One of the most famous incidents during Patrick's curacy at Dewsbury concerned a young man called
William Nowell of Dawgreen, Dewsbury; who had been arrested and wrongly imprisoned as a deserter of the army. Britain was at the time in the middle of the Napoleonic wars and in order to maintain a supply of soldiers, recruiting officers were sent to local fairs to offer a 'recruiting shilling' to any likely candidates. In September 1810, a soldier named James Thackray, stated that Nowell had accepted the King's Shilling at the horse fair held at Lee Fair, near Wakefield and had therefore been formally enlisted to the 30th Regiment.
On 25 September 1810, soldiers appeared at William Nowell's home to arrest him for failing to report at the Regimental headquarters. Nowell pleaded that he had not attended Lee Fair and had several witnesses who could testify that he had been in Dewsbury that day. The magistrate refused to accept the testimonies of these witnesses and committed Nowell to Wakefield Prison. The case caused an immediate outcry in Dewsbury and Patrick was one of four men who went to meet with the magistrate in Wakefield to plead for the case to be re-heard. They were accompanied by two new witnesses who swore that they had been with the soldier James Thackray at the Lee Fair, and he had not enlisted any new recruits that day. The magistrate refused to examine the new witnesses and William Nowell remained in prison. Determined not to be beaten and to see justice being done, Patrick, together with the churchwardens and principal inhabitants of Dewsbury, wrote to the Leeds Mercury and the War Office to demand a retrial. Eventually, a hearing was arranged for 2 November 1810. Patrick and eminent Dewsbury men attended the hearing along with fifteen witnesses who could testify that Nowell had not been at Lee Fair on the day in question. Following the hearing, the evidence was sent to London and five days later William Nowell was released from prison after spending ten weeks in custody. After the hearing, Patrick Brontë received the following letter from the Secretary of War,
WAR Office, 5th December, 1810.
Referring to the correspondence relative to William Nowell, I am to aquaint you that I feel so strongly the injury that is likely to arise to the Service from an unfair mode of recruiting, that if by the indictment that the lad's friends are about to prefer against James Thackray they shall establish the fact of his having been guilty of perjury, I shall be ready to indemnify them for the reasonable and proper expenses which they shall bear on the occasion.
I am, sir, Yours, & C.,
To the Rev. P. Brontë, Dewsbury, near Leeds.
On 7 December 1811, the soldier James Thackray was found guilty of perjury at York Assizes and
sentenced to seven years transportation. After a long struggle, justice had been done
Read on: kirklees.gov.uk/visitors/documents/patrickbronte A lot of information and pictures.