“Tabby” was the faithful long-serving servant of the Bronte family but little is known about her. She entered the parsonage where the Bronte family lived aged 53. Though she had two sisters who got married Tabitha never did. It's thought she worked in domestic service and on farms before working for the Bronte’s.
For the first 15 years of her 31 years of
service she was the cook and the only servant who lived at the parsonage. Her
contribution was vital as although the Brontë sisters
cooked, cleaned and washed clothes. She broke her leg slipping on ice on
Haworth's main street the Bronte's didn't want her to be nursed elsewhere. The siblings
objected so much that they went on hunger strike. They won and nursed Tabby
back to health – not full health though. The leg never fully healed and for
three years Emily did Tabby's duties.
She must have been a rock-like support. When she joined the parsonage Mrs Brontë had been dead for 3 years (the children were being looked after by their mother's sister, Elizabeth Branwell.) She must have witnessed much sadness. Only a year after starting work at the parsonage the two eldest children - Maria and Elizabeth - died of consumption. Over the many years to follow all the others would die, too.
She was fond of her "childers" and it was reciprocated, Charlotte later
writing, "she was like one of our own family". Tabby took the girls
for their walks on the moors, and, with her old-fashioned ways and broad
Haworth accent, was sometimes the butt of their games. She seems to have seeped
into the minds of the sister and is probably Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights and Martha in Shirley.
Nobody knows what she died of at 85, a good age for that area and era. Whatever was ailing her she was examined by the doctor six weeks before Charlotte's death. Perhaps she had typhus as there’s evidence Charlotte died of this having caught it from Tabitha. She's buried with her with her sister Susannah, and “George Aykroyd” who is probably her brother. The grave can’t get much closer than the parsonage and is about 25 metres away from the crypt in the church where the Bronte family are buried (except Anne).
Looking down the path down which Charlotte’s body was taken after she’d died. She may have died having caught typhus from Tabitha…