John Theophilus Desaguliers


John Theophilus Desaguliers : biography

13 March 1683 – 29 February 1744

The Canons estate benefited from Desaguliers’ scientific expertise which was applied to the elaborate water garden there. He also technical adviser to an enterprise in which Chandos had invested, the York Buildings Company, which used steam-power to extract water from the Thames. In 1718 Desaguliers dedicated to the Duke his translation of Edme Mariotte’s treatise on the motion of water.MARIOTTE, Edm (d. 1684). The Motion of Water, and other Fluids. Being a Treatise of Hydrostaticks … together with a Little Treatise of the same Author, giving Practical Rules for Fountains, or Jets d’Eau. Translated from French into English by John Theophilus Desaguliers It is perhaps no coincidence that in the summer of 1718 the composer Handel, Desaguliers’ colleague at Cannons, composed his opera Acis and Galatea for performance there. In this work the hero Acis is turned into a fountain, and since, by tradition, the work was first performed outside on the terraces overlooking the garden, a connection with Desaguliers’ new water works seems probable.Read the Wikipedia article on Acis and Galatea for more on the context.

Desaguliers appears to have been distracted from his parochial duties by his other interests, and the Duke complained that there were unreasonable delays in burying the dead. However, despite falling out with his patron, Desaguliers retained the living until his death.

Personal life

On 14 October 1712 he married Joanna Pudsey, daughter of William and Anne Pudsey of Kidlington, near Oxford. They had four sons and three daughters, for most of whom they acquired aristocratic godparents, but only two children survived beyond infancy: John Theophilus (1718–1751) graduated from Oxford, became a clergyman, and died childless, while Thomas Desaguliers (1721–1780) led a distinguished scientific military career. On 1 April 1748 he became chief firemaster at the Arsenal, Woolwich, a post which he held until the end of his life, and seems to have been the first to be employed by the English army to apply scientific principles to the production of cannon and the powers of gunnery.H. M. Stephens, ‘Desaguliers, Thomas (1721–1780)’, rev. Jonathan Spain, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 It was Thomas Desaguliers who designed and supervised the fireworks for the first performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks in Green Park.Great Britain. Board of Ordnance A description of the machine for the fireworks, with all its ornaments, and a detail of the manner in which they are to be exhibited in St. James’s Park, Thursday, 27 April 1749, on account of the general peace, signed at Aix La Chapelle, 7 October 1748. Published by order of His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance. London : printed by W. Bowyer, sold by R. Dodsley, and M. Cooper. 1749.


Desaguliers had long suffered from gout every winter, and died after several months of severe illness at his home in the Bedford Coffee House, Covent Garden, London, on 29 February 1744; he was buried on 6 March in the Savoy Chapel, Savoy Street, London.