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John Mather (c. 1798–1822)

John Mather (c.1798-1822), a baker, was sentenced to 7 years transportation on 26 August 1819 at Flint, Wales. He arrived at Sydney aboard the Shipley in September 1820 and was sent on to Hobart, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), on the Guildford in October. He was described as being 5 feet 7½ inches tall, with a dark ruddy complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes.

Mather was sentenced to 50 lashes on 28 March 1821 for being insolent and abusive to his overseer and threatening to take his life. On 1 March 1822 he was sentenced to 25 lashes for being absent from his lodgings at New Norfolk at night. On 20 April 1822 for uttering? an order for 15 pounds knowing it to be forged with the intention of deceiving Joshua Ferguson he was sentenced to be transported to Macquarie Harbour for the remainder of his original sentence. On 21 August 1822 he was sentenced to 25 lashes at Macquarie Harbour for neglect of duty.

Mather and seven other convicts — Alexander Dalton, Thomas Bodenham, William Kennely, 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 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

'Mather, John (c. 1798–1822)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


c. 1798
Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland


October, 1822 (aged ~ 24)
Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

axe wounds

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Places
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: unknown
Sentence: 7 years
Court: Flintshire (Wales)
Trial Date: 26 August 1819


Occupation: baker