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Robert Greenhill (?–1822)

Robert Greenhill was found guilty on 28 October 1820 at the Old Bailey, London, of having a forged bank note. Sentenced to 14 years transportation he arrived at Hobart, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), aboard the Lady Ridley in June 1821. His convict record says that he was married and had two children.

Greenhill was sentenced to 25 lashes on 15 October 1821 for being drunk and disorderly and assaulting Constable Logan in the execution of his duty. On 30 March 1822 he was sentenced to 150 lashes and transportion to Macquarie Harbour for the remainder of his sentence for absconding, stealing and carrying away a schooner, the property of A. Kemp. He was sentenced to 25 lashes on 27 April 1822 for attempting to break out of the gaol.

Greenhill and seven other convicts — Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, William Kennely, Matthew Travers, Edward Brown, Alexander Pearce and John Mather — 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 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 on his first escape from Macquarie Harbour.

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Citation details

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

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


December, 1822
Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

axe wounds

Passenger Ship
Key Places
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: forgery
Sentence: 14 years
Court: Old Bailey, London
Trial Date: 1820


Married: Yes
Children: Yes (2)