Artwork of Branwell Brontë’s letters: 'Alas! poor Caunt!'

The second drawing, 'Alas! poor Caunt!' is found at the end of Letter 8: addressed to Leyland and dated 10 September 1845 (BC MS 19c Brontë/02/01/08).

The full note to the drawing begins: 'Bendigo "taking a sight"'.

William Thompson ('Bendigo', 1811-1880) and Ben Caunt (1815-1861) were well-known boxers whose final fight took place on 9th September 1845. Bendigo was declared the dubious winner after 93 rounds.

Branwell had experience of boxing and read the sporting papers, but Christopher Heywood, in his article 'Alas! Poor Caunt': Branwell's Emancipationist Cartoon, suggests this drawing is also inspired by the Brontës' interest in the Abolitionist and Emancipation movements.

Drawn in black ink and with his hands in chains, Caunt closely resembles Josiah Wedgwood's 'Kneeling Slave' (1787) - an emblem of Anti-Slavery campaigns in both Britain and the U.S. Although officially abolished in 1833 in the UK, slavery continued to be a current topic in Britain with condemnation over U.S. and British practices overseas.

Closer to Haworth, similar terminology was used to debate the conditions of mill-workers, in newspapers including the Leeds Mercury. During the 1840s campaigners for the 'ten hours bill'; (to reduce the length of shifts) drew comparisons with slavery to argue their position.

Heywood suggests that in Branwell's drawing slave and slave-driver are used to convey concerns about contemporary boxing. This was largely unregulated and another arena in which profit rather than human welfare was the primary concern.

'Alas! Poor Caunt!' refers to Hamlet's graveside speech which begins 'Alas, poor Yorick' (Hamlet, V, i, l. 178). In Letter 8, which the drawing accompanies, Branwell hopes that his new novel will 'unveil man's heart' as faithfully as Shakespeare.

Branwell Bronte – Alas! Poor Caunt!

Copyright University of Leeds