IT was a cough. Not just any cough and PC Erle was not fooled.

He knew from experience a woman passing him late at night in one of Southampton's most fashionable areas was tipping off an accomplice the police were about.

Sure enough within minutes he saw the shadowy figure of a man lurking behind a wall near Charlotte Place.

"What are you doing?" he demanded.

"Looking for loose change that has slipped through a hole in my jacket," was the stranger's less than convincing reply.

"I don't believe you," Erle firmly told him demanding his name.

"George Gray," he said. "I am a seaman from Hartlepool and have been helping to deliver coals to the quay."

But at the police station he readily confessed he did not belong to any brig and had been lodging in Simnel Street. On being searched, he was found with two pieces of newspaper and a candle.

Erle ordered Gray to take off his boots and together with Sgt Ralfs returned to the wall where they discovered several footmarks which corresponded in length, width and size with what the suspect had been wearing.

Ralfs clambered over the wall and walking through the garden, realised the house had been burgled by someone cutting a hole in a window shutter. He then rejoined his colleague and followed footprints to a nearby park where he recovered 24 keys, a knife and a bottle of treacle which prevent the glass from making a noise when falling. Furthermore, one key fitted a door at the burgled property.

The two officers returned to the house the next morning to be met by maid Ann Hall who discovered on getting up the contents of the the front kitchen scattered over the floor, and her workbox and workbasket empty. Crucially, she had also missed a piece of wax candle she had been using on thread.

The intruder had made himself at home.

Two hams and other meat had been removed from the kitchen piece and a bottle of wine and beer taken from the cellar empty. When shown the wine cellar keys at the police station, she immediately recognised them.

Though Gray despairingly claimed to have brought the wax from Hartlepool, he was charged with burglary and remanded in custody before appearing at the Hampshire Assizes three months later on July 16, 1850.

Jurors felt vindicated after returning with a guilty verdict that Gray was a repeat offender with several previous convictions.

He was ordered to be transported to the colonies for 14 years.