HAD it not been for his groaning, gravely injured Charles Baker would have drowned in the incoming tide after being mercilessly thrown overboard from his ketch during a late night altercation with two strangers on a jetty.

Midnight was approaching and the first mate James Goddard had just dropped off to sleep when he heard his moaning. Groping his way around the deck, he traced the sound to the rear of the boat. Fortunately it was low water and squelching through the cloying mud, he discovered to his horror his captain bleeding profusely from a head wound.

Charles Baker, master of the Archimedes, had been viciously struck with an iron bar.

"I was going to board my vessel, on the quay near the gate, when two men approached, one of them saying: "That's a bloody policeman, we will do for him."

Baker tried to laugh it off: "I am no policeman at all, my lads. I belong to this little vessel here."

But as he turned away, he was clubbed on the back of the head.

"One of them said 'We've done for him now. Let's throw him overboard. I then became insensible, and when I came to, I was lying in the cabin of my vessel bleeding very much. I afterwards suffered from a severe pain on my side and am still suffering."

Despite his injury, he mustered enough strength to accompany police to a boat called Rose tied up alongside his ketch on the Fareham quay where he identified William Sampher, 17, and John Martindale, 18, as being his assailants. While they were being detained at the police station for questioning, a local merchant told detectives about the commotion which had been so loud he opened a window and asked them to be quiet.

James James recounted: "I heard one of the men say he was a bloody policeman and asked why he stayed there to frighten people."

Baker denied he was a police officer and armed with a knife but that did not appease one who boasted he had killed a better person than him.

"I heard a blow struck and one of the men say: "Kill the old bastard. I then heard several other blows and a scuffle and I believe they threw the man overboard."

The following day, July 25, 1863, Sampher and Martindale appeared before Fareham magistrates charged with wounding and causing grievous bodily harm with intent to murder and were committed in custody to stand trial at the Hampshire Winter Assizes, appearing before Baron Pigott on December 4.

The prosecution's evidence apart, nothing of the defence's case was reported in the Hampshire Independent. However, crucially, readers learnt that when questioned, Martindale told police they would not have done it if Baker had not been armed with a knife. It was an accusation which the victim again denied.

In his summing up, the judge told jurors the defendants identity was not in question, the iron bar had been recovered and Baker would have doubtless drowned but for providence.

However Sampher was cleared of the substantive charge and only convicted of the lesser count of causing grievous bodily harm. Martindale was acquitted of all allegations.

The verdicts astonished the judge who, passing a sentence of 10 years penal servitude, told Sampher: "They have taken a merciful view of the case. It is true the assault arose suddenly but a more murderous one I can scarcely conceive."