John E. Thwaites Alaska photographs, writings and other material, circa 1900-1934

Overview of the Collection

Thwaites, John E. (John Edward), 1863-1940
John E. Thwaites Alaska photographs, writings and other material
circa 1900-1934 (inclusive)
1 box, including 511 photographs, (.42 cubic feet)
Collection Number
1989.107 (accession)
Photographs of Alaska taken or collected by amateur photographer John E. Thwaites, writings on Alaska by Thwaites, and letters and drawings to Thwaites from Native Alaskan schoolchildren
Museum of History & Industry, Sophie Frye Bass Library
Sophie Frye Bass Library
Museum of History & Industry
P.O. Box 80816
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2063241126 x137 or x237
Fax: 2067801533
Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public by appointment.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

John Edward Thwaites was born in Eastwood, Ontario, Canada in 1863. The family moved to Michigan around 1871. In 1885, Thwaites married Carrie Warne, and the two worked as schoolteachers in Michigan until Thwaites' ill health led the couple to relocate to Florida. Unable to establish a viable career as a teacher, Thwaites applied at the Florida Southern Railroad for a position as a federal Railway Mail Service clerk in 1895. In 1901 he was transferred to Spokane to work for the Rocky Mountain Division of the Great Northern Railway. After his involvement in several train wrecks and derailments, Thwaites decided to apply for a less dangerous position in Alaska. He was assigned the "ship service mail route" from Valdez to Unalaska in 1905, primarily aboard the SS Dora of the Northwestern Steamship Company. From 1905 to 1912 Thwaites delivered mail to the coastal communities of Southwestern Alaska.

Thwaites was also an amateur photographer. Using a Kodak camera popular for producing postcards, Thwaites documented his experiences in Southeastern Alaska, photographing native Alaskans, small towns, and scenes of life in Alaska. Thwaites also photographed maritime disasters, including the wreck of the SS Farallon at Illiamna Bay in 1910.

Thwaites was transferred to the Seward-Seattle mail route in 1914, delivering mail by dogsled to the Yukon-Kuskokwin region. He began operating a photography business out of Seward, moving the business to Ketchikan after his retirement in 1919. After selling his business in 1932, he and second wife moved to Mercer Island, Washington, where Thwaites died in 1940.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection is comprised of photographs taken or collected by J.E. Thwaites, original writings by Thwaites, and letter and drawings to Thwaites from children in Alaska.

511 photographs of Alaska (including 3 albums) taken or collected by amateur photographs John E. Thwaites, mostly while employed by the Railway Mail Service in Alaska. Includes images of the shipwrecks of the SS Farallon and SS Columbia, of Alaska natives and details of native life, and of other people and places in Alaska. Also includes a group of photographs copied from negatives taken by photographer Otto Geist, of Native Americans at Gambell, Alaska.

Writings describe Thwaites's experiences aboard the ships Dora and Farallon, and an essay on the Boroslov volcano, with accompanying photographs by Thwaites.

Children's letters are addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Thwaites in Ketchikan from Native Alaskan children in Gambell and Savoonga, Alaska. Most are thank you letters for gifts of photographs and dolls from J.E. Thwaites and his wife.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The Museum of History & Industry is the owner of the materials in the Sophie Frye Bass Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from MOHAI before any reproduction use. The museum 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 E. Thwaites Photograph Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Location of Collection


Acquisition Information

Accession 1989.107 is comprised of 44 photographs by John E. Thwaites, source unknown. The remainder of the materials was found in the Library collection.

Processing Note

Additional materials--one album, writings by Thwaites, children's drawings and children's correspondence--were added to the collection in October 2010.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

PhotographsReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
1-45: S.S. Farallon shipwreck
On January 5, 1910, Thwaites was aboard the S. S. Farallon, a wooden steam schooner, when it was wrecked at Illiamna Bay, Cooks Inlet. He and thirty others survived for one month on the beach by retrieving supplies from the grounded ship and scavenging the brush for fuel. They were eventually rescued by the S.S. Victoria.
1910 January
46-63: Fishing
18 negatives
15 prints
Images of the boat Leonine and harvested fish.
circa 1910-1930
64-71: Old Kasaan totem poles
8 negatives : nitrate
circa 1910-1930
72-96: Alaska places
Latouche, Seward, Kodiak, Taku Glacier, Cordova, Eddystone near Ketchikan, Knight’s Island, Hop, Russian Church in Sitka, Aleutian baraboras.
circa 1910-1930
97-98: Aleutian baraboras
No print for .97
circa 1910-1930
99-102: Shipwreck of Columbia
103-108: Miscellaneous people; husky dog
circa 1910-1930
109-115: Ships in Panama Canal
circa 1910-1930
116: Album: "Alaska Views by Various ‘Authors.’ J.E. Thwaites”
1 album with 105 photographs 7” x 10”
Photographs of people and places in Alaska. Many are inscribed with notations by Thwaites and dated 1907.
117: Album
1 album with 44 photographs 7.5” x 11”
Photographs of people and places in Alaska. Several people identified as being aboard the Dora, the ship on which Thwaites was stationed. Locations include Seward, Seldovia, Sand Point, Kodiak Island and Chignik.
circa 1909
119: Album
1 album with 25 photographs 5” x 8”
Album apparently belonged to a Mr. Frederick A. Williams. The first photograph in the album shows Thwaites writing at a desk, and is inscribed "A Few Alaskan Views with Compliments of the Artist." A legend to the photographs is included on the inside back cover.
118: Otto Geist photographs of Native Alaskans at Gambell
213 photographs 2.5” x 3.5”
Inscribed on box: “J.E. Thwaites. Prints off films of Otto Geist. 1928-29. From Gambell, St. Lawrence Isl. Alaska.”
circa 1928-1929

Writings, 1905-1933Return to Top

3 folders

Original writings by J.E. Thwaites about various Alaska experiences.

Container(s) Description Dates
120: "An Alaska Railway Post Office"
Thwaites account of a runaway trip of the Dora, on which he was stationed as mail clerk, including entries from his log from the trip in December 1905 and January 1906. The Dora was driven from her course by ice, delaying her trip by two months.
121 : Outdoor Life magazine with "The Wreck of the Farallon," text and photographs by J.E. Thwaites
Thwaites account, in 2 parts, of the wreck of the Farallon, on which he was stationed as mail clerk. Also includes another article by Thwaites, "A Bering Sea Story." Thwaites's writings comprise the entirety of the issue.
1913 December
122: "Bogoslov Volcano," text and photographs by J.E. Thwaites
9 typewritten pages
9 photographs
Article subtitled "Nature's Kaleidoscope," about a small group of islands in the Bering Sea. Includes 9 photographs of the Bogoslov group taken by Thwaites.

Children's drawings and letters, 1928-1934Return to Top

Letters and drawings addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Thwaites, mostly from Native Alaska schoolchildren in thanks for gifts received.

Container(s) Description Dates
133: Children's letters and drawings
20 letters
11 drawings
This folder contains 20 letters from Alaskan native children from one class in a school in Gambell, Alaska. Most of the letters are written in the same hand and all are dated March 28, 1929. The letters thank the Thwaiteses for gifts. Also includes11 drawings in pencil, crayon and watercolor depict buildings, sailboats, dog teams and people
1929 March
134: Children's letters to Mr. and Mrs. Thwaites
16 letters
Includes 9 letters from schoolchildren in Savoonga, Alaska, 1929-1930; and 7 letters from children and in Gambell, Alaska, 1928-1934. Most are thanking the Thwaiteses for gifts of pictures and dolls.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Alaska Natives
  • Dora (Ship)
  • Farallon (Ship)
  • Shipwrecks--Alaska

Form or Genre Terms

  • Drawings
  • Photographs

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Geist, Otto William (creator)