"THAT'S strange," thought Seymour Gillingham. "Why has he gone that way when he should have gone the other?" So he cunningly tracked the rider and had his suspicions confirmed.

Thomas Cooke had introduced himself as the head gamekeeper to Sir Francis Bathurst, and he urgently needed a horse to take him to Amesbury and Winterborne Stoke on business. Suitably impressed by his background and credentials, Gillingham was only too willing to let him hire one.

But after mounting his steed, Cooke went off in the wrong direction. Gillingham naturally followed and after challenging him, took Cooke into custody. It was only when he appeared before magistrates that he was unmasked as jobless Henry Clavell.

Charged with intent to defraud, the 29-year-old told jurors a tale of woe and he did have "respectable connections." He had been a master's mate on the schooner Firefly but then his father died and his life was ruined. "Since his death, I have lost every friend I had in the world. I have been under great distress and I hired the horse to go to Amesbury to solicit subscriptions under this fictitious character. That is the extent of my offending."

But he could only offer mitigation and no defence, leaving jurors with no option but to convict. However, they urged the court to be merciful and he had his sentence reduced to six months.

The Hampshire Summer Assizes of 1840 was one of the lightest on record with only two cases of violence but one regrettably featured a father and his two sons.

The scene was Alton's poor house and three boys had propped a ladder against a window in the bone-mill so they could reach into the adjacent orchard and scrounge some apples. George Blunden, in wanting to teach them a lesson, removed the ladder, which horrified his father, John, who feared the youngsters might fall and injure themselves.

Not only did the father snatch the ladder away but he also hit him with it. The pair scuffled, whereupon another brother, James, suddenly picked up a spade to viciously strike his father on the head with it.

"The blow had a profound affect," said prosecutor Mr Missing. "The father fainted from the loss of blood and a doctor had to be summoned. As a result, the father was confined to bed for several days."

His son denied maliciously wounding and cutting his father but strangely offered nothing in his defence, leaving the judge, Baron Rolfe, to pose one simple question to jurors - were they satisfied it was the defendant who inflicted the injuries? It was abundantly obvious he had done so, and they did not leave their seats to deliberate and convict him.

The press did not report the judge's comments, only the sentence - one of two years imprisonment with hard labour and a direction to serve the first and the last three weeks in solitary confinement.

The second case involved a trader attacked on his way home from a New Forest market. It had evidently been a successful day's work as Thomas Sudden afterwards slaked his thirst in a local hostelry where he was observed by three ruffians who pursued him on horseback.

As he reached Hordle, they caught up with him. Dragging their victim from his mount, they flung him into a dung heap, beat him over the head, dragged him down a lane and threw him into a ditch to rob him. Though it was three against one, Williams Chambers, William Hayward and James Vincent astonishingly failed and fled after hearing people approach in the darkness, which almost certainly explained why they failed to see the battered Sudden lying in a ditch.

Of his injuries, prosecutor Mr Saunders said: "He bled very much and lay there for three hours before he recovered."

By chance, Sudden saw Chambers and Hayward a couple of days later when in a conciliatory gesture, they apologised, but he refused to accept it and had the trio prosecuted.

"I am sure they are the ones," he insisted when the trio denied a charge of cutting and wounding, and no amount of questioning from barristers representing the accused would shake his testimony.

Jurors however acquitted them of the capital offence but convicted them of assault which - extraordinarily given the extent of his injuries- saw them bound over to keep the peace.