The gruesome story of Alexander Pearce

By B. Doyle

Tasmania had its share of bushrangers but they were mostly a ragtag bunch of runaway convicts who raided and robbed for survival.

Several however, were outstanding in reputation and survived to tell their stories. Martin Cash was one, although his story was regarded as a bit fanciful by some. Another was Alexander Pearce, and while his tale reads like a Hollywood action/horror script, none of it came from anyone’s imagination. When William Sorrel became Lt. Governor of Van Dieman’s land in 1817, the island was an open prison and nearly all of the population was connected to the penal system.

Although the convicts could not get off the island itself, they could readily escape from the settlements and work gangs and go bush. However, once they did so, they became alienated from the rest of the community and had to resort to robbery and violence to survive. The island had no judicial system and when any of the offenders were caught, they had to be shipped, together with any witnesses, to Sydney for trial.

Sorrel decided to try something else, namely, banishment from the society that existed at that time. Even though the island was a penal society, and a harsh one at that, the threat of total isolation from that society might act as an incentive to behave better. Wayward convicts would now be sent to Macquarie Harbour, named after the Governor of the time, to harvest Huon pine for ship building. It grew in abundance on the south-west of the island and Macquarie Harbour was, according to Deputy Surveyor George Evans, ‘a place so completely shut in by the surrounding, rugged, closely wooded, and altogether impractical country, that escape by land was next to impossible.’

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