A plant-hunter’s extraordinary journey

John Jeffrey, the main character in my latest book Green Gold, walked, paddled and rode at least 10,000 miles across North America while hunting for plants from 1850-4. During the two years I spent researching and writing the book I plotted his travels in detail and can now publish the route in full for the first time.

John Jeffrey’s explorations

Green Gold is my latest book: a biographical fiction novel featuring the extraordinary but little-known true story of John Jeffrey, a young Victorian botanist and plant hunter. Read more.

After sailing 2,600 nautical miles from London, via Stromness in the Orkney Isles, to York Factory on the eastern seaboard of North America, the young explorer travelled across the continent covering at least 2,500 miles to reach the west coast so that he could begin his work. But that was only the beginning. For his work as a botanist for the Oregon Botanical Association — made up of wealthy Subscribers and managed by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh — he explored Washington and Oregon Territories, California, and eventually Arizona and New Mexico before mysteriously disappearing.

The following distances measured from online Google maps often assume ‘as the crow flies’ and total some 6,300 miles. Accounting for real life travel, plus the fact the collector would have wondered up and down the country searching for specimens, John Jeffrey would have travelled at least 10,000 miles.

  • 1850: 2,600 nautical miles from London to York Factory in Hudson’s Bay via the Orkney Islands
  • 1850: 680 miles (1,097 km) by small boat and foot
  • 1851: 1,309 miles (2,112 km) over the Rocky Mountains on snowshoes and foot
  • 1851: 546 miles (880 km) in canoes and foot to Vancouver Island
  • 1851: 1,143 miles (1,843 km) during an autumn botanical expedition on foot
  • 1852: 1,159 miles (1,870 km) collecting in Washington and Oregon
  • 1853: 569 miles (918 km) collecting in Oregon and California
  • 1854: 915 miles (1,476 km) collecting and travelling in California and New Mexico

While I conducted research for the book I have plotted his route meticulously using evidence from his letters and plant labels, and recorded his route on a Google Map which I’m delighted to publish here for the first time. I colour-coded the route for each different year, and have used symbols to mark key sites such as a Fort he stopped at, or a mountain climbed. Click on different features and zoom in and out to fully explore the map.

Over the four years John Jeffrey travelled in excess of 6,300 miles (10,195 km). His last known location was thought to be Fort Yuma in Arizona.


Green Gold is my latest book — a biographical fiction novel based on a true story.

“The Revenant (Michael Punke) meets The Invention of Nature (Andrea Wild).”

The book will be produced by Unbound Publishing, an award-winning crowdfunding publisher that brings books to life. You can pledge your support and in return receive an advance copy with your name (or the name of someone special) included in the book. I have a page online at unbound.com/books/green-gold where you can find out more and pledge your support.

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