John Whitehurst FRS (1713 – 1788), born in Cheshire, was a clockmaker and scientist, who made significant contributions to geology.
With little formal education, he was taught clock making by his father. In 1772 he invented the “pulsation engine”, a water-raising device that was the precursor of the hydraulic ram.
About 1736 Whitehurst entered into business for himself in Derby, where he soon distinguishing himself through the design and construction of mechanical items. He was frequently consulted locally whenever skills in mechanics, pneumatics, and hydraulics were required.
In 1774, Whitehurst obtained a post at the Royal Mint in London. In 1775 he was appointed stamper of the money-weights on the recommendation of the Duke of Newcastle. Whitehurst moved to London, where the rest of his life was passed in scientific pursuits, and where he mixed with several other distinguished scientists.
In 1778 Whitehurst published his theory on geological strata in An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth. The original design of this work, which he began to prepare while living at Derby, was to facilitate the discovery of valuable minerals beneath the Earth’s surface.
In 1779 Whitehurst was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and in 1787 he published An Attempt towards obtaining invariable Measures of Length, Capacity, and Weight, from the Mensuration of Time (London.
Whitehurst married Elizabeth Gretton, a rector’s daughter, in 1745. He died in 1788 without any surviving children.