HIS final thoughts were for his family.

"God bless my wife and child," he repeatedly pleaded, and as his lips still moved in prayer, he and the crowd of men, women and children at last fell silent as the executioner solemnly concluded his business.

John Sansom had suffered the ultimate punishment at the back of Winchester County Jail, having been convicted a fortnight earlier on March 5, 1831, for fire raising at Hamble.

Sansom, who looked older than his 22 years, had committed what the prosecutor described as "in the whole catalogue of human crimes, there is no more heinous for which he was charged."

Mr Missing commented: "It is generally committed at night, it is one of the easiest to commit and one of the most difficult of detection."

But had he been working alone? What was his motive? Had he been lured for a few pence to commit arson for a jealous neighbour?

Certainly the judge had misgivings he was the prime mover and at least two others had been involved.

The simple facts were that a farmer called John Buckland had retired for the night on December 9, 1828, but woke up about midnight when by chance he saw his stables on fire. His barns and outhouses were destroyed and his trapped livestock perished.

"It was a blaze of light," he told jurors at Hampshire Assizes. "My house caught fire on four occasions but the fire was extinguished. No information could be obtained as to the cause. In September last my premises were on fire again and a wheat rick was burnt. Inquiries were set on foot which led to the apprehension of the prisoner and James Hatcher."

Indeed suspicion had fallen on Sansom's brother-in-law and a third man called James Spencer after he had brought to Buckland's farm a lantern.

Spencer was arrested in Jersey and brought to the mainland for questioning, one giving an almost identical statement to that of the other, though they had been kept apart during interview.

Neither was charged but each was to give different stories at the trial, with Hatcher claiming that he had gone for a walk with Sansom who looked increasingly agitated.

"He said he was not happy in his mind and should not be happy again, for he had set fire to Mr Buckland's premises."

Hatcher then related how Sansom had told him he had been promised a sovereign by farmer Spencer to set fire to them and his son James had accompanied him there with the lantern and matches. Once the fire had taken hold, they separated and the lantern was covered by grass and rushes and hidden in a ditch.

Sansom, he claimed, threatened to kill him if he told told anyone.

Spencer admitted in court he had gone to Buckland's farm but had pleaded with Sansom to leave.

"He struck a light and started the candle, then we went across the field to Mr Buckland's. I said 'For God's sake, Sansom, don't do it. Let us put out the candle and go away. He said 'no'. I held his hand until 100 yards of the building. My heart failed me and I could go no further. When I saw the fires spring up at the corner of the barn, I ran away and Sansom followed me. We hid the lantern in a ditch."

Sansom said nothing in his defence called no witnesses.

The judge, Mr Justice Taunton, warned jurors in his summing to give "the most particular and serious attention" to the case because it was a capital charge and if they found Samson guilty, he would face execution.

After a few minutes deliberation, they convicted him.

"It is my melancholy duty to pass on you the dreadful sentence of the law," the judge remarked. "It is a most melancholy and distressing spectacle to see a young man like you cut off from your family and all that you esteem in this world in the prime of life and be sent to your last and final account before your maker."

However, he observed that Sansom might not have been acting alone.

"let those therefore, if any there may be, who stand in the same situation in which you stand, rejoice in quiet and security because hitherto their guilt has not been discovered. Horrible, indeed, must be the misgivings of those men and great the fears they entertain, when they discovered that two years was not sufficient to cover you from detection."

Sansom was confined to the condemned cell for a fortnight during which he took much comfort from the visits of the clergy and weeping profusely he was led to the scaffold. When the infamous cap was drawn over his head, he courageously dispensed with it as he condemned others for his downfall.

"I have been drawn into this crime by others," he lamented. "Hatcher has sworn my life away but I forgive him and I hope God will forgive me."

An eye witness leaning out of a window adjacent to the drop cried out: "Were others connected?"

Sansom pitifully answered: "Yes, there was."

Then he cast his mind to the fate of his wife and child. After the execution, his body was cut down and handed over to his brother so he could buried in his native village.