The Potovens philanthropist

Bristol Mirror
Saturday 19 October 1811


At the Quarter Sessions at York, John Burnley, weaver, of Beeston, was brought before the Court on a charge of deserting his family, and leaving them chargeable to the township. When he was placed at the bar, he was interrogated in the following terms.

Court: What reason have you to assign for deserting your family?
Prisoner: I was called by the word God so to do.

Court: Where have you lived since, and what have you done?
Prisoner: I have lived at Potovens, near Wakefield, and have worked at my business as a weaver.

Court: What can you earn a week upon an average?
Prisoner: From 18 to 20 shillings per week.

Court: And how do you dispose of it?
Prisoner: After supplying my own necessities, I distribute the rest among my poor neighbours.

Court: But should not your wife and children be the first objects of your care and bounty?
Prisoner: No; unless they are in greater distress, than all others.

Court: The Scripture, which you profess to follow, says, speaking of the relation of man and wife, that they shall be one flesh; of course, you are under as great an obligation to maintain her as yourself.
Prisoner: The Scripture saith, Whom God hath joined together let man put asunder; but God never joined and my wife together.

Court: Who then did?
Prisoner: l have told you who did not, you may easily judge who did.

Court: We suppose you are as much joined together any other married people are? Prisoner: My family are now no more to me than any other persons.

Court: The laws of your country require, that should maintain your family, and if you neglect or refuse to do so, you become liable to a serious punishment.
Prisoner: I am willing to suffer all you think proper to inflict; I expect to suffer persecution for the Scripture says, that those who live godly in Christ Jesus must endure persecution. I regard the laws of God only and do not regard any other laws.

Court: You seem to have read the Scriptures to very little profit, or you would not have failed in so plain a duty as that in providing for your own household.
Prisoner: The Scripture commands me love my neighbour as myself, and I cannot do that if I suffer him to want when I have the power to relieve him. My wife and children have all changes of raiment but I see others that are half naked. Should I not, therefore, clothe these rather than expend my money on my family?

Court: But you family cannot live upon their raiment; they require also victuals.
Prisoner: They are able to provide for their own maintenance, and the Gospel requires me to forsake father and mother, wife and children. Indeed it was contrary to the Gospel for me to take a wife, and I sinned in so doing.

Court: Have you any friends here?
Prisoner: I have only one friend, who is above.

Court: Is there any person here who knows you?
Prisoner: Mr Banks knows me.

Banks stated, that he should suppose, from the recent conduct of the Prisoner, that his mind was not in a sane state. Formerly he was an industrious man; of late he had understood that he had read the Bible with uncommon assiduity and fervency. He would absent himself whole days together, and retire into woods and fields for the purpose of reading it. After some time spent in this manner, he went away from his family, and refused to contribute to their support. His family contrived to carry on the business, and he I bought of them what pieces they made. He understood that what the prisoner had said of giving away his earnings to objects of distress was correct. After some consultation with the Bench, the Recorder addressed him to the following effect:-

“John Burnley – the Court are disposed to deal leniently with you, in hopes that better consideration will remove the delusion you labour under. For this purpose I would advise you to read your Bible with still greater attention, and ask the advice of some intelligent Friends, particularly the Minister you attend upon. I would also beg of you seriously to consider, that all the rest of the world think it their duty to provide, in the first place, for their families; and you, surely, cannot suppose that they are all neglecting the care of their souls, and in the road to eternal destruction. This consideration should induce you distrust your own judgment, and if you have any humility, and humility is a Christian virtue, you will conclude that it is more probable that you should be mistaken than that all the rest of mankind should be wrong. Your wife has strongly expressed her wish that no severity should be used towards you. influenced by these considerations, the Court has ordered that you should be discharged.”

Prisoner: The Scripture saith, that darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people. And again, in another place, that the whole world lieth in wickedness. I know that the way of duty is in the path of suffering; but it is this path in which our Leader trod, and we must follow his steps.