IF HE had only listened to his mother.

Languishing in the condemned cell, deep in sorrow, his eyes streaming with tears and fully repentant, Charles Smith knew he had only himself to blame.

"Oh, sir," he lamented to the visiting chaplain, "My poor mother always told me what the end would be. I then thought little of her advice but now I feel the full force of it."

Smith, just 20, was hours from execution at Winchester Jail.

It was March 23, 1822, and there was no hope of a reprieve. The only person who could have commuted his death sentence to one of transportation abroad for life, was the trial judge and he had left town to conduct the Wiltshire Assizes at Salisbury.

Smith had been acting with a gang of poachers who had planned to raid Lord Palmerston's estate of Broadlands in Romsey, but unknown to them, the gamekeepers were out in force.

It was just after 6pm the preceding November 23 that their suspicions were justified. In the vicinity of Home Coppice, they heard the distinctive report of a gun and running to the scene saw some trying to take cover.

Assistant gamekeeper Robert Snelgrove placed himself against a tree to challenge the intruders if they broke out. Shortly afterwards two did and Snelgrove went off in pursuit, soon catching up with John Pointer who meekly surrendered.

Once he had been detained, Snelgrove went after his accomplice and snared Smith who he had known for many years.

"Drop your gun," Snelgrove ordered him but Smith stupidly did the opposite and emptied the contents into his thigh.

Amid the confusion, Pointer momentarily escaped but the pair were quickly rounded up.

Snelgrove happily survived and on March 4 Smith appeared at Hampshire Assizes charged with maliciously shooting him with intent to disable or commit grievous bodily harm.

Whether he was prosecuted before magistrates or had potential proceedings dropped in exchange for giving evidence is unknown but Pointer was a willing witness for the Crown, admitting their intentions that night and confirming how they were caught.

"I was in the coppice with him and saw him with the gun which he fired," the poacher told jurors. "I heard Mr Snelgrove cry out."

Smith had little room to manoeuvre when giving evidence to support his 'not guilty' plea, claiming that he had not killed anything when he discharged the firearm.

A friend, described in the Hampshire Chronicle and Southampton Courier as "a person of great respectability," testified to his previous good character but the weight of the scales were against him and Smith was convicted.

The judge, Sir James Burrough, sentenced him to death with no hope of a reprieve, firmly telling him: "Do not entertain the distant idea of mercy being extended to you."

And so it proved to be less than a month later, his execution prompting a leading article in the weekly newspaper that it might lead to "a salutary check to the destroyers and purchasers of game. Since they who encourage others in the commission of crime, must largely participate in its guilt."