ON March 11, 1816, three men gave a new interpretation of the expression 'Nearer my God than thee' when they mounted a scaffold on a hill overlooking Winchester to be executed for murder.

James McKean had killed an army sergeant in an Isle of Wight pub and two unrelated foreigners Antonio and Joseph Pique had butchered another man whose mutilated body was found lying semi-naked in the shingle of a Hampshire beach.

McKean had been rebuffed by officers from the 75th Regiment who had been dining with their wives and families in a private function at The Castle pub, Newport.

After dinner, they were dancing their national Scottish reels with music from a fiddler when the drunken McKean, who was serving as a private with the 36th Regiment, twice tried gate crashing the proceedings in a hired room.

Initially he was persuaded to leave but two hours later he had to be physically removed, having demanding he should be let in to buy some beer. One sergeant told him that if he wanted ale, he must go to the tap room and ushered him away.

McKean drew his bayonet and stabbed him in the chest. Realising his folly, he fled but in doing so, had to pass Sergeant Charles Cavendish who was returning from the kitchen and tried to detain him.

McKean forcefully jabbed the bayonet into him and falling backwards, Cavendish cried out in front of his wife, 'Kitty, I am murdered.' He lingered in life for about an hour and then died.

Several comrades went in pursuit, cornering McKean about a quarter of a mile out of Newport on the Carisbrooke Road and overpowered him.

On January 8, a jury returned a charge of wilful murder at an inquest that lasted six hours. The private was committed to stand trial at Hampshire Assizes on the coroner's warrant and duly appeared before Mr Justice Park on March 4.

With little to be gained by an admission, he pleaded not guilty, admitting he had been drinking heavily on his arrears of pay and was returning to his barracks when he called in at The Castle, unaware he was intruding on a private party.

Of the attempt to eject him, McKean said: "Several of them attempted to strike me. I was afterwards overtaken by some of the party, knocked down and my side arms were taken away. I am innocent of the charge from which I have been arraigned."

But his defence was hopelessly in vain, jurors taking just a few seconds in their deliberation.

McKean was to be hanged with the two robbers who had duped Dilly Jerome to go for a walk from his Southsea lodgings so they could rob him. When he resisted, he was held and had his throat slashed so badly he was almost decapitated.

His clothing which principally consisted of a blue jacket and trousers and a dark swansdown spotted waistcoat was washed in the sea and taken to the Portsea shop of Moses Davis for sale.

Davis was puzzled why the clothing was wet and spotted with blood but accepting the explanation of Antonio and Joseph Pique they had fallen into the water when going ashore and some ship beef had been wrapped in them, he gave them 14s.

But a friend of Jerome strongly suspected they were involved and apprehended Joseph Pique who confessed after his arrest that Antonio Pique had connived Jerome into going for a walk. Police then arrested a third man, Philip Pique - also unrelated - and at an inquest conducted a week later, jurors returned a verdict of wilful murder against the trio who also appeared before Park at the Lent Assizes.

Though the evidence was strong against two of the accused, it was at best circumstantial against Philip Pique who admitted under questioning he knew Jerome had been hideously murdered but did not know by whom and was not there at the time.

Jurors gave him the benefit of the doubt and acquitted him but convicted the other two accused.

Passing sentence, the judge took the rare step of imploring the clergyman on his visits to the condemned cell to persuade the trio to publicly acknowledge their crimes, which they did on the scaffold, expressing their remorse and sorrow for what they had done and begging God for forgiveness.