In October 1767, William Pearse, a man of over 80 was hanged outside Launceston, the first victim of the newly-strengthened 1753 Wreck Act. Whether he was guilty of a crime greater than others had committed or whether he was simply being used as an example is unclear. Perhaps his age prevented him running away as no doubt others had. Certainly, he appears to have been unlucky in the trial.
Pearse’s experience tells us much about the activity of wrecking, wrecking laws and the legal process, and what wreckers might have faced if they were caught. Some authors have interpreted the loose drafting of the Wreck Act as a general tool to subjugated the working classes but Cathryn Pearce (no known relation of the victim) gives a more nuanced response.Download PDF