The second Brontë child was also the second to leave them

Elizabeth Brontë died aged just 10, and less is known about her than any other member of the family. Born February 8, 1815, she was only a few months old when the Brontës moved from Hartshead to Thornton, and Mrs Brontë's older sister Elizabeth Branwell travelled from Penzance to help with the move... 

The godmother chosen for the new baby was another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Firth, one of the Brontës' new friends in Thornton, so there were twin influences on the choice of Christian name. Patrick and Maria Brontë had four more children during their five years at Thornton, before moving to Haworth with their completed family of six in 1820. The following year Mrs. Brontë died, and her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moved into the Parsonage to look after the children.

In 1823 Elizabeth and her older sister Maria were sent to the fashionable girls' boarding school Elizabeth Firth had attended, Crofton Hall at Wakefield. Fees were high, and it is believed Elizabeth Firth may have helped pay them. Mr Brontë had three other daughters, though, and could not afford to educate them all at Crofton Hall on his small stipend. Then in 1823 the Clergy Daughters' School opened at Cowan Bridge, 40 miles north of Haworth. The school was well recommended by respected Yorkshire clergy, and Patrick Brontë had high regard for the head master Reverend Carus Wilson. Thanks to subscription subsidies, fees were £14 a year: half the price of Crofton Hall. Maria and Elizabeth were among the first 20 pupils at the Clergy Daughters' School, arriving on July 21, 1824. Charlotte joined them six weeks later, and Emily in the autumn.

Patrick Brontë described his second daughter as a girl with 'sound common sense'. She was not academic, and while school records show that Maria, Charlotte and Emily were to be trained to be governesses, Elizabeth's destiny was listed as 'housekeeper'. Accordingly, Mr. Brontë did not pay the extra £3 a year for Elizabeth to learn French, music and drawing, as with his other three girls. By modern standards the school's regime was harsh, although no more so than with other boarding schools of the period. Subsequent investigations, however, showed that food was ill-prepared in unhygienic conditions, and many pupils became ill.

In February 1825 Elizabeth's elder sister Maria was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and returned home. Throughout the early spring there was an outbreak of typhus in the school, which may have masked symptoms of tuberculosis in Elizabeth. Over the following six months one girl was to die at school and 20 more, a third of the roll, were withdrawn ill, six dying soon afterwards. Elizabeth's condition deteriorated and she was sent home on May 31. Charlotte and Emily were brought home in good health a few days later and never returned to Cowan Bridge. Maria Brontë died at home on the May 6, 1825, followed by Elizabeth on June 15. The only possession of Elizabeth's we know to be still in existence is her completed sampler, which is displayed, along with those of her four sisters, at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

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