Jessie was born on 10th April 1824 at 165, West North Street, St Nicholas Parish, Aberdeen, the daughter of Alexander Gray, rope manufacturer, and Helen Brown, who were married on July 13th 1805 in Old Machar. She was very probably named Janet, for which Jessie was a common diminutive form. In the 1841 census there was no Jessie in Alexander Gray's family but there was a daughter called Janet aged 17.
Alexander Gray was born at Pitsligo in about 1777 (he was aged 74 in the 1851 census). Pitsligo registers include two baptisms for Alexander, son of George Gray and Janet Mackie, on 7th August 1777 and 22nd August 1778 respectively.
The rope making business was called Gray Watt and Co. Founded in 1780 it operated from premises at the Mounthooly end of West North Street for 150 years.
Jessie married Alexander Watkins on the 20th August 1849, and had ten children, though only five survived infancy (George, Charles, Jessie, Arthur and Christina). She was also both step-mother and aunt to Alexander's eldest three sons. After Alexander's death in 1873 she and all her children except George emigrated to New Zealand. They left in September 1879 and arrived at Otago aboard the ship Auckland on December 23rd 1879.
In New Zealand Jessie lived at 29 Madras Street, Sydenham, Christchurch. She died on February 4th 1892 aged 67, and was buried in Addington Cemetery.
Jessie's sons Charles and Arthur both married and had children. Her daughter Jessie died on 18th June 1893. In that year Christina was a tailoress living at 24 Bowen Street, Sydenham, but she was not listed in electoral rolls or directories after 1896. She died on April 14th 1927 at Sunnyside Mental Hospital, Riccarton, where she had lived for 26 years.