A boy was killed after being tied to a donkey by two teens as a joke and dragged along by the animal.

So distressing was the tragedy that a judge was reduced to tears, Baron Rolfe weeping throughout the trial of two teenagers whose tomfoolery had caused the death of the boy.

Joseph Light was the eldest child of dealers who, with other travellers, had set up camp on common land at Netley and eked out a meagre living by selling ropes, mats and brushes they had made.

On May 23, 1845, they left to sell their wares, leaving the nine-year-old in charge of their other children. The morning passed uneventfully until Robert Spencer, 16, and Henry Bedford, 17, who had been cutting turf, came on the scene, intent on mischief. Initially, they focused on 11-year-old George Adams, who was tending cows, and binding his hands and feet, tied him to bushes where they covered him with turf as if to bury him, but ensured his face was kept clear.

They ran off but when the frightened boy called out, they undid his knots. Freed, he dusted himself down and walking towards the herd, saw the pair were now having fun at the expense of Light holding his father's donkey with a rope. Snatching it, they lifted him onto the unsuspecting animal, wrapping the cord around its neck and belly as well as the amused youngster's waist.

But it was an accident waiting to happen.

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As Light fell off, the spooked donkey galloped away, not only dragging him but lashing out with its hooves.

"Sometimes he was under the donkey, sometimes behind as it plunged, kicked out and tried to tread on him," prosecutor Mr Hutton told Southampton magistrates. "Realising he was in serious danger, they ran after it but doubtless that frightened it even more, until the prisoner Bedford stopped it. They took the rope off the deceased and carried him to his father's tent where they washed his face."

Bedford ran to fetch his mother at their nearby cottage, and she, with a neighbour, ran to the tent where they immediately realised Light was dead.

They remained with him until his grief stricken mother arrived. She did not know either teenager, who were inconsolable, and, exhibiting astonishing forgiveness, reassured Bedford's mother she did not think they had harboured any ill-feelings towards her son.

Dr Bates, on his way home from the nearby hamlet of Pound, stopped and examined Light's body at the scene. He saw his back was badly bruised, his skin much shredded and blood was oozing from his right ear. Initially, he did not find any broken bones, but carrying out a post-mortem, discovered he had suffered a fractured skull and a brain bleed, attributing his extensive injuries to be dragged along rough ground and not from the donkey's feet.

Bedford and Spencer wept as they were arrested, one crying out: 'Oh, we shall be hung or transported." They made full confessions during the five hours they were held in custody, describing how they had tied him to the donkey, thinking no harm would come of it. "He seemed as playful and willing as we were," Bedford told Inspector Pilbeam.

However, Hutton stressed: "They had placed themselves in a very awkward situation by their disposition to what they called larking, and if they get off safe from their trial, I hope it will be a warning to them."

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The Bench told the teenagers there was sufficient evidence to commit them for trial at Hampshire Assizes, at which they were convicted of manslaughter. What mitigation was offered in their defence and whether, as often in these cases, jurors recommended mercy was not recorded by the local press, other than to say the judge was in tears throughout the hearing. They were jailed for a fortnight but without hard labour.

A similar charge at the same sessions faced Henry Hullcock who had felled an elderly man with a vicious punch to the face. William Smith had been trudging up the street with his barrow full of dung when he was confronted by Hullcock, incensed he had been so long with it. "I've been waiting for you for two hours," he snapped.

Smith could only muster "I have not hurt it" in terms of a reply before Hullcock hit him, shouting "Take that." Smith fell backwards, rolled on the ground and froth spewed from his mouth.

Charles Langford, who witnessed the outburst, told jurors: "He only hit him once and not as hard as he was able. Smith was a very old man and it did not require a very hard blow to knock him down. He took no notice of the deceased for some time after he had fallen until a man and a woman and a gentleman came by, and seeing him on the ground, asked what was the matter. Hullcock replied 'it was only his falseness' but picked him up, and finding he could not stand, took him to a house."

Elizabeth Gillum, at whose home Smith lodged, related how he had remained in "a state of partial stupor" until he died 10 days later, local surgeon J G White confirming he had suffered concussion of the brain from a violent blow to the head, which Hullcock evidently regretted. "He behaved very kindly to the old man during his illness and offered to pay the medical attendance and necessities for him."

It was a point endorsed by defence barrister Mr Saunders who, in his closing speech, urged jurors to accept he was genuinely remorseful for the violence he had inflicted in "a moment of passion." Hullcock's sorrow was etched on his face and he appeared in considerable mental distress throughout the trial which the judge observed of his contrition.

Convicted, he was jailed for just one month.