HE had pledged to love, honour and protect her but within weeks of their marriage he slaughtered his wife, the grotesque killing witnessed by her young nephew.

Gypsy Edward Lee was regarded as a kind, inoffensive man as he toured Hampshire on his horse and cart, earning a small but steady living predominately selling brushes and combs.

But he was slowly losing his mind, labouring in part to his fearful misconception that his wife, Eliza, had been cheating on him at Ascot races.

He could not forgive her.

On the morning of June 20, 1862, the couple plus eight-year-old John Wyatt were travelling from the Waterloo(ville) area to Odiham by horse and cart, with Lee driving and the boy sitting on the footboard when he suddenly stopped and clambered into the back of the van where his wife was sat in a chair.

"Both halves of the door being open, I could see what passed inside," the horrified boy recalled. "He took hold of her with his left hand and cut her throat with the right. He threw her down against the horse's heels and then got out of the cart into the road."

Another youth, John Foster, 14, coming in the opposite direction, also saw him cut her throat with a razor.

"She did not scream. He then took hold of her, pulled her from the cart and let her fall at the horse's heels. He then came over to me and said: 'Pray get hold of the policeman to hang me for I have killed my wife.' I said 'very well.' I remained there until the policeman took him into custody."

Brought before magistrates, charged with murder, he was asked by the chairman, Major Mandy, if he wanted to ask any questions.

Lee replied: "No, I confess it." Then putting his hands together as though in prayer, he added: "I wilfully murdered her."

Lee, 25, appeared at Hampshire Assizes on July 22, bewildered at his surroundings.

Placed in the dock between two officers, he looked about him in a vacant manner and knelt down, clasping his hands and muttering something inaudible. He was about to remove his jacket when one officer dragged him to his feet and buttoned him up as the court clerk read out the indictment.

"Are you guilty or not guilty?" he asked.

"Guilty, sir," he replied without hesitation.

However, his demeanour troubled Mr Justice Keating.

"Do you know what the plea is - that you acknowledge yourself guilty of the commission of the offence, the penalty of which is death?"

Lee remained silent as though unable to grasp its meaning.

The governor of Winchester Jail then repeated it, and Lee answered: "I do now, sir, I have been told so now."

Despite his protestations to the contrary, Dr Henry Lyford, the jail surgeon, had no doubt Lee was deranged and needed to be detained in solitary confinement.

"From the moment he came in he has been in a state of violent excitement, so much so we were obliged to tie him to the bed. Afterwards, when he got a little quiet, he was placed in association but he was very violent and endeavoured to commit violence on persons attending him. He was afterwards placed in separation and there was equally violent.

"He has been incoherent during the whole of his imprisonment and his violence has been equal to his incoherence. I believe him to be of unsound mind. He is decidedly not in my opinion competent to plead to the indictment."

The judge concurred, knowing his family's past.

"I have had great experience in diseases of the mind, particularly in connection with prisoners, and I should say decidedly that he does not know what is right and what is wrong. Some years ago I signed a certificate of lunacy, I think it was for his grandmother or some relation."

Turning to the jury, the judge said Lee had been called to plead to an indictment charging him with the commission of an offence - the murder of his wife under circumstances he deemed so shocking it was well they were spared the details.

If they agreed with the doctor's opinion, they should so say and he would be detained, taken care of and treated as a lunatic.

Lee shouted out: "I am not a lunatic."

The judge ignored the outburst, directing them to determine whether he was of such unsound mind that he was able to plead.

Lee demanded to speak but was overruled as jurors accepted the medical evidence.

As the judge ordered the jailers to remove him from the dock, Lee clung to the rails and begged to the judge: "Where am I going, sir?"

Lamenting as they led him downstairs: "Oh, dear, what a shame thus to drag me away from this. Oh, dear, oh dear."