PRISON had failed to curb James Rogers and now he faced the inevitable - a one way ticket overseas.

Just three days had passed from his release before he once more embarked on crime, a smash and grab raid on a Southampton shop where he snatched three watches from a window display.

Impudently, however, he suggested a novel proposition to the judge.

"Why don't we toss on a coin on it," he urged. "Seven years if I guess right and transportation for life if I get it wrong."

But Recorder Bingham was not one for frivolity.

"It's seven years," he thundered - and Rogers was led away to await the merciless voyage on the convicts ship from Portsmouth dockyard.

It was on January 15, 1831, that he had arrived in Southampton and Joseph Hawkins's shop was too tempting a target to resist. Waiting for the street to clear, he thought he was alone when he struck shortly before 6pm, shattering the window to pluck the watches hanging from hooks.

Daily Echo: Blue Anchor Lane - near where Pepper Lane was once located

But he was wrong.

The tell-tale noise alerted John Harding, an intelligent ten-year-old who had been in an adjacent Below Bar shop. Stepping outside, he saw a figure conspicuously dressed in a white surplice, dark trousers and skin cap crowned with a little fur, rush up Castle lane and gave chase.

Unfortunately he lost him but no matter as within minutes the stranger approached John Moody on his way to the coach house.

"He was on the opposite side of the road but approached me and asked if I wanted to buy a bargain," he recalled. "He said he had part of a watch for sale."

The man then produced the item and Moody, sensing dishonesty, told him he only had one shilling on him.

"That will do," the man replied, only too anxious to conclude the deal and leave.

"But," said Moody, "If you have another, why don't we meet at the Bargate tomorrow, say 12 o'clock."

The recidivist should have known better but greed got the better of him, and when he turned up, he realised he had been fooled - the police lay in wait and the following morning he appeared before the Bench where Moody and Harding both recognised him from the conversation and his appearance.

Daily Echo: Blue Anchor Lane - near where Pepper Lane was once located

The raid had naturally generated publicity and another witness in Edward Dewey came forward, telling police how he had been approached in a pub in Pepper Alley by another man called Charles Russell who had offered to sell him two watches for £2.

On that basis, police charged Rogers with theft and Russell with receiving, but appearing at the town's quarter sessions the following month, they pleaded not guilty.

Dewey's evidence was crucial in the case against Russell and defence barrister Mr Missing pointedly asked him of his re-action at being accused of harbouring stolen property.

"I told him I knew Mr Hawkins had been robbed of some watches and I said I must detain him, whereupon he became very angry and said they were not Mr Hawkins's and they had been in his possession for 20 years," conceding they then went to the watchmaker's premises together.

Under intense cross-examination, Hawkins thought the watches belonged to him but admitted there was no mark on them to prove it.

"I had a watch in the window similar to one of them, with a yellow ribbon, one hand and a cracked glass but I cannot swear they were my property."

Several witnesses were then called who testified they had seen similar watches in Russell's possession for several years and spoke highly of his integrity as landlord of a Cadnam pub.

That satisfied the judge who directed the jury to acquit him, explaining: "From the nature of the case, I consider the magistrates could not have acted otherwise in the way they did but at the same time it is my duty to observe from the evidence adduced, I think Mr Russell can leave this court without the slightest blemish on his character. "

But there was no escape for Rogers who was quickly convicted and banished from Britain.