John Work

While researching John Work, Jill Edwards uncovered four John Works with a help from Bruce Watson.

Number 1 is John Work, born around 1792 in Londonderry, Ireland, who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company from 1823 through 1861 mostly as a clerk and/or Chief Trader and was posted at places like the Bonaventure (Sacramento) River Expedition, Fort Colvile, Fort Flathead (twice), Fort Simpson, Fort Umpqua, Fort Vancouver (twice), Fort Victoria, Spokane House, and the 1830 Snake River Expedition.

His first wife was a Red River woman with whom he had two daughters.  In 1826 he married Josette Legace and had Henry, Jane, Mary, Sarah, Cecelia, Suzaette, John, and David; this marriage was formalized 6 November 1849.

After retiring from the Hudson's Bay Company he settled in Victoria, British Columbia, dying at Hillside in 1861.  He was buried in the Quadra Street Cemetery in Victoria.

The Hudson's Bay Company Archives has put biographical sheets for some of their employees online.  The one for this John Work can be found at:

Sources: Primary/Service with HBC: Bruce Watson; HBCA Fort Vancouver [Columbia] Abstracts of Servants' Accounts [1827-28] B.223/g/1, fo. 2d; [1830-31] B.223/g/2, fo. 3d; [1836-37] B.223/g/3, fo. 1d; [1837-38] B.223 /g/4, fo.1d; [1838-39] B.223/g/5, p. 1; [1841-42] B.223/g/6, p.1; [1842-43] B.223/g/7, fo. 1d; [1843-44] B.223/g/8, p.1; York Factory Abstracts of Servants' Accounts {1823-24] B.239/g/3, p.15a; [1824-25] B.239/g/4 [33 years old, from Terrohboyne, Londonderry] p. 36a; [1825-26] B.239/g/5, p. 34a; [1826-27] B.239/g/6, p. 29a; [1828-29] B.239/g/8, p. 20a; [1829-30] B.239/g/9, p. 32a; [1831-32] B.239/g/11, p. 4a; [1832-33] B.239/g/12, p. 4a; [1837-38] B.239/g/17, p. 2a; [1838-39] B.239/g/ 18, p. 2a; [1844-45] B.239/g/24, p. 2a; 1847-48] B.239/g/27, p. 2a; [1848-49] B.239/g/28, p. 2a; [1849-50] B.239/g/29, p. 2a; {1850-51] B.239/g/30, p. 2a; [1851-52] B.239/g/31, p. 2a; {1852-53/g/32, p. 2a; York Factory District Statements {1831-32] B.239/1/4, p.78; [1832-33] B.239/1/5, p. 50; [1835-36] B.239/1/6, p. 58; [1836-37] B.239/1/7, p.73; Fort Victoria {V.I.] Abstracts of Servants' Accounts {1853-54} B.226/g/1, fo. 1d; [1854-55] B.226/g/2, p. 1; [1855-56] B.226/g/3, fo.2d; [1856-57] B.226/g/4, fo. 2d; [1857-58] B.226/g/5, fo. 3d; [1858-59] B.226/g/6, fo. 2d; [1859-60] B.226/g/7, fo. 3d; [1860-61] B.226/g/8, fo. 3d; [1861-62] B.226/f/9, fo. 1d; {1862-63] B.226/g/10. fo. 16d; Officers and Servants' Wills, A.36/15, fo. 9; HBCA biography extract; Puget Sound Agricultural Company, Claims of employees at Fort Nisqually, BCA A/B/25/1; family information: Burials, Christ Church Cathedral Anglican Records, Fort Vancouver/Victoria, BCA microfilm; 1881 Canada Census, Vancouver District, Victoria Sub district, Johnson St. Ward; Published Primary Sources/Service with HBC: HBRS v. IV:356-58; v. XXX:199; Secondary Sources: Lugrin, N. de Bertrand, Pioneer Women of Vancouver Island, 1843-1866, vol. 1, The Women's Canadian Club of Vancouver Island, Victoria, 1828, pp. 60-64.

A quick reminder:
The Hudson's Bay Company employment history was recorded in "Outfit Years" that ran from the 1st of June through the 31st of May.

Number 2 is John Work was from the Orkney Islands in Scotland, birth date unknown.  He arrived on the barque Tory in 1850 as a "passenger", and started at Fort Langley in the 1851 outfit year.  From there he went to Fort Victoria in '52, alternating between the Depot and the mines in Nanaimo until '54 -- mostly as a labourer.  A mine accident in '56 left him partially paralyzed and bedridden until his death in 1857.

In 1848 he married Margaret Pearson, and had two sons and a daughter; the daughter was Margaret and one son was John Baikie Work.

The Hudson's Bay Company Archives has put biographical sheets for some of their employees online.  The sheet for this John Work can be found at:

Sources: Primary source/Service with HBC: Bruce Watson; HBCA York Factory Abstracts of Servants' Accounts [1850-51] B.239/g/30, p. 120a; [1851-52] B.239/g/31, p. 99a; [1852-53] B.239/g/32, p. 99a; Fort Victoria [V.I.] District Statements [1852-53] B.226/1/1, fo. 14d; [discharged, Sept. 20, 1852] fo. 15; Fort Victoria [V.I.] [1853-54] B.226/g/1, fo.40d; [1857-58] B.226/g/5, fo. 24d; HBCA biography extract; Secondary Sources: Bate, Mark, "Reminiscences of Early Nanaimo Days", The Nanaimo Free Press, Mar. 9, 1907, [cited Stuart's diary with description of Work's injury] p. 2; Gustapson, Lillian, Memories of the Chemanus Valley, A History of People, Chemanus Valley Historical Society, 1978, [information on widow] p. 249.

Number 3 is John Work Jr., the son of John #1.  He started his service with the Honourable Company in the 1851 outfit year at Fort Simpson as an apprentice clerk, and then "followed in his father's footsteps in the Hudson's Bay Company."

Sources: Primary Sources/Service with HBC: Bruce Watson; HBCA York Factory Abstracts of Servants' Accounts [1851-52] B.239/g/31, p. 67a

Number 4 is John M. Wark, probably from Templemore, Ireland.  He arrived on the barque Tory as an "immigrant passenger" in the 1850 outfit year and was an apprentice clerk at Fort Simpson in '51, then went to Fort Nisqually in '54.  From there it appears he switched mid-outfit year to the Fort Vancouver U.S. Sales shop, then on to Fort Victoria in '60, and finally to Caribou as a Chief Trader in '66, retiring in the 1869 outfit year.

Sources: Primary sources/service with HBC: Bruce Watson; HBCA York Factory Abstracts of Servants' Accounts [1850-51] B.239/g/30, p. 120; [1851-52] B.239/g/31, p. 67, 99; [1852-53] B.239/g/32, p. 66; Abstracts of Servants' Accounts: Fort Victoria [V.I.] [1853-54] B.226/g/1, fo. 4d; [1854-55] B.226/g/2, p. 4; Fort Vancouver [Columbia] Abstracts of Servants' Accounts [1853-54] B.223/g/9, [from Ireland, 4 years of service] fo. 4d; [1854-55] B.223/g/10; [1855-56] b.223/g/11, do. 2d; [1856-57] b.223/g/12, fo. 2d; [1857-58] b.223/g/13, fo. 2d; [1858-59] B.223/g/14, fo. 2d; [1859-60] B.223/g/15, fo. 2d; Fort Victoria [V.I.] Abstracts of Servants' Accounts {1854-55] B.226/g/2, [from Templemore] fo. 3d, fo. 37; [1855-56] B.226/g/3, fo. 31d; [1857-58] B.226/g/5, fo. 23d; [1861-62] B.226/g/9, fo. 1d; [1862-63] B.226/g/10, fo. 1d; [1863-64] B.226/g/11, fo. 3d; [1864-65] B.226/g/12, fo.2d; [1865-66] B.226/g/13, fo. 2d; [1866-67] B.226/g/14, fo. 2d; {1867-68] B.226/g/15, fo. 2d; {1868-69] B.226/g/16, fo. 2d.

What intrigues me is that John #4 was an "Immigrant passenger" on the barque Tory at the same time that John #2 was a "Passenger", while John #4 and John #3 were apprentice clerks together at Fort Simpson in the 1851 outfit year

And now some assorted bits of information about the John Works

John WORK (1792?-1861), fur trader, was born in the North of Ireland about 1792.  He entered the service of the H.B.C. in 1814; and for eight years he served at York Factory and other posts on the Hudson's Bay. In 1823 he was sent to the Pacific slope; and he spent the rest of his life there.  In 1846 he was promoted to the rank of chief factor, and from 1857 to his death he was a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils of Vancouver Island.  He died at Victoria, British Columbia, on December 28, 1861.  He married Susette LEGACE, a Spokane half breed; and by her he had five daughters and one son.  Work's papers are in the Provincial Library, Victoria, British Columbia.

source: The Macmillan Dictionary of Canadian Biographies, edited by W. Stewart Wallace, third edition.

It is to the Journal kept by Work that we are indebted for the account of this [November 18, 1824] expedition.  Work's family name was Wark, and it is said that owing to his commission for the Hudson's Bay Company being made out in the name of Work, he adopted that mode of spelling.  That is the mode universally known, and owing to the exertions of Major G.G. Aitken, representative of British Columbia on the Geographic Board of Canada, the name of "Wark Point" at Victoria, which commemorates this important official, has been altered, more correctly, to "Work Point," within the last few months.

source: Fort Langley 1827- 1927 A Century of Settlement by Denys Nelson in 1927, issued by the Art, Historical, and Scientific Association of Vancouver, BC.

For the full list of the men on the 18 November 1824 Expedition, please see our page on how Fort Langley came to be.

John Work's eldest daughter, Jane married William Fraser Tolomie.

William Fraser TOLOMIE (1812-1886), chief factor of the H.B.C., was born at Inverness, Scotland, on February 3, 1812.  He studied medicine at the University Of Glasgow (M.D., 1832), and entered the service of the H.B.C. as a surgeon.  He arrived at Fort Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1833; and from that date until his retirement in 1870 occupied various posts in the service of the company on the Pacific slope.  In 1843 he became chief factor of the Company's posts on Puget Sound; in 1855 he was chief factor at Fort Nisqually; and in 1859 a member of the H.B.C.'s board of management at Victoria.  From 1861-66 he was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island; and from 1874-78 he represented the district of Victoria in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.  In 1870 he took up farming, and he was the first to introduce thoroughbred stock into British Columbia.  He died at Victoria, Vancouver Island, on December 8, 1886.  In 1850, he married, Jane, eldest daughter of John WORK; and by her he had seven sons and five daughters.  One son, Simon Tolmie, became Premier of British Columbia. he was much interested in the ethnology and linguistics of the Pacific Coast Indians.

source of William Tolomie info: The Macmiillan Dictionary of Canadian Biography, edited by W. Stewart Wallace, Third edition.

Family information is being sought on Orkneymen who served with the Hudson's Bay Company west of the Rockies to 1858. Can you help?

A biographical dictionary of fur trade and exploration west of the Rockies (from California to Alaska) is being compiled. Since the major fur trading company for this Pacific slopes area was the Hudson's Bay Company and many HBC servants came from Orkney, family information is being sought on the Orcadians who once served in the Company west of the Rockies up to 1858.  Respondents with information are asked to please contact:

Bruce M. Watson
208-1949 Beach Avenue
Vancouver, B. C.,
V6G 1Z2
tel: [604] 684-6786
fax: [604] 871-7100

For more information please see:

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moved 28 July 2002
updated 21 July 2013