THE medical evidence was crucial, Hannah Rose's freedom depended on it.

The 35-year-old seamstress occupied the dock at Hampshire Assizes in 1859 over the death of her volatile step-daughter Selena with whom she was constantly at war.

The tenth child of John Rose, a highly popular barrowman, she was once presented at St Mary's Church, Southampton to the Seventh Earl of Guildford whose great- great-grandfather was the Prime Minister Lord North.

Tragically he lost his first wife, who was equally respected, but within three years married Hannah, the family occupying premises in Vyse Lane, a narrow passageway between French Street and Bugle Street in the parish of St Michael.

Sadly, though the rest of his children took well to their new mother, Selina, 17, emphatically did not. Relations between the two were so strained the stepmother threatened to leave unless the wayward teenager's temper was curbed.

Tragically it was unrelenting.

On July 28, 1858, the teenager and her father returned home with cheese from the market. Another row over domestic chores soon erupted, Selana kicking her mother who lashed out with her fist which landed just under the left ear.

Selina fell senseless and despite the earnest efforts of a neighbour and a doctor, she died.

News quickly spread with crowds gathering at the mouths of the alleyway before the police in the shape of Pc Thorn arrived.

"Mrs Rose said she had had a great deal of trouble from her daughter and no tongue could tell what she had to put up with," he was to tell magistrates at the remand hearing after she had been charged with manslaughter.

The barrowman, who had returned to work, only learnt of his daughter's death after being told his wife had been taken to the Bargate police station but was barred from seeing her because the law would not permit it.

At the opening of the inquest conducted at the Duke of Wellington pub, the town's coroner was furious the magistrates had usurped his responsibility.

Mr Coxwell stormed: "I very much regret, that knowing the coroner's court is really and constitutionally the proper court for inquiries into cases of this kind, I am deprived of the party that is Mrs Rose."

He heard from only one witness, Mary Faulkner who recalled how her neighbour had sent for her, pleading: "Will you got to Selina. She and I have had a fall out and we had a fight and I gave her a slap under the ear and the lips are turned purple."

Faulkner went upstairs and finding her lying on her bed, tried to revive Selina but to no avail.

"Mrs Rose, she's dead" to which she bemoaned: "I've done it, I hit her under the left ear."

In answer to a question from her father, Faulkner said his wife had told her Selina had been the aggressor.

"Oh, yes, she said she kicked her and very much abused her as she had done in the past. I believe Mrs Rose to be a good wife and a good mother-in-law. I have never heard a word said about her."

Coxwell adjourned the hearing for two days for the post-mortem to be conducted, but on its resumption two days later no such evidence was ready, the hearing being confined to a statement from Rose who said she had told her step-daughter to wash butter cloths and do the ironing but she refused: "Wash them yourself." And with that, she went upstairs grumbling.

"I followed her to tell what to do, upon which she kicked me. I struck her and she kicked me again and fell into a corner."

Following a direction from the coroner as to the law, jurors returned a verdict of manslaughter with a rider strongly recommending mercy.

It was not until the committal proceedings the following week that the medical evidence finally emerged with Dr Cooper revealing the teenager had died from a partial dislocation of the atlas from the occiputal bone which in turn put pressure on the spinal cord and caused almost instantaneous death.

However, he crucially qualified his finding by stating: "My impression is that the injury resulted from a fall and not from a blow. If it was from a blow, it must have been a very severe one. There was no external injury but that is accounted for by death being so sudden."

Rose on this occasion declined to say anything in her defence and was committed on bail for trial at the next assizes in December. However, her case was inexplicably postponed until the following sessions when on March 5, she pleaded not guilty.

She was defended by Mr Carter who submitted that in the circumstances with the two facing each other, Rose in striking her had not done anything unlawful.

In his summing up, the judge, Baron Martin said there was much doubt in the case and advised jurors to give her the benefit of the doubt.

They concurred and Rose walked free.