1890 marriage breakup had city’s tongues wagging

Joe Brydges, a resident of Guelph in the 1880s, worked as an iron finisher in the foundries of the Royal City.

He was married to the form­er Elizabeth Smith, who grew up in Eramosa Township. The couple had three children when Joseph decided the family need­ed a new house. In 1888, they had one built on New Street, a short, block-long route connecting Grange and Arthur Streets in the Royal City.

Things went smoothly for the Brydges family until Joe hired Jim “Jigger” Henry to do the plastering in the new resi­dence. Henry and his father had been plasterers in Guelph for years. Jigger employed a crew of three or four men. He soon struck up an acquaintance with Elizabeth, complaining to her about his problems and diffi­culties with members of his family.

Jigger Henry had been some­thing of a local celebrity as a baseball player in the early 1880s, and although a good workman he was described in one newspaper account as a “worthless, dissolute fellow.”

When the Brydges family moved into the new house, Jig­ger came along as a boarder. The couple had agreed to take in a couple of boarders to help with the mortgage and house­keeping expenses.

Elizabeth never did take in a second lodger. Part of the reason was a fourth child, born to her in 1889.

By the spring of 1890, Joe Brydges suspected that there was a growing intimacy be­tween his wife and the lodger. He had words with Jigger Henry. Unsatisfied with his explanations, he threw the lodger out of the house. Joe had heard stories from the neigh­bours concerning his wife and Jigger, and there had been rum­ours concerning the man’s character circulating in town for years.

Elizabeth was indignant. She accused her husband of jeal­ousy, but failed to deny that she and Jigger Henry were hav­ing an affair. After he was tossed out as a lodger, he fre­quently came to call on her during the day, when Joe was away at work. The neighbours, of course, monitored his move­ments, and started to report them to Joe.

Both Joe and the couple’s friends pleaded with Elizabeth to break off contact with Henry, but she refused, and eventually gave her husband an ultima­tum. If he did not allow Jigger Henry to return as a lodger, she would leave him. Joe, by this time thoroughly humiliated at the gossip circulating in town about their unconventional domes­tic relations, refused to back down.

Elizabeth, aware that her neighbours were watching her actions, became very abusive to them. Fed up with the harass­ment, the neighbours next door moved away in mid July of 1890.

On July 31, 1890, about 20 minutes after Joe went to work, Jigger showed up at the house with a huge trunk. He stayed there until almost noon. Joe, as usual, came home for his noon­time dinner, and after he returned to work Jigger Henry came back.

Elizabeth and her paramour filled the trunk with glassware, crockery, bedding, clothing, and various other household items. Later in the afternoon Jigger hauled the trunk away to the nearby Grand Trunk Rail­way station. Elizabeth and Jig­ger felt a lot easier with the nosiest of the neighbours no longer in residence. A short time later, carrying the young­est child, she slipped out of the house and headed for the Grand Trunk station.

Jigger’s sister met Elizabeth at the station, and purchased a ticket for her. As was fre­quently the case in that period, reporters for both the Mercury and the Herald were at the sta­tion that afternoon at train time. There was frequently a passen­ger arriving or departing who could give them a story, or at least a lead for one.

When Elizabeth lined up to board the westbound express when it arrived about 3pm, she was spotted by the reporters, who immediately accosted her and Jigger’s sister, who was seeing her off.

Both women were vague in their replies to questions, saying only that Eliza­beth was going away to visit some relatives, and that she had a ticket as far as Port Huron. The reporters, fully aware of the affair between Elizabeth and Jigger, asked if he was leaving town as well.

Miss Henry insisted that she had not seen her brother that day, and that he was not leaving town. Both women were cool as cucumbers as they answered the reporters questions.

But as the train picked up speed, the Mercury’s man spotted Jigger through the win­dow of a passenger car. The train was headed to Chicago, and after a ferry crossing at Sar­nia, would reach its desti­nation at 9:30 the next morn­ing. The reporters had no doubt that the couple were headed to the land of the free, either to Chicago or to Detroit, where Elizabeth’s parents and other relatives resided.

When Joe returned home a little after 6pm that evening, he at first thought the house had been ransacked by burglars. Soon he had the full story. Elizabeth had warned the re­maining three children to say nothing, but they soon broke down, describing what had oc­curred during the day. His elder daughter said that her mother promised to come back for her later, and she had given the child her wedding ring, telling her to pass it on to her father.

Later Joe found a long and insulting letter from Elizabeth, berating him for his conduct. She advised that he could get a divorce “as soon as he had enough money.”

The Henry family initially did not believe that Jigger had gone away, but in the evening they went to the hotel where he had been living and discovered that all his clothes and posses­sions were gone.

There were more revela­tions the following day. Before leaving, Henry had asked for a payment of $100 on a contract for a house he was plastering, explaining that he had to pay his men. None of his three men saw a penny of that money; one was his own father.

Robert Stewart, the lumber and building supplies dealer, seiz­ed Henry’s horse and wag­on to cover an outstanding bill for plaster and other items. Jig­ger’s father, Hugh Henry, pro­tested to the court, claiming the horse was his.

Joe Brydges also sought the help of the law. He was not in­terested in his wife’s return, but wished to secure the custody of the youngest child, and posses­sion of the trunk of household items Elizabeth had packed and taken away. But he had little faith that he would see either child or chattels again.

The elopement of the cou­ple astonished the city and kept gossips occupied for weeks. With a population of about 10,000 in 1890, Guelph was much more like a small town than a city. No one could un­der­stand Elizabeth’s actions.

Joe Brydges was a sober, quiet man, with a good job and had been an excellent provider for his family. Jim “Jigger” Henry was a disreputable fel­low, of dubious honesty and low character. No one, even his own family, with whom he fre­quently quarrelled, could un­der­stand what Elizabeth saw in him.

A week after Elizabeth left, a reporter caught up with Joe Brydges. Always mild man­nered, he was by then taking a stoical view of the whole business.

His main regret, he said, was the absence of the youngest child. He was not at all distressed that Elizabeth was unlikely to return, and he was in no hurry to procure a div­orce, which was then ex­pen­sive and difficult.

He intended to keep what was left of his household to­gether, he stated, and would soon be advertising for a live-in housekeeper.


Stephen Thorning