HE was fighting drunk and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.

"Can you fight?" slurred private Peter Byrne.

Bill Brown refused, wanting to go to sleep.

Byrne then lurched over to his bed, removed his belt and jacket and then staggered to the back door.

And that everyone thought was that.

But instead of returning to his bunk, he once more approached Brown who was sitting on his own bed and again challenged him.

Brown still refused.

"No" he insisted, "you had better be quiet or I will report you to the colour sergeant."

Byrne's immediate reaction was to punch his comrade under the left ear with such a sharp and violent blow that he knocked him over another soldier.

Without a further word, Byrne then switched off the lighting and the room was plunged into darkness.

But within seconds, Brown was heard to bemoan: "I am dying" - and slumped to the floor.

Sergeant Frederick Marshall, summoned to the scene, mistakenly assumed at seeing Brown on the floor that he was merely drunk and ordered three soldiers to carry him to the guard room where he was placed in a cell.

Then someone felt his pulse and realised the tragic truth.

"Brown's dead, sergeant."

As Byrne, so drunk to be unfit for duty, was arrested and put in custody, Brown was rushed to the nearby hospital in the forlorn hope he could be revived.

Sadly not so and the following day, May 9, 1867, R Harfield, the deputy coroner for Winchester, opened an inquest into the death of Brown who had only just began service with the Third Battalion 60th Rifles in the cathedral city.

Leslie Paterson, staff surgeon in charge of the 7th Rifle Depot Battalion, told the hearing his post-mortem revealed Brown had suffered a blood clot at the base of his brain which led to respiration and circulation nerves becoming paralysed.

Dismissing the suggestion he could have denied from natural causes, he said of the fatal injury: "This might have arisen from concussion and the shock of the blow."

In his summing up, the coroner directed jurors it was up to them to determine it was either murder or manslaughter.

"It cannot be argued that it was a justifiable or excusable homicide for there has been no prevarication. For you to consider it as murder, there must be malice aforethought, though the law has every aspect to hold every act of killing as murder until the contrary is proved."

Jurors consulted for a short time before agreeing Brown had met his death from a blow inflicted by Byrne, the foreman declaring: "This was a very bad case of manslaughter."

The 24-year-old Bristol-born private was committed for trial, appearing on July 15, the first day of Hampshire Summer Assizes before Mr Justice Byles. Proceedings were short with only three soldiers and the surgeon giving evidence which virtually went uncontested.

The judge put it to the jury whether the charge had been made out.

"Manslaughter is the killing of a man by an illegal act and this was clearly an illegal act. The prisoner was in drink and wanted to fight which the deceased declined to do. There seems to be no possible hypothesis by which he can be screened from the consequences."

Jurors did not even bother to leave their seats to bring the inevitable verdict of guilty.

Noting that Byrne bore a good conduct stripe on his arm, the judge called Marshall forward for a character assessment before passing sentence.

"He is a well conducted man," said the sergeant of his record.

The judge then jailed him for one month with hard labour.