On September 17, 1855, Thomas Hooper laid information before Southampton magistrates against Rachel Merritt over the disappearance of her baby.

In his deposition he claimed that one morning he heard the cry of a young child but never spoke to her about it until the evening.

She then told it was dead and buried in Botley churchyard.

Hooper said he was later making a scythe handle in the kitchen when he drew out a collection of small bones from ashes in the oven which she dismissed as those of a cat and dog that her mother had picked up in a feld.

When he looked for them the following day, they had disappeared.

However, it appears no action was taken against Merritt and the reason why came clear - Hooper had simply made up the allegation because she had spurned his unwanted advances.

Almost a year later, the 45-year-old labourer was back in court - this time in the dock, charged with perjury in making the false allegation that she had concealed and destroyed an infant.

Magistrates duly committed him for trial at the Hampshire Assizes, the essence of his defence before Mr Justice Coleridge on December 3, 1856, was that he had made a mistake.

Merritt told the court she had been married but was separated and lived with parents in Botley.

"I had no child then or about that time," she stated, insisting his story was a figment of his imagination.

"He never came in and say anything about a child, nor did I say anything about one dying. I do recall him making a scythe handle in the kitchen but I never saw him bring any bones out of the ashes in the oven, nor did I say they were cats or dogs. Certainly nothing of the kind."

Merritt then told the court how she had firmly rejected his advances in a pub.

"He offered me some beer but I would not drink it. He said he wished me to sit alongside him. I told I would not but he still came and sat by me, then started pulling me about."

However Hooper evidently would not take 'no' for an answer and insisted he wanted them to be man and wife.

"He said he wished me to be married to him but I would not."

She revealed she had been previously married and had given birth to a child who died aged just four.

"I never had another," she stressed, concluding her testimony.

Three witnesses, including a doctor, each in turn confirmed that at the time when Hooper made his declaration to the magistrates she was not pregnant.

"Was this a mis-statment or outright perjury?" the judge asked jurors to determine. "You have to decide between them. If the case is made out, it is your duty to find him guilty."

And so they did.

Passing a sentence of four years penal servitude, the judge slated Hooper: "The enormity of the charge you made against her did not have a shadow of foundation and appears to have made because she would have nothing to do with you. "