The son of Gwennap copper miner William Jose and his wife Elizabeth Roberts, Jose was born at Vogue near Redruth in 1836 in very humble surroundings. After spending his early years in Poldory and other mines, he went to Mexico for a time, returning to Cornwall only to proceed to the silver mining district of Chañarcillo, Chile in 1853 where his brothers William, Henry and Joseph and their cousin Samuel Lean were working for the British Copiapó Mining Company. Lean soon migrated to Tocopilla in the Republic of Bolivia and after two years in Chile, John and Henry joined him. Here with a number of other Cornishmen they bought some copper mines near the coast in 1856 that they worked on tribute, setting up a company named Lean, Jose and Co.
In 1858 the company's property was ransacked by a regiment of mutinous soldiers from Cobija who carried off everything of value. In this affray Henry Jose was killed and John was wounded. William Jose then migrated from Chile to take his deceased brother's place. The company struggled on with indifferent success until a copper mine near Tocopilla, purchased for a trifle, turned out to be incredibly rich and large profits were realised.
The company introduced the first steam engines to Bolivia cast at Cornwall's Perran Foundry, initially carrying water from some distance inland via mules to steam the engines until a sophisticated apparatus for condensing water from the sea was constructed. They also established copper smelting on the coast, building the company into a thriving concern that became the Tocopilla Mining and Smelting Company following Lean's retirement to Cornwall. Jose remained managing director of the company until 1881 when it was sold to John Taylor and Sons Ltd.
By this time Jose had made a fortune and had returned to Cornwall where he purchased Mellingey, a beautiful estate at Perranarworthal where he lived with his wife, Mary Jane Mitchell. Jose immersed himself in many aspects of Cornish mining. He opened Treleigh Wood Mine near Redruth, became a shareholder and Director of Carn Brea and Tincroft mines, and a shareholder and committee member of East Pool mine and the Cornish Tin Smelting Company at Seleggan near Redruth, and a shareholder of the National Explosives Company Hayle, formed in 1889.
A Wesleyan and a Liberal, he was generous to many local causes, giving land and money to build a chapel and Village Institute at Perranarworthal. He was involved in banking and shipping, becoming a key shareholder and Director of the Cornish Bank and holder of a large interest in the Glamorganshire Bank, besides having a major interest in shipping in Swansea.
He was also intimately involved in the Cornish Hotels Company with fellow return migrants from the Pacific Littoral, Sir Robert Harvey and George Hicks, serving as its Chairman at the time of his demise. In 1889 he was elected as an Alderman in the first Cornwall County Council and in 1891 became a JP for Cornwall. He died aged 59 after a period of ill health in 1895 at Mellingey. There is an elaborate memorial at Perranarworthal Churchyard.