THERE was no prevarication. Throughout he displayed a stolid resignation to his fate in the hope there was life for him beyond the grave. "I did the deed with a good heart and I am willing to die from the same."

The 'deed' was to slaughter his partner of several months by smashing a hatchet into her head and cutting her throat, then calmly walking out of the house they shared with her elderly parents who made the shocking discovery of her body propped up against a front room chair and lying in a pool of blood.

Such was the horrific nature of the crime hundreds of people thronged outside court to await James Caffyn's remand hearing which was met with thunderous booing and hissing. Only a few people however were admitted to the proceedings where, extraordinarily, the couple's dog was allowed to sit behind the 31-year-old labourer and be affectionately patted once the formalities had been conducted.

The victim was 38-year-old Maria Barber, the daughter of hawkers.

Barber had endured a difficult relationship with her father, finding him remote and cold, and leaving her native Isle of Wight, she initially moved to Hastings and then found work in hop gardens in Kent where she met Caffyn. They co-habited in lodgings in Brighton, remaining on the mainland for some six months until they moved in with her parents in the hamlet of Elmfield near Ryde.

Four weeks later, she was dead.

Daily Echo: A bloody axe.

Barber had evidently got tired of Caffyn, affectionately known locally as 'Jim' who had found work in Brading, and told him to leave. A bewildered Caffyn accused her of using him and uncharacteristically became violent. In fear, she rushed to neighbour Hugh Grist, whom she had known since a child, pleading: "For God's sake, come in for he have pinched me, kicked me and tried to strangle me."

The greengrocer accompanied her back to the house where he encountered her enraged partner standing by the downstairs room door. Hurling further abuse at Barber, he told her to fetch his clothing from their bedroom. She meekly complied and he calmed down.

"He was quite sober and during the time she was gone, he didn't speak to me," Grist was to say at her inquest. "He didn't appear to be in a very angry or excited condition but when she came down and put the items on a chair, he again used bad language towards her.

"She told him 'I'll give you all the money I've got if you will go.' He made no answer and went upstairs and returned in a few minutes with two short whips, a dog's chain and an axe."

The couple then rowed about custody of their little white dog. Caffyn told Barber it was his but she insisted he shouldn't have it. The argument blew over in five minutes and Grist went to open his shop, leaving him in the front room and she in the back room.

No sooner had the grocer returned home when Barber's hysterical mother called him. He jumped over the fence and ran into the front room where he saw her husband standing by a fender over their daughter's body which was cold. The axe lay nearby as did her dog. The wall was spattered with blood and he rushed to find a police officer.

Caffyn was quickly traced to the mainland where he was arrested the following day, November 26, 1877, having made little attempt to flee the area. At Portsea police station, he made an unqualified confession to Inspector Thomas Hood: "There will be no harm in telling you the truth. Yes, I know I did it. We had some words in the morning. I went to Ryde, shaved and had my hair cut, and then went back. She aggravated me and said she would leave me, and then I did the deed with the hatchet which was in the room. It was done in a minute."

Daily Echo: Royal Pier Hotel in Ryde from an old postcard.

His confession concluded:" I should not have done it if she had not aggravated me and she would leave me. I was very fond of her and did not want to part with her."

The following morning, he appeared before magistrates at Ryde, charged with murder.

Admitting in a voluntary statement that he had killed Barber, the labourer thoughtfully apologised to the court clerk who was taking notes if he was talking too fast. "Have you got that down, sir?" he gentlemanly asked.

With the clerk nodding assurance, he explained: "I was determined she would not deceive more men as long as she lived. I deliberately took the axe off the table, delivered one blow on the forehead with the head of it, and knocked her down where she was lying. The next blow I hit her with the face of the axe and it caught her on the left cheek, and that was all the blows she had, only three.

"If I had my way, gentlemen, no man and woman should be allowed to co-habit together, they should be either one thing or another. That's the cause of all the murders in this country, and I hope, gentlemen, you will make that public throughout the whole country."

The hearing before Mr Justice Mellor at Hampshire Assizes on January 22, 1878, was a formality, the jurors taking only seconds to reach the inevitable guilty verdict before the death penalty was passed.

The judge was concise with his remarks, telling the contrite Caffyn: "I have no desire to add to your sufferings for which you must feel that you should in so brutal a manner with the axe that lies before us have stuck this unfortunate woman for no other reason that she desired to separate from you. It is to my mind one of the most shocking circumstances which it has been my lot to consider and hear in a court of justice."

Before shuffling out of the dock, Caffyn replied: "Thank you, My Lord."

There was no reprieve, Caffyn never sought one.

The judge's solemn reminder of the "hope beyond the grave and the Lord would in his infinite mercy have mercy upon his soul" consoled him as he mounted the platform at 8am, February 11 the following year.

His life extinct, his body hung for an hour before it was released and as directed by the law, was placed in a common elm coffin with rope handles at the head and feet and buried alongside others who had suffered the same fate.