Coventry Convicts

The Cannibal who was cannibalized!

In 1829, William Coventry, my 5th Great Grandfather stood trial with two others for stealing three bullocks for which he received a seven-year sentence at Macquarie harbor on Tasmania’s North West Coast. No-one, not even William, could have predicted what was to follow;


Extract from the Colonial Times 30 Oct 1829;

“Tuesday – Patrick Hunt, Joseph Hall, and William Coventry were convicted of stealing 3 bullocks value 5 [..] the property of the late Daniel Stanfield, and Bartholomew Reardon was convicted of being accessory before the fact.”

Details of Williams’s conviction were published in the Colonial Times in Oct the same year; he received a transportation sentence for seven years. The article doesn’t state where he was being sent to, but later articles in the local newspapers would leave no doubt about where he was.

Transported to Macquarie Harbour

In 1830, four months after he arrived at Macquarie Harbour. William was one of five convicts who absconded and, along with three other convicts, was murdered and cannibalized in a bid for freedom. The following article is the confession of Edward Broughton, one of the two escapees to survive.

“On Friday last Edward Broughton and Matthew Macavoy, convicted of absconding from the penal settlement of Macquarie Harbour, were executed, pursuant to their sentences.

The conduct of these poor wretches was becoming an awful situation. Still, all the Rev. Bedford’s unwearied exertions were incapable of quelling the distressing anxiety of the mind of the man Broughton. There had always been an extreme suspicion that these two men had murdered their companions with whom they absconded, and the horrible confession made by Broughton we have obtained to lay before the Public a warning, which may perhaps not be useless to home of the lower members of society. The confession we are now about to publish was not made till the evening of the day after the case of the unfortunate men had been decided upon, and that they had received intimation that they were to prepare for death and that there were no hopes for them on this side the grave. It was taken down in writing at the time, and as the Rev. Gentleman, who was present on the occasion describes the guilt of Broughton as having so powerful an effect, and his anxiety of mind so excruciating, that although they were at the time in a cold cell, the perspiration profusely ran down his forehead. The heads of the following statement were read at his particular request in the lobby of the gaol, and again on the scaffold, when Mr. Bedford forcibly commented on the enormity of the crimes the individuals then undergoing the severest punishment the law could inflict, had been guilty of. Macavoy, being of the Roman Catholic persuasion, the Rev. Mr. Connolly attended him on the occasion, and a similar confession was also made to that gentleman, in which the miserable and inhuman malefactors fully substantiated the account of their journey from Macquarie Harbour, with all its dreadful consequences.

According to Broughton’s account, his early days were spent in dissipation. At 11 years old, he had run away from his parents, plundering them of everything he could carry off; he associated with women of loose character, and was a constant attendant at the fairs and races; he procured his maintenance by a continued course of petty thieving, and in mature years became a highway robber, generally using violence. In 1822, he received the sentence of death for housebreaking and served two years in Guilford Gaol. He was s shortly after again convicted of housebreaking, and death was recorded against him, for which offence he came out here. Although, thus mercifully treated with such examples before him, of the certainty of crime meeting even in this life its due reward, so lost was he to all sense of self-interest, that he had scarcely been ten days in the Colony before he gave way to his dreadful propensity of plundering; usually the intoxicated suffered most from his hands, but by degrees, he became more desperate, and frequently robbed to a great extent, sometimes in company, and sometimes alone. He was detected in stealing a blanket, at Sandy Bay, for which offence he was sentenced to Macquarie Harbour.

His description of the journey from thence is most horrible. According to his account, it appears that there were five men ran away from the settlement, Richard Hutchinson, Coventry, Patrick Fagan, Macavoy, and himself and that they were upwards of thirty days before the two survivors surrendered themselves at McGuire’s Marsh. The details are of the most terrific nature, and we shall give them as nearly as possible as he repeated them when his confession was taken.

“The first man we murdered was Hutchinson, we were nearly starving at the time, and we drew lots who should kill him, Hutchinson was asleep, the lot fell upon me, and I killed him with an axe, which we brought with us. He was cut to pieces, and except for the intestines, hands, feet, and head, the body was carried with us. We lived some days upon his flesh; we eat it heartily, I do not know how many days it lasted. After having thus committed murder, we began to be afraid of each other; one night I woke Fagan and told him to watch while I slept, and I would watch while he slept, for I feared that I should be murdered; we each of us feared that ongoing to sleep we should be dispatched by the others, we were always in a state of dreadful alarm. One night, as Coventry was cutting wood, we other three agreed to kill him; he was an older man of nearly sixty. I refused to do it, as I said they ought to kill him among them so that we all might be in the same trouble. Fagan struck the older man the first blow with the axe, Coventry saw him coming, and cried out for mercy; he struck him just above the eye, but did not kill him, Macavoy and myself finished him and cut him in pieces. We lived upon his body for some days; we were not starving when we killed Coventry; we had only consumed the remains of Hutchinson the same day. We were not at all sparing of the food we obtained from the bodies of our companions; we eat it as if we had abundance if we had been sparing of it, the one would have been sufficient for us. We now became daily more afraid of each other; we could not sleep or rest; I used to carry the axe of a day, and if I could, I used to lay it under my head of a night, forgetting that they had knives and razors. Before we had consumed Coventry’s body, Macavoy one night started up from the fire he looked horrible and dreadfully wild. We had brought with us some snares: Macavoy asked me to go down with him into the bush to see if we could find a kangaroo track that we might set a snare for one, I went, supposing that to be his purpose. (We left Fagan at the fire), we did not, however, take the snares. When leaving the fire, Macavoy said “bring the axe with you,” I carried it on my shoulder; when we had gone about 300 yards, Macavoy laid down and asked me to stop and sit down. I was afraid; I thought he wanted to take away my life, and he was stronger than me. I threw the axe further from him than from myself, so that if he attempted to take it, I thought I could get it before him. He did not offer to touch it, he then said, “There are three of us. Fagan is young and foolish, people will frighten him, and he will tell what has been done, now the only thing that we can do to prevent it is to kill him.” I said I would not agree to it, that I knew him better than he did, and was acquainted with his ways and that he would not tell, I could trust my life in his hands. Macavoy said that he was sure he would tell, he would be frightened, as there was three of us, he would turn evidence as to these murders, to save his own life, and we would be hanged; when there are only you and I together, we could not turn evidence against each other, we can say that we left them at Gordon’s River, at the back of the Frenchman’s Cap, because they could not swim over it. Then it would be supposed they had lost themselves and perished in the bush, and then we should perhaps be sent to Norfolk Island. I replied that Fagan was an excellent swimmer and that he was known to be so as well as myself, and they would also know that I would not go away and leave him. We then returned to the fire and agreed not to kill him. When we went back, he was lying down by the fire, his shoes were off, and his feet were towards the fire, he was warming them. I then threw the axe down, and he looked up and said have you put any snares down Ned? I said no, I have not put any down; there are snares enough if you did but know it. I sat by him; Macavoy sat beyond me – he was on my right hand and Fagan on my left. I wished to tell Fagan what had passed, but I could not, as Macavoy was sitting with the axe close to him, looking at us. I then lay down and was in a doze when I heard Fagan scream out; I leapt up on my feet in a dreadful fright and saw Fagan lying on his back with a dreadful cut in his head, and the blood pouring from it; Macavoy was standing over him with the axe in his hand. I cried to Macavoy you murdering rascal, you blood-thirsty wretch what have you done? He said, this will save our lives, and he then struck him another blow on the head with the axe. Fagan then groaned, and Macavoy cut his throat with a razor through the windpipe. We then began to strip Fagan; we stripped him naked. Fagan had on a red shirt, which I had stolen from Bradshaw at the Settlement, and which occasioned words and ill-feeling between Macavoy and myself, as to whom should become possessed of it; Fagan also had a red comforter, and cap, which I likewise stole from Bradshaw, and gave him. I robbed Bradshaw of all I could lay my hands on; I left him not even a mouthful of food when I came away. Bradshaw had always been very kind to me and gave me anything in his power, but I have endeavoured to kill him by making a tree fall upon him on account of his being a Constable, and getting the people flogged. Fagan’s body we cut up into pieces and roasted it; we roasted all but the hands, feet, and head, we roasted all at once, upon all occasions, as it was lighter to carry and would keep longer, and not be so easily discovered. About two days after Fagan’s murder, we heard some dogs; they had caught a kangaroo. The dogs were wild. We got the kangaroo and threw away the remainder of the body. Two days after this, we gave ourselves up. I wish this statement to be made public after my death that it may serve as a warning for men in the same situation as I myself have been placed in. “Such was the horrible declaration of the man Broughton, which was entirely corroborated by his fellow partner in crime Macavoy. Both men confessed that ever since Fagan had fallen a victim that they had constantly sought each other’s lives, and only an opportunity was wanting to commit another murder. They both state that for eight and forty hours, neither of them closed their eyes for fear of being assassinated by his companion. Broughton was 28 years of age and had received a sentence of more year’s transportation than he was years old and has served more years in prison than he had been at liberty. The Rev. Mr Bedford, in his sermon to the prisoners on Sunday morning, at St David’s Church, and on Sunday afternoon, at the Penitentiary, alluded to the above confession of guilt and accompanying wretchedness. The text of the morning was taken from the 1st chapter of Proverbs. “They would have none of my counsel, they despised all my reproof, and therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way and be filled with their own devices “That in the afternoon was taken from the 6th chapter of Romans.” The wages of sin is death.” The Reverend Pastor impressively urged that the accompaniments of sin could be but misery and wretchedness, and that those who practised iniquity were made aware of the awful consequences, and that the desires of the wicked could never be satisfied, because they are opposed to the will of the Divine Creator. He then commenced with the early years of the wretched man, his disobedience to his parents, and his subsequent depravity, his unwillingness to accept the warning presented by his first precarious state when the sentence of death had been passed upon him, his disregard to the second warning of almost as impressive nature as the first, were subjects which were forcibly illustrated by the Reverend Gentleman, as also was the misery consequent 0f his having committed murder. The dreadful state of alarm and excruciating agony of mind lest his fellow companions should murder him in the same way as the unsuspecting victims had but shortly before lost their lives at his hands. He pictured the dreadful state of constant alarm the murderers must have been in when all ties of former association availed nothing, and the dread of each other was so great, that they each thought it necessary to commit more atrocious crimes to shelter them from the punishment they so richly deserved. In the case of this unfortunate malefactor, as in most cases, crime begat crime, the last only serving as a stepping stone for still more dreadful sins, dissipation preceded by plunder, and its trains were followed by murder. However, although wickedness may for a time go hand in hand, still there is always a day of retribution. “
Reward Offered

Nearly twelve months after their much-publicised death, a reward was still being offered for the whereabouts and capture of William, Patrick and Richard;

Government Notice, No. 53 – Colonial Secretary’s Office, March 18, 1831

The Lieutenant Governor has been please to authorize the following rewards to be offered for the apprehension of the undermentioned convicts:

(Date of escape.)
• William Coventry, 945, Atlas, Sep.3, 1830
• Patrick Fagan, Andromeda, Sep, 1830
• Richard Hutchinson, Indefatigable, do
[+14 other convicts named…]

Who have escaped Macquarie Harbour, and our now illegally at large?

To free persons.

For the apprehension of each of these Convicts, Fifty Pounds.

To persons holding Conditional Pardon.

For the apprehension of one of the said Convicts, a Free Pardon, and for the apprehension of every other of the said convicts, fifty pounds.

To Convicts holding Tickets of Leave.

For the apprehension of one of the said convicts, a Conditional Pardon; of two of the said convicts, a Free Pardon; of three of the said convicts, a Free pardon and Fifty Pounds, and so in proportion for a greater number, vis: Fifty Pounds for each of the said convicts above three.

To Convicts assigned, or in Public Works.

For the apprehension of one of the said convicts a Ticket of Leave; of two, a Conditional Pardon, of three, a Free pardon; of four, a Free Pardon and Fifty Pounds; and so in proportion for a greater number.

If any person shall give such information as shall lead to the apprehension of any of the said offenders, his case will be immediately considered by the Lieutenant Governor, with a view to his being liberally rewarded.

By His Excellency’s Command,