman, Matthews, Greenhill, Brown, and Cornelius. We all kept together for about ten days, during which we ate nothing but our kangaroo-skin jackets, and then we were nearly exhausted with hunger and fatigue. On the eleventh night, we began to consult what was best to be done for our preservation, and we made up our minds to a dreadful result. In the morning we missed three of our company, Dalton, Brown, and Cornelius, who, we concluded, had left us with an intention of returning, if possible. We then drew lots, which of us should die; and the chance fell on Badman . I went with one of the others to collect dry wood, to make a fire, during which time Traverse had succeeded in killing Badman, and when we returned, he had begun to cut him up. We dressed part of the flesh immediately, and continued to use it as long as it lasted. We then drew lots again, and it fell to the fate of Matthews. Traverse and Greenhill killed him with an axe; we cut the flesh from his bones, carried it on, and lived upon it as long as it lasted. By the time it was all eaten. Traverse, through fatigue, fell lame in his knee -- so much so, that he could not proceed; Greenhill proposed that I should kill him, which I agreed to. We then made the best of our way, carrying the flesh of Traverse between us, in the hope of reaching the Eastern settlements while it lasted. We did not however, succeed, and I perceived Greenhill always carried the axe, and thought he watched an opportunity to kill me. I was always on my guard, and succeeded, when he fell asleep, in getting the axe, with which I immediately despatched him, made a meal, and carried all the remaining flesh with me to feed upon. To my great disappointment, I was afterwards many days without food, and subsisted solely upon grass and nettle-tops, which I boiled in a tin pot that I brought with me from the settlement. At length I fell in with some natives' huts, from which apparently the inmates had just retired; and there I collected some entrails, and bits of kangaroo, which afforded me a meal. Two days afterwards, when nearly exhausted, I came in sight of a hut, which proved to be M'Guire's near the High Plains. I staid there a fortnight, and made up my mind to surrender myself to Captain Wood, a magistrate on the river Clyde; but on my way thither, I met Davis and Churton, who were then desperadoes, and living at the Shannon hut. They wished me to join them, to which I agreed. In a few weeks we were all taken, near Jericho, by a party of the 48th regiment, and brought into Hobart town jail; Churton and Davis were tried, found guilty of capital offences, and suffered death. It was my fate to be returned to the Penal Settlement. I again made my escape with Thomas Cox, who eagerly pressed my departure. I had irons on at the time; and when we had proceeded some distance, Cox knocked them off with an axe he had brought with him, and we made the best of our way through a thicket, which was very wet. At night we tried to make a fire, but could not. We travelled on several days without food, except the tops of trees and shrubs, until we came upon King's River; I asked Cox, if he could swim; he replied he could not; and I remarked, that had I been aware of that, he should not have been my companion. The arrangements for crossing the river created words, and I killed Cox with the axe: I ate part of him that night, and cut the greatest part of his flesh up in order to take on with me. I swam the river with the intention of keeping the coast round to Port Dalrymple, but my heart failed me, and I resolved to return and give myself up to the commandant. I threw most of the flesh away; one piece I carried in my pocket, to show the commandant that Cox was dead. I confessed that I had killed him, and accompanied a party in a boat to bring up his remains, which was done."

            The prisoner underwent the extreme penalty of the law on the following morning, for the detestable crimes of which he had been guilty. We regret to say, however, that this is not a solitary instance of persons in the situation of Pierce resorting to similar means for the preservation of their lives.

 

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