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William Jobling - Last Man Gibbeted

Updated on April 25, 2011
River Tyne
River Tyne

The Tyne

It was bitterly cold. It always was on the slake. The wind would whistle across the barren mud, where the earth melded into sludge towards the river. The river, the giver and taker of life, the source of existence. The artery that carried the ships between the damp, dingy docks and the wide, frightening North Sea.

The ships. Since her earliest memory there were ships. Ships and coal. Black, dirty coal and black, dirty, browbeaten men who mined it.

Jobling's Gibbet
Jobling's Gibbet

The Gibbet

That morning was the same as every other. In the ramshackle home, the child struggled out of bed, shivered, wrapped herself in a flimsy gown and glanced at the empty hearth. She knew she needed coal.

She found her mother at the window, staring out to the river, transfixed across the slake. Something different was there today, something sinister, something hideous.

She followed her mother's gaze and recoiled. The black tarred body, bound and caged, suspended on an oak timber staff, was dead. Unrecognizable it swung with every gust of wind, it creaked on every hinge, it swayed with every breeze. The man was dead of that there was no doubt.

As she looked upon the dead man she would learn he had been hanged. She would learn that his body was soaked with pitch black tar and encased in a metal frame. She would learn that it was called a gibbet. Finally she would learn that the poor creature within it was her own father, and she, her younger brothers and mother, would confront the scene every day for the next three weeks.

A permanent guard of Hussars would surround it. Her family had nowhere to go. No work, no income, only charity from neighbours. As the child grew older, and the years took their toll, she would eventually see her mother committed to the workhouse, so distressed and withered, that no recollection would ever exist in her mind of the events of that fateful time.

Yet this was not ancient Rome, nor Medieval Japan, not Stalinist Russia, nor Nazi Germany. This was 19th century Britain - the greatest modern empire the world had ever known.

What transpired on that day of August 21st 1832 is infamous in its cruelty and injustice. The man hanging in the cage was the last man to be gibbeted in England. His name was William Jobling.

William Jobling
William Jobling

The Arrest

On June 11th, William Jobling, a Jarrow pitman, was involved in a drinking session at a local pub with Ralph Armstrong. By the toll-bar gate in Jarrow, a grim north-east mining village, on a grim north-east English coast, Jobling, having spent his last penny, recognised Nicholas Fairles, a 71-year-old magistrate, riding past.

Jobling approached him in a friendly gesture and asked for some money. Fairles refused to hand any over, but was not unduly distressed by Jobling's inebriated state, and in a well tempered altercation attempted to carry on his journey. Unfortunately this snub enraged Armstrong who, high on drink, assaulted him with a stick and stone.

The magistrate fell from his horse, and the shocked and confused Jobling attempted to offer compassionate assistance. His friend in panic, grabbed him and persuaded him to flee, or else they would both be for the chop. Fairles was left seriously injured. Two hours later Jobling was arrested, found wandering drunk on the beach, and hauled before the victim.

The magistrate still had the wherewithal to acknowledge that it was not Jobling who struck him, but the other man, who had escaped. Nevertheless, Jobling was removed to Durham prison, until, ten days later Nicholas Fairles died, and Jobling was charged with his murder.

What became of Armstrong is unknown, however he was a sailor, and no doubt managed to return to his ship and sail away.

Meanwhile the politics of the time were set to act profoundly on William Jobling.

Jarrow Colliery
Jarrow Colliery

The Background

The background to this event was the coal mining strike of 1832.

The history of coal mining in Great Britain is a road paved with blood, toil, tears, sweat and slavery. In the early nineteen century, when William Wilberforce instigated the Slave Trade Act of 1807 which eventually led to it's abolition in 1833 and ending the practice in Britain's dominions and empire, it was astonishingly still upheld in the mother country, albeit by another name.

That name was "bonded". Britain was the powerhouse of the world. It's where the industrial revolution began, and it's where mass production had its base. The great factories and mines were the wheels that rolled production. People left their rural and agricultural bases to seek work in the new industrial nirvana.

There were no Health and Safety Acts, no Industrial Relations Acts, no protections in force for the workers, no adequate housing, no social provisions, no education for the workers or children. No unions, no redress, no way out.

There was nothing save a job. Lose it and starve! The Industrial magnates and barons had a workforce in abundance, and built their wealth upon it.

Durham Assizes
Durham Assizes

The Iron Fist of the Ruling Class

Jobling was a bonded miner, in other words a worker committed by a cross on a piece of paper which held him bonded to the mine for a period of time, to be treated as the owner wished.

One day he got drunk. One day he was in the wrong company. One day he was tried at the Durham Assizes, hanged and gibbeted! It was a miserable life which ended in misery. It was a miserable life which brought misery to his wife and children.

His country had abolished slavery and freed the enslaved. It didn't free Jobling, and it would be more than another one hundred years before British miners and the working classes were freed from their shackles.

Ralph Armstrong was never caught and may have escaped to Australia (there's been a long held and tenuous theory that he was actually Red Kelly - an Irish convict transported to Australia in I843, who eleven years later spawned the infamous outlaw Ned Kelly).

Victoria's Coronation
Victoria's Coronation

In context of the times, with industrial unrest, and revolutionary France across the sea, it was the establishment's method of ensuring the ruling classes maintained their position through an iron fist.

Britain may have beaten Napoleon, consolidated her position, increased her power, but an army of soldiers returned disillusioned, forgotten by the flag they fought for, and dissent was rife.

Meanwhile the wheels of industry needed to turn, and the industrial barons required labour. The crown ruled, parliament acquiesced, and the law ensured they would. Stability was essential, and the rights of man were negligible.

Prisons were overcrowding, hangings for robbery and murder were unwise. No wars - no conscription. Employ the masses or export them. Hence, slavery in the factories or transportation to Australia.

With the noose around his neck, Jobling attempted to apologise, but words failed him. The ground beneath him disappeared, and his neck, after a delay, finally snapped. His death was prolonged because just as the trap opened, he turned his head briefly in recognition of a voice of familiarity crying out from the crowd. Some suggest the caller may have been Armstrong in disguise. In any event, the action dislocated the rope.

His body was then eviscerated and soaked in tar. It was placed in a metal cage, paraded through the streets, and in a final indignity, hung on a wooden post, just a few hundred feet outside his home.

There it swung, guarded by a contingent of Hussars, until it became so putrid a few brave people eventually managed to clandestinely remove and bury it - to a place still unknown.

Was Jobling a political scapegoat to be made example of in a time of industrial unrest?

He was tried by Mr Justice Parkes, a notorious judge who hung or transported prisoners with impunity. Upon sentence, with the black cap on his head, he addressed Jobling saying:

“I trust that the sight of that will have some effect upon those who are, to a certain extent, your companions in guilt and your companions in these illegal proceedings which have disgraced the county. May they take warning by your fate.”

Victoria came to the throne five years later. The golden age of empire had begun.

As for William Jobling's family, they are lost to history. His wife was committed to the workhouse, and his children probably suffered the same fate.

Charles Dickens wrote about the workhouses and gave Oliver Twist a happy ending. There was no happy ending for Jobling's family.

170 years later, this story must be told.


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    • profile image

      Eileen Digweed 

      3 years ago

      I just came across this by chance and I think I may be a relation of tnat poor man. My grandmother was Elizabeth Jobling and I was always aware that there was secrecy around the family background. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any further information. Its

    • profile image

      Rob Jobling 

      5 years ago

      Can't say he was an ancestor - as my Dad used to say "In Northumberland Joblings are two-a-penny!

      This is tho' a deeply moving story which I find has left me quite depressed. Feel so much for his wife Isabella.

    • profile image

      marc jobling 

      5 years ago

      This is my great great grandfather

    • profile image

      Melanie Howe 

      8 years ago

      I am also a family ancestor, it is very interesting

    • profile image

      ellen jobling schroedter 

      8 years ago

      HI JOHN

      I am Carols sister another relation

    • profile image

      Carol Jobling 

      8 years ago

      Hi John

      One of my ancestors as well we must be related

    • profile image

      John jobling 

      8 years ago

      My great great great ancestor

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • profile image

      Edward Jobling 

      8 years ago

      I remembered sitting with my parents 30 years ago and watching "Farewell Jobling", Jobling meaning in German "Job-ling" "son of Job" of course there are many Joblings in the North Humberland. They were lucky to make it through Germany before the war. The story is very interesting but just a scratch on the surface of the family of "Job"

    • profile image

      dawn forster 

      9 years ago

      yer you can get farewell jobling i got it for my dad as he was the one that played the part in he was the one that got hung his name was gary robberts

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great story. Given the right-wing Republicans in the U.S. who are trying to bust up the unions (the only reason there was a working wage in America in the first place). We'll probably have gibbetting here in a few years for those who dare to oppose the wealthy overlords who bought off their Republican Masters.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      There was a T.V. Play made of this event called "Farewell Jobling", does anybody know if it still exists and available on DVD.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Just surfing the web, an interesting read. Thank you.


    • The Bard profile imageAUTHOR

      The Bard 

      10 years ago from London, England & San Pablo City, Philippines

      Thanks tonymac04 for being the first to comment on this. I have used decriptive prose to emphasise it - but the fact are true. The leader of the miners revolt at the colliery - Tommy Hepburn had a non-violent policy which he attempted to use to calm the miners and prevent them from attacking the soldiers. An act which would transport them to convicted slavery in Australia. Hepburn was blacklisted by the colliery barons so he ended up selling door to door - mainly tea. However, anyone found to be buying goods from him, would also be blacklisted. Eventually, browbeaten and defeated, he was given a job back in the mines. The condition being that he would never be an activist again. He was crushed but survived.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Dear Lord - what barbarism! Another innocent man unjustly killed. Thanks for this Hub which only deepens my conviction of the utter depravity of the death penalty, and its uselessness.

      I did not know this story, nor that a gibbet was what you have described here. I always thought it was the frame built to hang people from.

      Love and peace



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