John Work papers, 1823-1944  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Work, John, 1792-1861
John Work papers
1823-1944 (inclusive)
1823-1835 (bulk)
.5 cubic feet (1 document case, 1 reel microfilm)
Collection Number
Typescript copies of journals and correspondence of John Work, an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company who explored the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s and 1830s. The materials were collected by Isaac Burpee in the 1940s for use in a publication of Work's journals. Also included are Burpee's research notes and a microfilm copy of John Work's original journal of 1823-1835.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

John Work (originally spelled "Wark") was born around the year 1792 in Donegal County, Ireland. In 1814 he ran away from home and came to Canada as an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company at York Factory. He rose from steward to clerk and was sent from Hudson's Bay to Fort George (near present day Astoria, Or.) in July of 1823, along with Peter Skene Ogden. In 1824 he served with an expedition, headed by James McMillan, to find the entrance to the Fraser River. Along the way he kept a detailed journal, as he would on future ventures. He worked throughout the upper Columbia River area and supervised the building of Fort Colvile in 1825-1826. He was promoted to Chief Trader in 1830 and succeeded Ogden as head of the Snake River Brigade. In 1831 and 1832 he headed an expedition from Fort Nez Perce to the headwaters of the Missouri River, and back. He then led a hunting expedition in 1832 and 1833 to the Bonaventure Valley by way of Ogden's River, and in 1834 traveled southward from Fort Vancouver to the area that is now Oregon. In late 1834 he left Fort Vancouver by steamer for an exploring mission to the northwest coast of Canada, participated in the building of Fort Simpson, and returned in October of the following year.

Work headed the Hudson's Bay Company operations at Fort Simpson from 1835 to 1849, being promoted to Chief Factor in 1846. He settled eventually on Vancouver Island and served in the island's first government and legislative council. He died in Victoria, B.C., in 1861 at the age of 70.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists primarily of typescript copies of John Work's journals and letters, most of which were collected by the scholar Isaac Burpee, in preparation for a publication in the early 1940s., and by the scholar T. C. Elliott. A typescript of Burpee's book "The story of John Work" (1943) begins the collection. Also included are Burpee's hand written notes. The Work journals provide details on all aspects of the various expeditions in which he participated. They include observations on flora, fauna, Native Americans, and the logistics of travel and encampment. The collection also includes copies of Work's letters to Edward Ermatinger of the Hudson's Bay Company, and a copy of Work's will.

The microfilm contains a copy of the original manuscript journal of John Work, 1823-1835, along with a typescript copy of 1944, both housed in the Provincial Archives of British Columbia.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The Oregon Historical Society is the owner of the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the Research Library before any publication use. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners.

Preferred Citation

John Work papers, Mss319, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The collection is arranged in two series:

  • Series A: Isaac Burpee writings and research materials, circa 1931-1944
  • Series B: Journals and other writings of John Work, 1823-1861

Acquisition Information

The collection was probably a gift from Isaac Burpee in the mid-1940s.


Lewis, William S., and Paul C. Phillips, The journal of John Work (Cleveland : The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1923)

Location of Originals

Original diaries of John Work are located in the Provincial Archives of British Columbia, Victoria, Canada; and at Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Series A:  Isaac Burpee writings and research materials, circa 1931-1944Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
"The story of John Work," by Isaac Burpee (typescript)
circa 1943
Isaac Burpee notes on John Work
circa 1943

Series B:  Journals and other writings of John Work, 1823-1861Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
John Work letters to Edward Ermatinger (typescript copies)
Last will and testament of John Work (typescript copies)
Journal (photostatic copies from T. C. Elliott)
1823 July 18-October 28
Journal (typescript copy)
1823 July 18-October 28
Journal (typescript copy)
1824 April 15-November 17
Journal (typescript copy)
1824 November 18-25; 1825 March 21-May 14
Journal (typescript copy from T. C. Elliott)
1830 April 30-May 31; 1830 August 22-1831 March 18
Journal (typescript copy from T. C. Elliott)
Includes roster of expedition, 1831-1832
1831 April 21-July 20
Journal (typescript copy)
1832 August 17-1833 August 31
"Journal of a trip to the southward" (typescript copy)
1834 May 22-July 10
Journal (typescript copy)
1834 December 11-1835 June 30
Journal (typescript copy)
1835 July 1-October 27

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Fur trade--Northwest, Pacific.
  • Indians of North America--Northwest, Pacific.
  • Trapping--Northwest, Pacific.

Personal Names

  • Burpee, Isaac, 1875-1951. (creator)
  • Elliott, T. C. (Thompson Coit), 1862-1943.
  • Ermatinger, Edward, 1797-1876--Correspondence.
  • Work, John, 1792-1861 (creator)

Corporate Names

  • Hudson's Bay Company.

Geographical Names

  • British Columbia--Description and travel.
  • Fort Vanvouver (Wash.)--History.
  • Northwest, Pacific--Description and travel.

Form or Genre Terms

  • Diaries.

Titles within the Collection

  • The story of John Work.