HE was a reviled man, subjected to an intolerable hate campaign and held in utter contempt for the heartless way he had tended his terminally ill wife.

John Power's boycotted business was almost in ruins. He suffered severe mental distress, frequently followed, constantly abused and often pelted with stones.

Even after her horrifying death from the evil of consumption, a freely distributed malicious doggerel further maligned his character.

But Power was a wronged man, and its publisher, labourer George Marsh knew it.

Eventually he could not suppress his anger and frustration and following a police investigation Marsh was charged with defamatory libel, his conduct condemned by prosecuting barrister Mr Baullen in an under-statement as "one of the somewhat cruel character."

Power, who traded in Stoke Road, Gosport, married his wife in April 1871. Sadly, within weeks, she fell ill and they were told she was suffering from the killer disease.

Power was in a cleft stick.

As much as he loved his wife, he knew he had to keep his business afloat

and he was forced to take her to his parents-in-law's home where her condition steadily grew worse before she succumbed a fortnight after their first wedding anniversary.

But gossip spread he had been a far from loving husband, and the labourer, who rejoiced in the nickname of 'Punch,' mercilessly seized the opportunity to smear his reputation in verse.

Why was never explained to the public.

Instead they read of Power's anger and frustration at his undeserved treatment, and his rigid determination to redeem his social standing.

"I never ill-treated my wife," he insisted at Marsh's trial in 1872, yet accepting at the same time his love did not extend to being financially responsible for her debts. "She never complained to me or her parents that I had been cruel to her. In fact, I lent them money."

The court heard her father was a missionary and characteristically would have been the last person to prevent his son-in-law from seeing his dying wife.

Mr Justice Lush told the jury there was no dispute Marshall had published the doggerel and the only question they had to consider was whether the verses were libellous and did they bring Power into contempt.

"The question of truth or falsity is quite immaterial. The rumours were not invented by the defendant. He only used them for the fabrication of his libel and this point will act as some mitigation for his punishment."

They returned a verdict Marsh had published the libel, not knowing it to be false.

"You must know that such conduct cannot be allowed and must be prevented in these days of facile publication, especially so," the judge scorned him, jailing him for two months with hard labour. "You have not been justified in doing what you have done.