HE would have endured mixed emotions – joy and relief on one hand, despair and anger on the other.

For on the very day Vesey Brumfield watched two vicious burglars who shot his wife Mary in the head at their remote Hampshire home, received savage sentences, she died on the brink of their trial.

Though medical experts were adamant the wound had not been the cause of death, doubtless the trauma and the virulent attack of bronchitis to which she succumbed, had hastened her demise.

Just four hours before she was due to testify against George Welsh, 22 and Charles Woodford, 25, she passed away in a Winchester hotel – within yards of the Great Hall where the hearing at Hampshire Assizes were being held.

News of the tragedy reached the judge, Mr Justice Lopers, and prosecuting and defence counsel before the case was due to open. Should it or would it go ahead?

A delay would mean a four month adjournment until the summer and it was eventually agreed that two doctors, who had treated the 80-year-old victim, should give independent evidence over her death.

Satisfied it had not resulted from being shot with a pistol, the trial was allowed to proceed and her deposition in part would be read to the jury.

The case had caused uproar in the neighbourhood, with the local press denouncing the villains under the banner headline of 'Outrage at Bassett'.

It was a point which Mr Warry, the prosecutor, readily warned jurors not to let emotion cloud their judgement.

"Let you recollect that a vindictive man is not a just man. You are here to decide whether the prisoners are guilty of intent to murder, and if it should make you indignant and angry that the person they have assaulted was an old woman advanced in years and unable to defend herself, just think this – though it might make their conduct more cowardly and more brutal, it does not make their conduct more criminal."

The burglary was indisputably premeditated.

Both men were painters and owing rent for their lodgings in Brunswick Square, Southampton, they devised a simple plan – to lure Brumsfield out of his cottage, leaving only his wife and housekeeper to protect it.

But they were to make a fatal mistake – putting the idea on paper which they left behind at their lodgings.

Shortly after 5pm on November 15, 1880, it was put into effect.

Brumfield, who had just returned home after collecting rents on his properties, answered a firm rap on his front door to be confronted by Welsh imploring the retired painter.

"I've got a job in The Avenue. I can get it for you if you like."

But he firmly rejected it.

"I can get some work myself if I want."

Welsh tried to cajole him.

"Look who don't you let me come in and we can have a chat about it."

Brumfield refused.

"I don't want anyone in my house at this time of night."

But as he shoved him away, he was stunned by five or six blows to the head, falling into the corner of his hall, and then felt a hand held firmly over his mouth to prevent him from shouting out 'murder'.

When he regained his feet, blood pouring from a head wound was dripping on to his coat and waistcoat. Undeterred, he pushed open his gate and 50 yards on confronted Welsh who shouted: "Come back along with me and let's turn them out of the house."

Brumfield refused to accompany them and as he staggered back home, he heard a pistol shot and discovered to his horror his wife lying on the hearthrug in the parlour, bleeding heavily.

"She was wounded in the head and could not speak."

With the defence's consent, the court then heard the part of the deposition she had given at the committal proceedings, which chiefly affected Woodford who she swore had entered the parlour, exclaiming: "I mean to kill you all."

He then fired two shots, one of which struck her in the head and left her unconscious.

The housekeeper Ann Fry meanwhile had seen Welsh approach the front door and clearly heard Brumfield turn down The Avenue proposition.

"Welch was by himself then but I saw Woodford pass by the kitchen window and having suspicions of the men, after Mr Brumfield tried to get Welch out, I went for assistance. I heard my master scream 'murder' and three reports of a firearm in quick succession in the house and afterwards another report where she was, down the road."

Events moved fast that night and within hours Welch, who had been detained on a tram at Freemantle, was brought to Bitterne police station for questioning.

When asked to account for blood on his face, he told Superintendent John Sillence: "It may have been from a bit of poaching or it may be for killing a rabbit."

The interview temporarily concluded, the officer went to the scene in Bassett which he found in great disorder, with blood staining the hall and parlour, and sympathetically spoke to the severely injured victims.

From his interview, he determined where Welch lodged and opening the door found Woodford standing naked next to his bed. Once dressed, Woodford came downstairs where Sillence demanded to know his whereabouts that evening.

"Bishopstoke," he replied, denying he knew Welch, though it was known they had worked together.

He was immediately arrested and taken to the same police station where that night the pair were duly charged with attempted murder.

When cautioned, they made no reply.

Though they had accumulated considerable incriminating evidence, the police lacked the pistol. But by chance the following day, it was discovered by a walker in woodland about a quarter of a mile from the scene of the bungled robbery and handed in.

Noticeably, it featured six chambers, four of which had been discharged and two were loaded.

Neither defendant disputed the facts at the trial which took place on January 20 the following year.

As Warry observed in his closing speech: "They do not come before you with any faltering or flimsy excuse for their conduct. They admit they did the acts with which they are charged but say they did not commit them with the intention to murder that poor woman.

"I leave the case in your hand, asking you to recollect this - that a verdict which is given hastily and in anger you cannot repent at leisure because once given it is past recall."

In his summing up, the judge ordered jurors to disregard gossip and hearsay but simply concentrate of what had been laid out in front of them. It was universally accepted they had shot Mrs Brumfield with felonious intent and did intend to do her harm.

"The only question is whether they, one or both prisoners, shot at Mrs Brumfield with intent to murder her. You must be sure beyond all reasonable doubt they had that intent in their minds at the time the pistol was fired.

"It is true, according to the evidence, that Woodford was the one that fired but I am bound to tell you that if Welch went there intending to act with Woodford, to render him assistance, and, in point of fact, having the same intent, if it was necessary, to resort to the same means."

Jurors consulted for about 10 minutes before finding the men guilty.

In passing sentence, the judge condemned them for committing one of the most serious offences known to the law.

"If Mrs Brumfield had died in consequence of the injuries you had inflicted on her, you would have been tried for your lives at these Assizes and in all probability I would have left you under sentence of death. It is fortunate for you that has not been the case but I am compelled to pass upon you a very heavy sentence."

He then told they would be kept in penal servitude for 20 years.