Almanac Poetry: The Ballad of Alexander Pearce



The Ballad of Alexander Pearce



Back in Van Diemen’s Land,

in the good old days,

there was a handsome Irish criminal

named Alexander Pearce.

Apparently, he used to persuade

young convicts to escape with him

solely so that he could eat them.



There is no potential for a folk song here.



Sketch of Alexander Pearce from WikiCommons



Acknowledgement: first appeared in Adelaide Review (1994), then in my poetry collection, Vigorous Vernacular (2008), reprinted by Ginninderra Press (2018).



Read more of Kevin Densley’s poetry, and prose, HERE



To return to the Home Page click HERE



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE



Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    Hi, Mr Pearce, just writing this under your ballad, so that you’re not too lonely.

  2. Kevin, I suspect that the final line is tongue in cheek?

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the comment, Smokie. I suppose the final line can be interpreted any way the reader wishes. My initial thought was “try writing a traditional ‘Come-all-you’ style folk song about a cannibal-convict”. Then I realised that some folk stories and ancient myths involved such instances as people (or parts thereof) being baked into pies or served up, disguised, as items for the dinner table. (An old Greek myth involves the dinner table thing, for example.)

  4. The reason I mention it, Kevin, is because Weddings Parties Anything had a great song called “A Tale You Won’t Believe”, about Alexander Pearce. A big Weddo’s fan, I saw them many a time, and this track was always a highlight. The lyrics have the construct of a folk ballad, but it is much more “rock’n’roll”.

    By the way, I have read the story of Pearce in depth many moons ago.

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Interesting, Smokie. I’ve heard of the WPA song, but don’t really know it. Pearce was the model for a significant character in Marcus Clarke’s For The Term Of His Natural Life way back around 1870. In a sense, he has bobbed up in all sorts of creative works over the years. My Pierce poem just posted in the Almanac originally appeared in print close to thirty years ago. He does fascinate people, in a strange, lurid way. Interestingly, a four times great-grandfather of mine may indeed have seen Pearce publically executed in Hobart in 1824.

  6. Yep, ” A Tale You Won’t Believe” is about Pearce, and the bolters unlucky enough to’ escape’ with him. Mick Thomas at his most powerful.

    There was a movie made about this a decade ago, with large parts of the dialogue being in Gaelic. Was it ‘Van Dieman’s Land’, ?

    I went down the West Coast of Tassy a few years, visiting Macquarie Harbor. Went on the cruise, where when the boat leaves Hells Gates the next piece of land is South Africa. Back up the river to see the remnants of the old penal station.The cruise then went further up the river to some breathtakingly majestic scenery . Macquarie Harbor was purpose built. When a European convict escaped from the jail into this wilderness, his chance of getting away to somewhere decent were Buckley’s & none.

    Hmmm, Buckleys & none, escaped convict. There’s a theme here.


  7. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the interesting material, Glen.

    Yes, I ‘ve heard of the Pearce film and may even have it among a bunch of DVDs (including one on Michael Howe?) set in early Van Diemen’s Land. I need to check this out.

    And Macquarie Harbour … what a place!

Leave a Comment