THE prosecutor turned poet to damn the fickleness of her character.

'Oh, woman in our hours of ease

Uncertain, coy and hard to please.'

Two men had vied for the affections of Fanny Wells, both of whom she wed. And when her true husband could not woo her back, he armed himself with a revolver and dozens of cartridges.

Blood was sure to flow.

Thomas Bissett, a former sergeant in the 72nd Highlanders Regiment, met Wells when stationed at Parkhurst Barracks. After living together, they ultimately wed in 1848 and had two children.

She accompanied him on various foreign postings but after enjoying eight years in exotic Bermuda, she was forced to return alone to the Isle of Wight where the magic of marriage gradually wore off and she detested her turgid life.

It was at this point she was re-introduced to James Guy who so sympathised with her destitute and wretched conditions that he persuaded her to live with him in Newport.

Wells inexplicably lost touch with her husband and after three years of vain attempts to trace him, she bigamously married the wheelwright at the town's register office and they lived together for some 12 years.

Then came an extraordinary development.

Wells learnt Bissett had been transferred back to Britain and following his discharge from the army, had become a highly respected clerk in his native Glasgow, and she deserted Guy in favour of him.

But once again she became unhappy and dumped Bissett to return to Guy who offered her a better lifestyle.

Bissett pleaded with her to return but she refused, telling a friend of their relationship in a letter: "His treatment is such that I cannot live with him any longer. However bad Guy might be, he is far worse. Whether it is the workhouse or anything else, I will come back to Newport."

Wells agreed to be his housekeeper and as part of her first wages, he bought her clothes as she looked thin and badly dressed. Strangely though she lived at a neighbours and not with him.

Bissett would not take 'no' for an answer and armed with two revolvers and a box containing almost 100 cartridges, he sought them out, eventually tracking them down at Guy's home in Pyle Street on June 26, 1875.

Remarkably their confrontation passed off amicably, with Bissett accepting their invitation to go to the house next door where Guy, willing to be friends, thrust out his hand.

Foolishly he offered him cash and Bissett felt deeply insulted.

He turned his back as though to walk away but then suddenly produced the revolver and fired two shots at his love rival, the first striking him in the face but the second miraculously missed him as it passed through the sleeves of his coat, shirt and flannel and embedded itself in a door.

Bissett surrendered without fuss, looking calm and collected when first interviewed by Superintendent Ross but then cried out: "Oh, my God, I am mad."

The officer went to the scene of the shooting, noting blood on the floor, in the passage and in the street where following its trail, he found Guy sitting in his house with wounds to his face.

Ross then returned to the police station where he charged Bissett with two counts of attempted murder. He made no reply but looked shocked.

Hours later, Bissett informed Ross he would find a parcel at the hotel where he had been staying, which contained handbills he had intended to distribute in the town, denouncing Guy as "a blackguard" and having "decoyed" his wife.

Days later, while on remand, he sent a letter to Ross about a note he had sent to Guy, which read: "I am informed by the best authority in Newport that Mrs Bissett, my wife, is now living with you as your wife, also you married her 17 years ago. I was married to her in 1848. Whether you married her under the impression she was a widow I know not but you now know I am living and she is my legal wife.

"You have seduced her and decoyed her from her legal home, and if your soul and conscience do not tell you, you have deeply wronged a brother man and wilfully broken the laws of God and man, I tell you so. You can plead no ignorance of this now. If you are a man, make the only reparation you can and send her back and do not stain your soul with a crime which will bring you everlasting infamy."

Bissett appeared at Hampshire Assizes on July 9, just three days after being committed for trial. The prosecutor Mr Russell conceded the case as having "the most painful character," a remark which caused Bissett to become so emotionally affected in the dock he repeatedly brought his left hand over his forehead and mouth.

His mental anguish formed the opening of defence barrister Mr Folkard's address to the jury, depicting him as a "most unhappy man" who had committed no offence against chivalry and honour but had offended the law under almost exceptional exasperation.

The thrust of his argument was that Bissett, though deeply wronged, had not intended to murder Guy.

"It was to frighten him and to induce him to desist from his adulterous and abominable conduct in regard to this woman who Guy knew to be his wife and whom, notwithstanding her sin, so strong was his love that he was willing to take her back.

"A soldier would know the vital part was the heart and had he intended to kill him, he would not have aimed so high."

In his summing up, Mr Justice Quain warned jurors that although there was widespread sympathy for Bissett, there had been no provocation in the eyes of the law and the issue they had to decide was his motive in firing a deadly weapon.

"The conduct of the parties is a very sad chapter in domestic life, though after the letter which the woman herself wrote, there is no evidence of Guy having decoyed her away from her lawful husband. A curious case of human infatuation was afforded in the fact the husband was anxious to get her back and that Guy was equally desirous that she should remain."

Following a 25 minute consultation, the jury convicted Bissett of attempted murder Guy but backed their verdict with the strongest recommendation for mercy.

Bissett immediately jumped to his feet imploring: "Up to this moment I have not had a stain on my character. I assure the court I had no intention to harm Guy and least of all to hurt a hair on my wife's head. If you will only give me an opportunity, I have friends who will assist me and I will be ready to go with my wife and work for an honest living in one of the colonies."

The judge told Bissett he concurred with their verdict and accepted their recommendation.

"They have gone further than that and taken into account how that woman behaved, and it is a thing very sad to see. They have taken into account the aggravation you have received."

In the circumstances, he said he would pass the least sentence the court could inflict - one of five years penal servitude.

Bissett was removed from the dock looking astounded.