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Alexander Pearce was not a Tasmanian

Peter Whish-Wilson (a Tasmanian Greens Senator) and Scott Stringer (a West-Coast Councillor) want to bring the skull of the infamous Irish cannibal convict Alexander Pearce back to Tasmania. Apparently they believe this is his home. The skull was sold by a surgeon to the American Natural Scientist Samuel George Morton after Pearce’s execution at Hobart Gaol in July, 1824.

There are a number of problems that I can see with this endeavour. And all of them stagger belief that they weren’t already identified within the political backdrop of the Greens Party or the relevant West Coast Council.

The Irishman was a Convict

First and foremost there is the question of Alexander Pearce’s posthumous right to be buried in his native soil. That native soil would not be Tasmania.

Pearce was sentenced to seven years at Armagh, Ireland in the year 1819. He escaped in Van Diemen’s Land (present Tasmania) in 1822 and was sent to the notoriously hard penal colony of Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s West Coast. Pearce’s escape from that colony involved the cannibalisation of other prisoners and this infamous convict story has become part of our penal history.

Alexander Pearce was an escaped fugitive on that occasion for 113 days. It’s fair to surmise that he was not a happy camper.

Pearce then escaped with a young prisoner named Thomas Cox and was soon discovered with meat from Cox’s body. He confessed and was executed for murder and cannibalism in 1824. He had been a prisoner for approximately five years. Given a year to present in Van Diemen’s Land then we could say he was in our fair State for around four years, including three escapes from prison.

Prisoners are not Volunteers

As an ex-prisoner of Her Majesty in Tasmania there are some things that I feel obliged to point out. Prisoners are held against their will from their loved ones and homes. Prisoners do not volunteer; prisoners have no affinity for the prison; and just as Risdon Prison never became my home, the West Coast of Tasmania was never the home of Alexander Pearce. His home is in Ireland. At Armagh. If any repatriation is to happen with the man’s skull then it should be a simple and prompt return to his kin. For burial.

This nostalgic and antiquated ideal that we have in Tasmania for the convict past is something worth addressing. Convicts were ill-treated; convicts were forced out of their homeland for the slightest of crimes. Convicts were not mere settlers in Australia. This land was settled by the Union Jack and the lash.

Dare We Mention the Ethics of it all

I understand that nearly two hundred years have passed since Alexander Pearce trod this land as a convict. But does that mean we’re seriously going to consider putting his head in a box to display in a West Coast museum to attract tourists… or, worse, for profit at somewhere like a MONA festival or exhibition?

And, if so, when do we go dig up Martin Cash and other (in)famous Tasmanians from the Cornelian Bay Cemetery? Because, if it’s about money and sideshow puffery then we may as well start looting the graves of our historic past right now. I’m sure we could start digging up the old Governors and the like to fart in their empty skulls for a laugh. Tickets could be as low as a gold coin donation (yes, I’m taking the piss).

I’d honestly be worried if the idea was as simple and as callous as it sounds – the idea that because someone was executed by us and sold to the Pennsylvania Museum that we can buy him back for display as a sideshow oddity. Alexander Pearce, the cannibal convict on display.

These two political opportunists are just plain dumb. And probably unethical. How about treating the human remains of Alexander Pearce as HUMAN remains – with respect and dignity. Let’s just pay to send him to his real home and be done with it.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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