Ida St Clair, 18, picked up a poker. Maria Leggett, 20, had a saucepan, and 19-year-old Julia Smith wielded a long-handled broom.
They then proceeded to systematically break 60 panes of glass at the Royal Hospital, Portsmouth, having already smashed two dozen plates, five mugs and a water pipe inside.
The case, reported on this day in 1877, was heard at Portsmouth Police Court, but because of its seriousness was referred on to the borough sessions.
Though a civilian hospital, the Royal ran a notorious Lock Hospital under the supervision of the Admiralty in the 1860s and 1870s, where prostitutes were imprisoned and forced to be treated for suspected venereal diseases.
Such women were seen as solely responsible for the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among serving men and therefore detrimental to the nation’s fighting forces.
The disturbance was not an isolated case, with many women incarcerated without committing an offence.
Conditions at Portsmouth Lock Hospital were reportedly ‘the worst’ seen by inspectors, with dirty facilities, inadequate staffing, inefficiency, letters withheld and a regime that was ‘too readily disposed to adopt coercive measures to control acts of insubordination’.
The women were sentenced to six months’ hard labour – an extract from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.