EVEN the seasoned prosecutor was taken aback.

"This case is one of the most painful and extraordinary that the annals of crime have ever disclosed," Mr Gunner declared. "As if it has often been said, truth is stranger than fiction."

Indeed the events at a Winchester pub were.

Lying alongside another notorious prostitute, their bodies entwined, Robert Simpson and Sophia Rowe resolved on a death pact.

Grasping an open razor, the soldier slashed her throat and sliced his own.

"Now I die happy," she gasped as the blood oozed.

But she did not.

He did – but not in the way he could have imagined.

Daily Echo: Winchester High Street - from old postcad

It was May 18, 1860 and Simpson, 23, met Rowe, a farmer's daughter, at the Painters Arms in Sussex Street. Within minutes they were sharing a backroom bed – along with Rachel Willey.

By no means a model soldier, Simpson had no wish to return to duty and having frittered his money on drink, uttered a bizarre plea to Rowe: "Borrow a razor and cut my throat."

She refused but gave him money to get one. Simpson left the pub and returned with a razor.

Now it was Rowe who was urging death.

"Slit my throat and I shall die happy. Do not cut yours unless you cut mine."

He then seized the razor in his left hand and did what she pleaded.

Willey, awakening, heard Rowe implore Simpson: "Do, do it, dear."

Daily Echo: A cut throat or straight razor

Fortunately the landlady overheard their passion and bursting into their room, found both with their throats cut but still alive, with Simpson exulting: "This is love."

They were quickly attended by local surgeon Edward Bucknell.

So grotesque were her injuries that he held little hope of her recovering and sent an urgent message for the mayor, Councillor Naish, to rush to the pub and take her dying statement.

"My name is Sophia Rowe," she declared. "Robert Simpson, a private in the 1st Battalion of the 60th Rifles, cut my throat with a razor this morning. He did so by my wish. I gave him the money to buy the razor and he bought it. We slept together in the room that I am now in. He cut my throat about seven o'clock this morning. He then cut his own throat in my presence. I have known Simpson for some time. The doctor says I may never recover. I wish to die and I think if I were to die, I should be happy."

Simpson was taken to the military hospital where he slowly made a full recovery. Rowe was rushed to the County Hospital – now the Royal Hampshire County Hospital – where she underwent immediate surgery. Her life lay in abeyance for several days but in time the threat of death receded.

Daily Echo:

Simpson eventually appeared before the local magistrates, charged with cutting and wounding Rowe with intent to kill and murder her. He was formally remanded into the care of his regiment before attending his trial at Hampshire Assizes on July 18.

The grim facts having been aired in front of jurors, the surgeon was called to give his evidence.

"They were locked in each other's arms," Bucknell recalled. "Both were bleeding profusely from the throat."

Rallying the woman, he demanded who had been responsible.

"She pointed at the prisoner. I asked him if he had done it and he replied 'yes.' I further asked 'why' and he said 'love'. I found the razor which they said was the instrument which was used."

Daily Echo: County Hospital, Winchester.

Of her injuries, he admitted: "Her wound was so extensive that I was surprised she lived."

Simpson, who had denied the charge, submitted excessive drink as his defence.

The judge, Mr Justice Channell, however was immune to the wanton sentimentality. The law was there for a purpose, he told jurors in his summing-up.

"This case is a very peculiar one and I hope that it is seldom that two young people are met with so foolish and so wicked as to act as they have done because neither, according to morals, religion or law, has any individual power over his life, much less could he by any law accept permission from another to take the other's life.

"These two persons, whether they had been reading novels or poisoning their minds with other trash, conceived the wicked plan which they no doubt thought was exceedingly romantic."

He finally counselled them: "If the wound had produced death, the prisoner would clearly and without a shadow of a doubt, have been guilty of murder. As to the girl expressing a wish that he should cut her throat, he is no more authorised in law in doing so if he had done it against her will. The attempt of the prisoner to destroy himself does not palliate his act or change his legal character."

Jurors inevitably convicted Simpson but delivered their verdict with a strong recommendation for mercy.

The judge told Simpson the penalty by law was death but he would pass on the recommendation.

"If Her Majesty should be so graciously pleased to save your life, it will be only on the terms of you receiving a most severe punishment."

But the call never came. The rope did.