Way back in the mid 1970s one of our daughters, who was 7 years old at the time, arrived home from school with her summer homework, which was to make a family tree.
We were living in Germany at the time with the Forces, so didn’t have any family around to go and ask. To be honest, as I’d never known 3 of my grandparents, I really didn’t know anything about most of my ancestors.
I decided to write to my Aunt May who was always full of odd stories about the family, to see if she could help. Her letter arrived with a small tree showing my paternal grandparents’ names and the names of 3 uncles she knew of, but she didn’t remember if they had been her father’s or mother’s brothers. There was an arrow going to one name with the words “of course he was a bad lot, murdered his wife and was put in the electric chair in America!”
The homework certainly caused a stir at school and our daughter’s tree was voted the most interesting.
The story was brought up a few years later at my father’s funeral, of all places. My uncle agreed that the story was part true, there was an uncle who had murdered his wife, but it was in Canada not in America.
When I finally became interested enough to do some research into my family, about 15 years ago, my sister and my mum kept asking me, “Have you found the murderer yet?” and my reply was always, “No, I don’t know where to start as it was abroad”.
Finally we obtained a computer and then the internet, and I soon made contact with some of my paternal grandfather’s siblings’ descendants who lived in America. By this time I had found that all of my grandfather’s siblings had emigrated, so now I wondered if one of his brothers had been the murderer. On making further enquiries I was certain that it was not Grandfather’s brothers or brothers-in-laws, as they were all accounted for, so it must be Grandma’s side of the family if there was any truth in the story.
Moving on to 2006, I offered to assist someone who lives in Canada with her research here in the area where I live. She in turn said if she could ever help me with Canadian research to let her know. So, with nothing more than a vague idea of a name, I asked if she knew of any execution lists for Canada. After making enquiries at her local history centre she came back to me with a website which listed executions in Canada. (UPDATE 2014. This is a different site but has the same lists: Executions in Canada from 1860 to abolition.)
On going through the lists I couldn’t believe that I had actually found my great uncle at last!
Jobes, Henry A, 5 December 1911, hanged, New Westminster, murder, aged 50; shot his wife, Sarah Jobes, on 3 June 1911 in New Westminster.
I’d found Henry with his wife and two sons on the 1891 and 1901 census returns, and as he was age 40 in 1901, I was surprised to see that he was in Canada in 1911. My Canadian friend was as excited as I was.
I told this tale to a third cousin on my mother’s side of the family, who also shares a passion for family history, he sent this information to one of his cousins, Brien, who not only enjoys genealogy, but lives very near to New Westminster.
Brien went off to the local history centre and was able to find for me almost everything that was printed about the murder; the hunt for Henry, his arrest and later the trial, right down to the actual gory details of the execution.
You can read these newspaper reports in the newspaper accounts listed at the bottom of the page.
Further research has shown that Henry had married in his early 20’s and that his wife had died from Smallpox within a year of their marriage, only days after giving birth to a baby girl, who survived her by a few days.
On remarrying, Henry had taken to drink and his second wife Sarah, who he later murdered, had a very hard time because of his temper and violent ways.
In 1910, Henry, who was a miner, decided to go to Canada with his two sons who were both working as engineers. They secured work and Sarah followed them later.
After finding out all I could about Henry, I started to wonder what happened to his sons and tried to find more information about them. I found out that the youngest son arrived in Australia only two months after his father was hanged. I’ve found no further trace of him. The eldest son returned to the UK, later married and then emigrated to Australia too. His daughter later married and raised four children, and I am now in contact with them and their children who live in New South Wales and Perth. They knew nothing of their great grandparents, so it was a very difficult thing for me to do, telling them what I’d found.
One wrote to me saying that he now understood why his grandfather had been a very quiet man and had seemed lost in himself at times. I think that I actually felt sorry for Henry Jobes in the end. I do now wonder how my grandma must have felt about him though, as they were the closest in age in my great grandparents’ large family and Henry was a witness at her wedding.
© Geordiegirl 2008