Family tree

Letter from Sarah Ketchum to George Binney Dibblee

See George Binney Dibblee, recipient of letter, son of Emily Dibblee
Irwine Binney, brother of Emily Dibblee
Lucy Binney, wife of Irwine Binney
Hibbert Binney, son of Irwine Binney
Lucy Jacobs sister of Emily Dibblee and Irwine Binney

This letter was written in 1912, after the sudden death of Irwine Binney, to his nephew George Binney Dibblee. George Binney Dibblee was known as Binney Dibblee, and seems close to the Binney family, even though his mother had left them to marry his father and never returned. Hibbert Binney, Irwine Binney's son, sent a telegram to George Binney Dibblee when Irwine Binney died.

The sender of the letter was Sarah E. Ketchum. She was the wife of Henry George Clopper Ketchum (see biography from Canadian Dictionary of Biographies) who worked on the same railways as Frederick Lewis Dibblee, wife of Emily Dibblee. Sarah Ketchum's sister, Lucy Milner, married Irwine Binney and became Lucy Binney. It's tempting to wonder if the connection between the Dibblees and the Ketchums is how Irwine Binney met his wife. Presumably George Binney Dibblee wrote a letter of condolence to his aunt after his uncle died, and this is the reply. The death of Irwine Binney was completely unexpected, and Lucy Binney could not face writing the reply, and passed the job onto her sister, Sarah Ketchum. However, I suspect that Sarah Ketchum was also in shock about the death as well. This is an indiscreet letter. She scrawled 'private and confidential' at the front of the letter, presumably after reading it and realising what she said. Yet there was no attempt at rewriting it or even amending it. Anyone who thinks that indiscretion belongs to the era of emails should look at this!

The individuals concerned need sorting out. Irwine Binney had a wife and sister both called Lucy. In this letter, Lucy by itself always refers to the wife, Lucy Binney (née Milner), who is Sarah Ketchum's sister. Lucy Jacobs (née Binney) is called Mrs. Jacobs or yr Aunt Lucy Jacobs. It becomes clear that Sarah Ketchum dislikes Lucy Jacobs, and that there was trouble when Irwine Binney married his wife. Irwine Binney stayed with his mother and sister until his mother died. A letter written after his mother's death says that he and his sister, Lucy Jacobs, were going to carry on living quietly together. It must have been quite a shock to Lucy Jacobs when Irwine married. This is the third marriage that we know caused trouble. Emily Dibblee had problems with her father before she was married, and so did Lucy Jacobs. It seems unkind of Lucy Jacobs to carry on the family tradition and make trouble about her brother's wedding! On the other hand, we are only hearing Sarah Ketchum's version of what happened. Lucy Jacons was 77 years old at this point.

What caused all these marriage rows is hard to work out at this distance. The family tradition for Emily Dibblee's problems was that lack of money was at the bottom of it, but I wonder if there was some class snobbery as well. The Binneys were originally wealthy people, and important politically in Halifax, and their cousin was the bishop of Nova Scotia (although there is no evidence that he ever talked to them, and his obituary doesn't mention Stephen Binney, their father). The Dibblees and the Ketchums came from a professional background, and were railway engineers, capable of supporting their own families, but with no prospect of making a fortune or going into politics. However, it may be even simpler - that Stephen Binney was a selfish person who preferred his daughters at home looking after him (see his letter), and Lucy Jacobs was jealous of her brother's new, pretty wife (see Lucy Binney's photo and Lucy Jacob's).

George Binney Dibblee wrote several books. The book mentioned at the end of the letter would be The Laws of Supply and Demand, with Special Reference to Their Influence on Over Production and Unemployment, which was written in 1912.

I have given the transcription of the letter first, and the original after, in case you want to check it.

Transcription - Page 1 of original letter - Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7 - Page 8

Moncton N.B.
June 20th 1912
Private and confidential

Dr. Mr. Dibblee,

Mrs Binney said she felt she ought to write you but I have agreed to do so as she is not equal to it yet. Your Uncles sudden death has been a terrible shock to her altho I believe she begins to get comfort from the fact that he knew nothing, suffered nothing and death was instantaneous. The Dr. said he believed a blood vessel was ruptured at base of the brain. He was playing golf with a Dr. Somers - and was sitting down on a bench at the time waiting for his turn. They had only commenced the game & Somers heard a fall, turned saw him lying on the grass. He was beside him instantly loosened his collar etc, but could detect no heart action. Dr Chandler who had been his physician for years was just coming over to the course & was beside him in less than two minutes pronounced life extinct.

Mrs Binney had gone to Fredricton the night before to attend the wedding of her youngest niece Florence ? Yr uncle had been intending to go up with her for a week or so to pay me a visit but when the time came round he said he did not feel equal to being in a big house party & a large gay wedding - I imagine he must have felt not very strong but he was devoted to golf & always ready to go off to the links. He was going on Monday to Buctouche for a fishing trip and when Lucy returned she found everything ready – even to fruit packed, fishing rods tied up & everything ready for an early start. It has been a great shock as well as a great loss to Mrs Jacobs – as to myself I cannot bear to think about it, he was such a friend – his advice was always sound – he was very conservative in his ideas - & I always abided by his judgment for I found him right in every case.

I never cared very much for Moncton myself but I have been so impressed by the almost overwhelming sympathy shewn to Lucy and Hibbert that I shall come backwards and forwards all I can while Lucy makes her home here. I would be so glad if she could sell her property & come and share my home – but she will not think of it at present as Hibbert is working with the tramway company here & likes his work very much so I imagine that he will stick to it. And while she keeps her home here I suppose yr Aunt Lucy Jacobs will stay with her she’s same as before I’m afraid, no two people could live together more uncongenial in their habits and tastes, and my sister Lucy has never been allowed to forget how unsatisfactory her marriage was to her husband’s family. She knows she made her husband very happy & during these last few years since he resigned his office she has been his constant companion. In fact he was never contented unless she was within call. She has the greatest pleasure in looking forward to Hibbert’s future – he is a fine manly good looking fellow, has heaps of friends and most devoted to his Mother & he will not stand any nonsense from anyone who interferes with the comfort of his Mother’s home. I have written quite confidentially to you as Lucy tells me you are the only one of her husband’s family who would be in the least interested in him personally & has always liked you greatly.

Lucy was delighted with the notice of yr. book jn the Times Supplement & yr uncle was going order it when she went to Fredericton. No doubt it will come in due course if he has done so. I hope yr wife and children are quite well. Remember me very kindly to her & with kindest wishes to yourself always

Yrs very sincerely
Sarah E. Ketchum

Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 1
Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 2
Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 3
Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 4
Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 5
Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 6
Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 7
Letter from Sarah Ketchum - page 8