HE was just 14 and one act of folly was to separate him from his family, probably for life.

Yet William Sawyer, on the face of it, did not seem perturbed by the hideous prospect. When told he was being banished to the colonies for ten years, he simply replied: "Thank you, sir."

The teenager had torched a haystack standing adjacent to a country lane, despite the pleadings of his younger brother not to do so. It was late September, 1851, and the youngsters had been blackberry picking when they came across the rick that stood in the shadow of Rowner church.

"I wonder whether if anyone was to put a light to it, it would catch," he mused.

His eight-year-old brother tried reasoning with him: "I would not like to try it."

But Sawyer would not listen and told him to go home and moments later, the rick went up in flames. His brother ran back and told him to hide but he refused, much to his cost.

The drama had been witnessed by labourer William Buxey who, looking out of a window at his cottage, had been observing the two before the fire broke out and when he saw the haystack being engulfed by fire, he rushed outside to challenge them.





"What's the devil gone wrong now?" he demanded but both pleaded innocence, Sawyer steadfastly claiming: "Someone else has done it and run away." Inevitably the police were called in and once more Sawyer denied responsibility.

"I was nowhere near the spot," he protested. "I've been in Haslar blackberrying."

But Superintendent David Harvey dismissed it: "Haslar is in the opposite direction from where you say you had been."

Sawyer was duly charged with arson and on March 2 the following year appeared before Mr Justice Talfourd at Hampshire Assizes. Throughout the hearing, he accused all the witnesses of lying, even his brother, but his flimsy defence was exposed during an interview with Pc Cooke who called at his home half a mile from the scene of the blaze.

Sawyer kept up the same pretence they had been at Haslar and had been at home for at least two hours before the fire, but then hinted at his guilt by asking: "What do you think I will get for this?"

It naturally took the jury little time to return a verdict of guilty but in view of his age, urged the court to consider mercy. The judge evidently did not pay much regard to their recommendation and curtly passed a sentence of ten years transportation.

Two men preceded him in court under similar circumstances, George Small and Charles Goulding being accused of setting fire to an outhouse in Ringwood after telling a friend working in his father's garden: "We'll have a lark with Rolles's sand house and push it down."





William Hutchins warned them not to be stupid and the two men went on their way. The same evening, Hutchins had to visit Rolles's farm, which was about 50 yards from the outhouse, and as he left, he met them.

"Small took out two lucifer matches and lit them but I put them out," he told jurors. "Small said he had no more and I went home. Small called on me but my father said I must not go with him. I later went back to the farm and saw them there a second time. "

The trio parted but as he spoke to Rolles, he saw the sand house, which principally consisted of a few wooden poles and a furze roof, ablaze.

Pc Smith said he examined both men's boots and compared them with tracks found near the building. They corresponded exactly to what Goulding had been wearing.

The pair later told another officer the law should not go so hard on them as they had not destroyed a house and expressed shock at what Hutchins had told him.

Mr Cooke defending, tried to convince jurors there was no evidence to link them with the charge. "Even if there was, it had only been burnt down for a lark and not from any malicious or wilful intention as required under the Act."

Jurors were not swayed but in returning their verdict, considered the men had not realised the consequences of what they had done.

Small was jailed for nine months and Goulding for six.

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