THE 1847 Winter Assizes at Winchester opened on a unique note - an apology from the judge.

Mr Justice Erskine probably harboured the same feelings as those who had travelled across the county for the sessions, though in truth his journey would have been longer, necessitating his arrival in the city 24 hours earlier on New Years Day.

Appeasing grumbling jurymen, he explained the Quarter Sessions had twice sat since the summer to clear the workload in the hope it would have been completed by Christmas but the number of prisoners and cases there and at the Assizes had been far greater than expected.

So adjourning the present Assize from December was the only judicious step, he explained.


"Therefore we not only have to try those who have been committed to the next March sessions but also those committed since the present commission was issued. However inconvenient it may be, there is a necessity for it."

While the majority of the work by today's standards will have fallen into the remit of magistrates, there was one case that could not and that concerned a poacher accused of shooting a gamekeeper on a Romsey estate.

The drama happened when Bill Green heard gunfire and found intruder William Adams standing in a cover with a dead pheasant. He was about to stuff it into his pocket when Green challenged him. Adams responded by pointing his gun at Green, telling him three times to back off.

"But I continued to advance towards him," said the gamekeeper. "He struck at me and bade me to stand off or he would slaughter me. But he ran away, still striking me and repeating his threats of slaughter on the spot.

"When I tripped against the stump of a tree, he struck me with great violence, first against the shoulders, then against my forehead and head."

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Though his cuts resembled "a stream," Green struggled with Adams who again violently struck him with the gun barrel and severely bit him on the small finger of his left hand. Adams however eventually surrendered and he took him to the owner's house.

"What is the state of your hand now," prosecutor Mr Missing asked.

"I cannot raise it to my head" he said. "I was 10 weeks under medical care."

"And the jacket you were wearing," said the barrister. "Where is that?"

Here," he replied, bending down to pick it up. "It was saturated in blood."

But the defence argued it had not been "a brutal and uncalled for" assault, as the prosecution had termed it.

Mr Pouldon said Adams had been taken by surprise and Green had instigated the attack to bring him before a magistrate.

"The conduct of the prisoner was much as would have been expected," he suggested. "It is clear he attempted to get away before the first blow was struck. His second blow proved he had no intention of attacking the witness till he was found he had been hard pushed and saw nothing before him but a gaol."

He submitted the biting of the finger had been caused by Green putting his knuckles into his throat, a state in which any man would have tried to free himself by any means.

"The real question for you is this. Did the prisoner do the injury to Green from the malicious motive of doing him some grievous bodily harm or was it done for the purpose only for effecting his escape?"

However, the jury rejected his notion and convicted Adams of cutting and maiming with intent.

The judge ordered his transportation overseas for 21 years.

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