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William Kennely (c. 1802–1822)

William Kennely was found guilty (as William Kennelly) on 17 February 1820 at the Old Bailey, London, of stealing one sheet valued at 3 shillings, one tablecloth valued at 3 shillings, one pelisse valued at 4 shillings, one cloak valued at 2 shillings, four gowns valued at 10 shillings, and three aprons valued at 18 pence. Sentenced to 7 years transportation he arrived at Hobart, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), aboard the Maria in February 1820.

On 26 July 1821 Kennely was sentenced to labour for one week the same hours as the gaol gang for being drunk and disorderly. On 22 April 1822 for absconding from the Prisoner's House at George Town he was sentenced to 25 lashes and to be sent to Macqaurie Harbour for the remainder of his original sentence.

Kennely and seven other convicts — Alexander Dalton, 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

'Kennely, William (c. 1802–1822)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kennerly, William
  • Kinnely, William
  • Kennelly, William

c. 1802


October, 1822 (aged ~ 20)
Tasmania, Australia

Passenger Ship
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: theft (house)
Sentence: 7 years
Court: Old Bailey, London
Trial Date: 17 February 1820