IT had been an arduous voyage from the West Indies across stormed tossed waves in the Atlantic, and all Thomas Fraser craved as he stepped ashore in Southampton from the steamer Avon was sex and drink.

Within minutes, the steward picked up prostitute Caroline Williams and together they were soon knocking back drink in the Engineers' Arms, but Fraser consumed so much he almost fell asleep in the bar, making him an easy target for the good-time girl who lifted money from his pocket. Frittering some on another round, she entrusted the rest to sailor George Lowe with whom she spent much of the evening dancing.

But her duplicity was observed by fellow drinker Charles Primmer who said of the victim's condition: "He was asleep and so drunk that he knew not what was about. She and Lowe shortly left the house and I subsequently informed a policeman of the affair."

The pair left the pub shortly before midnight in favour of the St Mary's Hotel where a guest witnessed a tipsy Williams give Lowe some half crowns from a purse and then two or three sovereigns she had wrapped in a blue handkerchief, telling him to keep them until they got home.

Jane Curtis was so sure they were up to no good that after they left the premises, she discreetly followed them with a friend to East Street where they were caught by two officers who had been detailed to find them. "At the station-house, I searched him and found on him a sovereign, a half sovereign and some silver," Pc Edge told jurors. "He immediately pointed to Williams, saying she had given him the money."

Daily Echo: Engineer's Arms, Northam.

Pc Harrison said Williams showed no sympathy for Fraser, telling him "I don't care if the man was robbed. I haven't got the money but I know who has."

The officers were recounting the drama when Willams appeared at the town's quarter sessions in 1845, accused of theft. There was insufficient evidence to charge Lowe who stood bail for Williams on the condition both attended the hearing, but after he failed to answer his recognisance, it was ordered to be estreated.

Pleading not guilty, Williams was adamant she had not stolen the money, maintaining Fraser had asked her to look after his wages because he was drunk, and she in turn was so tipsy she gave it to Lowe for safe keeping.

Jurors however were not fooled and Willams was jailed for six months.

Twenty defendants appeared before Recorder A C E Cockburn at the sessions but the only other case that merited more than a paragraph was that of Joan Bailey and Mary Attwood who were alleged to have stolen a cwt of coal from Thomas Thompson.

Realising his supply had been slowly dwindling, the brushmaker suspected his maid Attwood and contacted the police who advised him to mark some lumps as a trap and would have an officer hiding outside his house.

Within minutes, the ploy succeeded. Attwood let Bailey into the premises, unaware they had been observed by Pc Hazel who told jurors: "About a quarter of an hour afterwards, she came out of the house with something in her apron, with the corners of her shawl covering it. I brought her back to the house but Attwood said she had not come from there. Bailey then dropped some coal which I picked up and sent for Mr Thompson, but while we were waiting, Bailey said she should not take all the blame. The maid had given her a candle and she took the coal."

Daily Echo: Southampton High Street in the mid 19th century.

Attwood, however, gave a different account. "I know nothing about it. Bailey must have got into the house unknown to me."

The coal was taken to the station where on examination the tell tale marks were found on it.

During her time on remand, Bailey obviously reflected on her original explanation by changing her story, saying in evidence she had been helping Attwood with her work and she had been given the fuel as renumeration. In her defence, Attwood denied telling Hazel she had entered the house without her knowledge.

The recorder told jurors that if Bailey's story was true, there was no felonious attempt by either accused. "The work being hard, Attwood procured the assistance of the other woman and paid her by giving her the coal which might not be approved of by her master, but under the circumstances, coupled with the good character both have received, it is up to you to say whether they were actuated by a felonious attempt."

However, if his remarks could be interpreted as a recommendation they should be acquitted, the jurors decided otherwise but with a recommendation for mercy .

The judge said it was regrettable they should occupy the dock. "I have no doubt you had no intention of committing a felony but your irregular course of proceeding has placed you in this unfortunate position. Under all the circumstances, I will sentence you to three weeks imprisonment with hard labour."