According to Mrs. Gaskell, Tabby "abounded in strong practical sense and shrewdness. Her words were far from flattery; but she would spare no deeds in the cause of those whom she kindly regarded"(The Life of Charlotte Brontë 1857). Mrs. Brontë had been dead for 3 years when Tabby came to the Parsonage and the children were looked after by their mother's sister, Elizabeth Branwell. A year after Tabby's arrival, the two eldest children, Maria and Elizabeth, died of consumption. Charlotte and Emily were only nine and seven years old at the time, and as they at least had only a formal relationship with their Aunt Branwell, they found physical and emotional warmth in the kitchen.
Tabby was fond of her "childers" and they were fond of her. As Charlotte later wrote, "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, she was sometimes the butt of their boisterous games. Tabby was a great storyteller. She knew all the local families, all their complex inter-relationships and disputes, and, despite her belief in the Christian teachings of divine reward and retribution, she held also to the ancient anthropomorphic traditions of the countryside, claiming (according to Mrs. Gaskell) to have known people who had seen the fairies. Emily, who spent more time working in the kitchen than either of her sisters, was particularly close to Tabby, and Tabby's influence permeates the landscape of Wuthering Heights. Tabby has also been identified as the model for Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights, and for the housekeeper Martha in Charlotte's novel Shirley.