DYING BREED – HISTORICAL HORROR
THE INSPIRATIONAL CANNIBAL
Aussie horror movie Dying Breed, in cinemas from November 6, 2008, is inspired
by the chilling historical record of escaped Tasmanian convict Alexander Pearce,
hanged for cannibalism in 1824; The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce, a
dramatised documentary about Pearce is also in the wings, first to air on ABC TV
early next year, followed by the DVD release.
In Dying Breed, zoology student, Nina (Mirrah Foulkes), claims she can breach
Tasmania's impenetrable forests and reveal the existence of the illusive and
ancient Tasmanian Tiger. Driving Nina's quest is one critical piece of proof: a
paw print taken by her sister just before she met with a fatal accident eight
years before. But Nina doesn't know that Tasmania became the world's most
dangerous island in the 19th century, when the murderous convict Alexander ‘The
Pieman’ Pearce (Peter Docker) broke out of prison and ate his fellow escapees.
Soon Nina and her friends discover Pieman's dreadful descendants, when she sets
out with her partner, Matt (Leigh Whannell), his old mate Jack (Nathan Phillips)
and his girlfriend Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo) in search of the Tiger.
This contemporary story links its central characters to Tasmania’s brutal past
as writers Jody Dwyer and Michael Boughen imagine a community of hideous
descendants who must remain hidden, but who need fresh ‘stock’ to breed.
Writing in The Age a few years ago, Paul Collins explored this unique story:
“The man standing in the dock of the Supreme Court of Van Diemens Land did not
look like someone who was, as the Hobart Town Gazette put it on June 25, 1824,
"laden with the weight of human blood, and believed to have banqueted on human
flesh". In fact, he looked perfectly normal. He was 1.6 metres tall, slightly
under medium height for the early 19th century, and his frame was wiry and
strong. He was 34, but looked older.”
“There was nothing to distinguish the Irish-born Alexander Pearce from the
procession of convicts who traipsed through the Hobart Town courts. Except for
one thing - he was the first self-confessed cannibal to have appeared there.
“Twenty months earlier, Pearce and seven other convicts had escaped from the
prison settlement of Sarah Island, in Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of
Tasmania, the most remote penal hellhole in the British Empire. In the jargon of
the time, this was a place of secondary punishment, where recalcitrant convicts
were sent when they repeatedly fell foul of the law while serving their original
sentences. Pearce was the sole survivor of their nine-week escape through some
of the world's most difficult wilderness terrain.
“During their journey, five of his companions had been killed and eaten by their
fellows. Two others died from exhaustion. The problem with human flesh is that,
while rich in protein, it never really satisfies hunger because of the lack of
carbohydrates, which provide energy. That is why the men had to kill so
regularly. No matter how much they ate of their companions, it was not enough
for the energy needed on their stamina-sapping journey.”
As the sole survivor, Pearce made his way to the Derwent River, where he
joined some bushrangers. He was later captured but the authorities did not
believe his grisly story. He was sent back to Macquarie Harbour, escaped again
and once more reverted to cannibalism. Again he was captured. This time he was
sentenced to death.
Because cannibalism was unheard of among Europeans, Pearce's trial for murder
created a sensation in Hobart Town, London, and even the United States.
And now, Australia is once again tracking Pearce … this time on the screen.
Published November 6, 2008
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Peter Docker as Alexander Pearce in Dying Breed
Ciaran McMenamin as Pearce in the dramatised documentary, The Last Confession of
A sketch of Pearce, made after his execution, by convict artist Thomas Bock