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Alexander Dalton (?–1822)

Alexander Dalton was courtmartialled on 18 November 1818 at Gibraltar. Sentenced to 14 years transportation he arrived at Hobart, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), aboard the Caledonia in November 1820.

For being drunk and disorderly he was ordered on 12 December 1820 to work for the government for 12 days. On 22 May 1821 he was sentenced to 50 lashes, to work the same hours as the gaol gang for three months, and to be confined at nights for beating his overseer. For wilfully and corruptly committing perjury (he swore in court that a convict charged with robbery had a different name) he was sentenced to 100 lashes on 6 July 1822 and was ordered to serve the remainder of his sentence at the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement. On 21 August 1822 he was sentenced to 25 lashes for neglect of duty.

Dalton and seven other convicts — William Kennely, John Mather, Thomas Bodenham, Robert Greenhill, Edward Brown, Alexander Pearce and Matthew Travers — escaped from Macquarie Harbour on 20 September 1822. According to Pearce's later testimony Greenhill, who had an axe, appointed himself leader. About 15 days into the journey, the men were starving and drew lots to see who would be killed for food. Thomas Bodenham (or perhaps Alexander Dalton, Pearce's later accounts slightly differed) drew the short straw and Greenhill killed him with his axe. Dalton (or Bodenham), Kennely and Brown – took fright and decamped. Kennely and Brown supposedly reached Macquarie Harbour, but Dalton seemed to have died of exhaustion. That left Greenhill, Travers, John Mather and Alexander Pearce. With Greenhill and his friend Travers acting as a team, it was Mather's or Pearce's turn to die next. Mather became the next victim. Travers was then bitten on the foot by a snake. Greenhill insisted they carry him for five days, but when it became clear he would not recover, killed him. Although Greenhill still had the axe, Pearce managed to overpower and kill him — and ate his flesh. Pearce finally reached a settlement and fell in with a shepherd and was eventually arrested.

Pearce confessed his cannibalistic crimes to Rev. Knopwood, who was also a magistrate, but was not believed. Knopwood thought the other men were still alive and living as bushrangers and sent Pearce back to Macquarie Harbour. Within a year he had escaped a second time, this time with Thomas Cox. He was picked up within ten days and tried for the murder of Cox (he had also cannibalised Cox but was not charged with this offence). He again confessed to the murder and cannibalisation of the men during his first escape from Macquarie Harbour.

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Citation details

'Dalton, Alexander (?–1822)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


October, 1822
Tasmania, Australia

Passenger Ship
Key Places
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: court martial
Sentence: 14 years
Court: Gibraltar
Trial Date: 18 November 1818