He succeeded in marrying Charlotte, only to lose her tragically young

Arthur Bell Nicholls was born at Killead, Country Antrim, on January 6, 1819, and came from a similar background to Mr. Brontë's: both were from small farming families of ten children in Northern Ireland, and both were assisted by local clergymen to go on to university. In 1826 Arthur was taken in by his uncle the Reverend Allan Bell, headmaster of the Royal Free School, Banagher, and 10 years later went up to Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1844. His first clerical position was the curacy at Haworth, and he took up his duties in May 1845...

 

Mr Brontë was by then 68 years old, and besides taking services and undertaking such duties as Mr Brontë might direct, Mr Nicholls had specific responsibilities for Stanbury village, and for the Church School, where he taught five mornings a week. He was diligent, serious-minded and widely read, and both Mr Brontë and the village thought well of him. A strongly built man, he liked fresh air and exercise, and would take the Brontë dogs for walks on the moors.

Mr Nicholls lived in the sexton John Brown's house adjoining the Church School and adjacent to the Church and Parsonage. John Brown was a close friend of Branwell, and his daughter Martha worked at the Parsonage as a servant. A few months after Mr Nicholls' arrival in Haworth, Branwell returned home in disgrace, and Mr Nicholls would have witnessed every stage of Branwell's decline over the next three years, and shared the tragedy of the deaths of Branwell, Emily and Anne in 1848-9. By 1850 he would have been more familiar than anyone with the family at the Parsonage. 

His proposal of marriage to Charlotte in December 1852 came as a complete surprise to both her and her father. Angered by his curate's presumption, Mr Brontë withheld his consent and Charlotte declined the offer. Mr Brontë then made life so uncomfortable for him that Mr Nicholls resigned and left the village, taking a curacy at Kirk Smeaton, 40 miles south of Haworth, but corresponded with Charlotte. By late 1853 they were meeting secretly near Haworth, and by Christmas Charlotte had accepted him and persuaded her father to agree. They were married on June 29, 1854, and honeymooned for a month in Ireland. Their marriage was very happy but tragically short. At the turn of the year Charlotte developed chronic sickness, became weak and emaciated, and, on March 31, 1855, died in the early stages of pregnancy.

Arthur Nicholls stayed on to look after Mr Brontë until his death in 1861. He had hoped to take over the living on his father-in-law's death, but was overlooked, so returned to his roots near Banagher, took up farming and never worked as a priest again. In 1864 he married his cousin Mary Anna, daughter of his uncle the Reverend Allan Bell. They had no children, and Arthur Nicholls, as the last remaining Brontë family member, spent the next 40years dealing with an endless series of biographers and curio hunters.

He died at Banagher, County Offaly, on December 2, 1906.
 

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