‘EAT, drink and be merry’ goes the old expression.

George Powell was certainly living up to it, contentedly sat at the kitchen table, munching the contents of the larder and casually acknowledging the presence of a young servant.

The teenager had made himself at home - not that he had been invited.

Powell was one of several adolescents who were on the run having escaped from Parkhurst, not so much a prison in the mid-19th century as more of a reform school.

But it was cold, just six days before Christmas, and Powell was starving, so hungry he broke into the home of the Rev William Hennah at Whippingham and headed straight to the pantry.

He was discovered gorging on meat, bread and milk.

“I am glad I have found you,” the servant remarked. “I suppose you won’t do any further mischief.”

Observing the food scattered around the table, he quipped: “I think you have done very well.”

Powell could only concur: “I have.”

And there he remained, making no attempt to flee, waiting for the authorities to catch up with him.

Powell, 19, was duly arrested and charged with burglary, appeared at the Hampshire Lent Assizes of 1850. Despite the welter of evidence, he extraordinarily pleaded not guilty when the indictment was put to him but once the servant had concluded his evidence, he changed his plea.

He had been at large a fortnight longer than two other young inmates, James Culbert and William Burns, who followed him into the dock, accused of burglary and robbery at the house of Dr Charles Mitchel at Carisbrooke.

It was 6.30am on December 28 when maids Jane Taylor and Fanny James who had risen to cook breakfast and prepare the fire, were puzzled by the absence of a shawl that had been hanging in the latter’s bedroom.

Though the kitchen door was still bolted, it was evident the house had been entered and rushing upstairs told the doctor’s wife of their fears. Several others items had also gone.

Neighbour Joseph Saunders was quickly on the scene and did not have to go far to find the culprits. Checking the adjacent cottage which should have been empty, he heard an ominous noise and challenged the occupants.

“I found some persons had fastened themselves in,” he informed jurors. “We forced the door open a little distance and saw Burns in the room. I shouted ‘Come on lads, open the door and let us in.”

Burns immediately removed boxes that had served as a barricade and all the missing property was recovered.

Though Burns, 18, and Culbert, 17, pleaded not guilty, they offered nothing in their defence with the inevitable consequence.

The prison governor, Mr Barber, was then called to give character references - not that he could anything in their favour.

“Burns has been most determined and obstinate,” he scorned. “Even this morning, he has been most violent in his conduct and it was found necessary to resort to coersive measures. When he was brought down from the jail in the van, he was very noisy and swore ‘I’ll be damned if I stay by myself.’

“One of the turnkeys went to quiet him and received a blow on the head, almost knocking him down. Assistance was at hand and further violence was checked.”

Barber said when he tried to caution him, Burns responded by kicking at him. “He had to be secured and bound and loudly called out murder.”

Mr Justice Talfourd castigated the trio for not taking advantage of their time there.

“You had received tender and kind treatment instead of whipping and hard usage. Plenty of food and instruction had been provided for you but you broke out of the establishment which was no more than a wholesome school, and having made yourselves outcasts in the world, you immediately commenced your wicked ways by entering people’s houses and causing great alarm to the people of the neighbourhood.

“You had wished to get out of Parkhurst and now you will. You will be sent out of the country and too late you will find out you have been far from bettering yourselves.”

The youths were then ordered to be transported to the colonies for 15 years.