THE Dibden family was cursed.

In 1820, William Dibden appeared at Hampshire Assizes over the death of a publican and baker, following a tragic misunderstanding that led to an altercation outside his premises in South Front, Southampton, the previous August.

Dibden had been drinking with his sons when one of them, Mark, ran outside and bizarrely seized the head of a horse. Fearing an accident, Thomas Carpenter, a father of five, went to remonstrate, only to be repeatedly punched in the face by the youngster before his powerfully built father with a volcanic temper challenged him: "Damn thee, what dost thee want?"

Before Carpenter could reply, he was struck on the back of the head which fractured his skull and caused bleeding on the brain. At the subsequent Assizes, Dibden remarkably escaped a prison sentence after being convicted of manslaughter and was simply bound over.

How the sins of the father were to visit two of his children.

On June 3, 1858, his eldest son Andrew met his death in similar circumstances.

Almost insensible from an all day drinking bout at the Vine Inn, Ower, where he was lodging, he became embroiled in a brawl with a man called Wyatt Hutchins who felled him. Regaining consciousness, he admitted it had been a fair stand-up fight and bore no grievance against his opponent.

But his condition suddenly relapsed and he died from bleeding from the brain, inflicted by a blow near an ear.

At his trial, the judge accepted the fight had been fairly contested and Dibden had been the aggressor. In the circumstances he jailed Hutchins and his two seconds to 14 days each for manslaughter.

Worse was to follow for the family.

Four years later his second son, Arthur, was tragically killed.

Tension, which had been building up between labourers from the villages of Cadnam and Minstead, finally exploded into violence in a quarrel between Samuel Soffe and Gaius Peckham at the White Hart Inn on December 26, 1862, climaxing outside Peckham's home where they stripped to the waist and fought watched by some 20 onlookers including 17-year-old Dibden.

Peckham's brother, George, then waded into the fray, only to be floored by a man called Whitehorn. Peckham was so incensed he stormed into his garden and brought out a four foot long fir stick which he twice whirled around in the air but missed his intended target and struck Dibden by the right ear. The teenager was knocked out by the force of the blow but soon came round.

Three days later, however, he became ill and died. The local inhabitants took the news badly as he was regarded a well conducted young man.

Meanwhile Peckham had been arrested and remanded to Winchester Prison pending the result of a post-mortem examination. However, that transpired to be no straight forward matter.

When the Lyndhurst doctor Mr Nunn arrived at the Dibden's pitiful home, which consisted of a shabby bedroom and a living room in which it was scarcely possible to stand upright, he was met by his father who refused him entry on the basis on 'I am king of my castle' and threatened to adopt any effective means to stop him invading his territory, which included a hatchet hanging against a door.

Nunn understandably retreated and was adamant he would only return to the isolated hut unless accompanied by the coroner Mr Coxwell who agreed to do so. He too was met with a hostile reception, principally from the teenager's mother who firmly rejected his plea he was doing his duty.

"It must be done," he insisted. "I am compelled to it even if it was the body of the Prince of Wales. The fact he is a poor man has nothing to do with it."

She dismissed both men as "paupers and scoundrels," sneering "Would you allow it to be done to your son?"

Both men concurred they would, reiterating it was their sad duty.

Her husband then grasped a bible and challenged them: "You aint going to cut my boy. There is a higher authority in the one above. Point out to me a single text which declares that a body should be opened."

Coxwell gently reasoned with the grief stricken parents who eventually allowed the examination to take place.

The very same week, Coxwell conducted an inquest into Dibden's death with the jury returning a verdict of wilful murder against Peckham who on the coroner's warrant was committed to stand trial at the Assizes which opened on March 2 in front of Mr Justice Byles. But that time the charge had been reduced to manslaughter.

Having been convicted, the judge told Peckham the evidence against him had been very clear and left him with no doubt he was guilty of what had been imputed against him.

Jailing him for three years, he commented: "You must consider yourself fortunate to know the case had not assumed a more serious aspect."