In August 1840, William Campion, aged around 34, appeared before judge Mr Mr Justice Williams at Oxford Crown Court, accused with “maliciously and feloniously cutting and wounding” a man following an argument about his mowing skills.
Campion and his victim, Charles Ackerman, 24, had both been agricultural labourers, engaged in mowing a field with scythes in Bourton-on-the-Hill the month before, together with some other labourers, when they got into an argument about their respective skills. Ackerman told Campion that he mowed badly; Campion responded that if Ackerman repeated the allegation, he would cut him with his scythe.
On that, Ackerman landed a blow to Campion’s face. The response was Ackerman then receiving a cut across his leg with the scythe, that was so severe that the surgeon called to assist him said it was “so maimed it was improbable the would ever again have its perfect use.”
Campion’s defence argued that the injury was “accidental”, as the accused was “mowing at the time of Ackerman coming up to him”. Justice Williams, however, disagreed, pointing out that if Ackerman had died as a result of the injury, Campion would have been charged with murder.
Luckily for Campion, who was from nearby Sezincote, his victim did not die, and so he was only found guilty of common assault. Ackerman, though, was injured at a crucial time – harvest – which would have meant he was out of work just when local farmers needed extra labour, and it would obviously have impacted on his family’s income. Although he was not married, his wages would still have been a vital part of his parents’ household income.
The spat over the labourers’ skills did not impact on them long term. A year later, the census shows that both were still working in the local area as agricultural labourers – the maimed leg appearing not to have caused Ackerman permanent injury, and Campion’s punishment not keeping him from work for long.
William Campion’s case can be accessed at Gloucestershire Archives – ref Q/Gc5/6.