TOO late came the warning - "Mind, he's got a knife."

Almost immediately, soldier George Oakshott felt the tell tale sharp pain in his arm.

The private with the 22nd Cheshire Regiment had by chance come across two men fighting in Pepper Alley in Southampton docks. One was battering the other with a pair of boots he was carrying and Oakshott bravely rushed in to separate the pair.

No sooner had he wrenched the boots away, than he was stabbed and bleeding heavily, was ushered to the police station for treatment to a two and a half inch long cut.

The violence was also witnessed by bricklayer George Scott who heard the assailant shout a threat.

"I saw him rush against the door of a lodging house and exclaim: 'If you don't leave me alone, I'll run this bloody great knife into you."

The man, he said, was armed with a long bladed pocket knife in his left hand and his boots in the other.

"I saw him stab the man just above the right elbow and I had to stand clear to protect myself for he came at me saying: 'I have just had this knife ground, wouldn't it open somebody?"

Pc Burton, having been given a full description of the attacker, went to Sharp's lodging house in Simnel Street where he questioned sailor Charles Irving who was stripped to the waist.

Told he was being arrested, Irving muttered: "All right, do what you like with me. Search me, if you like. I have no knife on me, I've not had one for nine years."

Burton took him to the police station where he was charged in front of Oakshott, sneering: "Is that right, chummy."

Irving, 25, appeared before the town's magistrates two days later on July 16, 1883, challenging the men's version of the stabbing: "How could I have done it if I had a boot in each hand?"

Oakshott simply replied he had been carrying both in one hand.

Under cross-examination, Burton confirmed he had not found a knife in Irving's possession but had seized his coat and shirt which were covered in blood.

"He was quite drunk," said the officer. "He was reeling as he came up the street."

His bail application firmly rejected, Irving snarled at Oakshott: "Someone should have stuck it into the neck of ye. I shall be even with some of ye yet."

The merchant seaman spent almost four months on remand before stepping into the dock at Hampshire Assizes, charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

"I was on my home when I was molested by a mob and I defended myself the best way I could with the boots," he claimed. "I did not have a knife."

Directing the jury as to the law, Baron Huddelston warned them: "Drunkenness is no excuse for crime but where a charge imputed an intent, drunkenness may so far might apply in favour of a prisoner as to lead to the possibility he was so intoxicated as to have no intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

"If you do not think he had this intent, you can find him guilty of unlawful wounding."

And so they found.

"But you have been found guilty of a dastardly act," said the judge. "If the jury had convicted you of the felony you would have been sent in all probability into penal servitude."

Irving left the dock to stand a nine month sentence with hard labour.