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The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers's Course of Experimental Philosophy to the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains


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This paper looks at the work of John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744) on hydraulics and how this provides evidence for the first fountains driven directly by pumps.
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James W.P. Campbell
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of
Experimental Philosophy to the History of Hydraulics and what it
reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
James W.P. Campbell
Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge, UK
The design of water features and fountains, and the use of waterwheels for power were well advanced in the late
seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but the scientific and engineering literature generally lagged behind
practice. Those involved in water engineering in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods had generally trained
by working under existing experts and must have relied on rules of thumb and while there were books produced
on fountain design they were notably lacking in technical detail. The problems associated with fountain design
were to do with problems of flow. Fountains up until the end of the seventeenth century were invariably driven by
reservoirs at some height above the gardens. The pressure was created by potential difference and the problems
the fountain designer was interested in were how many spouts could be fed from the reservoir at a time, how
dramatic they would be, and how long they would operate for before the reservoir ran dry. There were also, of
course, much more practical matters to do with the design and manufacture of pipes and of spouts and valves to
control them and dealing with air pockets and the surges in pressure caused by turning the system on and off, and
then for those places not blessed with a high hill on which to place a reservoir above the garden, there were
problems of pumping water into cisterns that could carry out the same purpose, albeit for a shorter time. Histories
of Hydraulics and Fluid Dynamics tend to dwell on those books and writers whose work moved the theory
forward [1]. Thus they tend to discuss Simon Stevin (1548-1620), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Benedetto Casteli
(1577-1644), Evangelista Torrecelli (1608-1647), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Gottfreid Leibniz (1646-1717),
Daniel Bernouli (1700-1782) and Leonhard Euler (1707-1783). While there is no doubting the long-term
significance of these figures, there is a risk of overlooking those who wrote more accessible and down-to-earth
treatises that were more influential at the time. To such a cannon belongs the works of French writers Edme
Mariotte (1620-1684), Antoine Parent (1666-1716), Bernard Forest de Belidor (1693- 1761) and most importantly
for this paper, the work of French-born English writer John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744). While the other
aforementioned authors all make it into the standard histories of hydraulics, Desaguliers does not get a single
mention, despite the fact that his books were influential at the time and, as this paper will show, contain important
information on contemporary practice which is not available from any other source. This paper will begin with a
brief introduction to Desaguliers and his works on hydraulics before focusing on his most important work,
volume II of his Course of Experimental Philosophy which as the title suggests began life as a series of public
lectures and was published in 1744 towards the end of his life and subsequently translated and reprinted several
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744)
Figure 1. Engraved portrait of John Theophilus Desaguliers, artist unknown
Despite being a prominent figure in the early eighteenth century, comparatively little has been written on the life
of John Theophilius Desaguliers. The most complete study is the 339-page biography by Dr Audrey Carpenter
that appeared in 2011 [2]. Much of the previous work had concentrated on his connections with Freemasonry [3].
Desaguliers was an important figure in the history of Freemasonry but this has all too often tended to overshadow
and detract from his more important contributions in the popularisation of Newtonian science and this area is now
beginning to get more serious attention, in particular with Andrew Morris’s paper on Desagulier’s contribution
towards the understanding of water wheels in his Course of Experimental Philosophy, the subject of the current
paper [4]. This papers grows out of two small notes in works on the building of the great fountains at
Herrenhausen for George II which as we shall see are much more important than the authors of those works
suggested [5].
Desaguliers was born Jean-Théophile Desaguliers on 12 March 1683 in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of
France, son of a French Protestant minister [6]. His father had already fled to Guernsey to escape the Huguenot
persecutions and his mother followed, presumably as soon as the child was old enough to travel, certainly within
a few months of his birth [7]. When the boy was nine the family moved to London [8]. His early education was
probably at home and on moving to London, his father set up a French school in Islington which his son attended.
Tragically his father died in 1699 and for reasons still not entirely understood, but presumably through some
James W.P. Campbell
family connection, Desauliers finished his schooling in Warwickshire in a school in Sutton Coldfield managed by
an A.M. Sanders [9]. The young man seems to have been taken under the wing the local Wilkins family and sent
to Christ Church Oxford as a servitor, probably to accompany the son of the household. This gave Desaguliers
access to a University education which would have been otherwise unavailable to a person in his social situation.
The University was only open to those of the Anglican faith, which Desaguliers seems to have readily embraced,
becoming ordained in 1710 [10]. Desaguliers appears to have been a brilliant student and was enamoured by the
lectures of John Keill, who lectured on Newton’s Principia. When Keill left the University in 1709 Desaguliers
continued them, moving to Hart Hall and it was there he obtained his MA in 1712. Shortly afterwards he moved
to London [11]. The reason for leaving was almost certainly to marry (Fellows of Oxbridge colleges were not
allowed to marry in the seventeenth century). He married Joanna Pudsey on 14 October 1712 at St Paul’s
Church Shadwell and they lived first off Fleet Street and then in Channel Row in Westminster [12].
Public Lecturer
The only two Universities in England before the nineteenth century were Oxford and Cambridge. Thus moving to
London as a lecturer, Desaguliers had no choice if he wished to continue but to offer private lectures. His
language skills came in useful in this regard as he could lecture and teach equally in English, French, and Latin
[13]. His breakthrough came in 1714 when he was hired to become demonstrator for the Royal Society, a position
that had been held many years before by Robert Hooke and which involved organising experiments for their
weekly lectures [14]. At this time Desagulier’s great hero, Isaac Newton, was President. It was presumably both
the success of these lectures and the prestige of the position that led to the invitation to lecture to the King and his
family [15]. In 1717 Desaguliers temporarily decamped to Hampton Court to lecture George I and his family in
French [16]. In 1719 Oxford awarded Desaguliers a Doctor of Common Laws degree (DCL) presumably in
recognition of his growing prestige which he used to obtain the equivalent degree in Cambridge and enabled him
to go by the title Dr Desaguliers [17]. Membership of the Royal Society probably led to Deaguliers meeting his
first and most important patron, James Brydges, the 1st Duke of Chandos. Chandos appointed Desaguliers to the
living of St Lawrence, Little Stanmore close to Cannons, his seat and Desaguliers helped the Duke design the
water gardens there, advise on his investments with the York Buildings Company (which supplied London with
water from the Thames) and with helping to drain his mines. It was to the Duke that Desaguliers dedicated his
translation of Mariotte’s book on hydraulics in 1718 [18].
Publication of Translation of Mariotte
Edme Mariotte (1620-1684) came from a family of civil servants and inherited the title Sieur de Chazeuil. He
joined the Academy of Sciences at its foundation and was very actively involved, publishing papers on subjects
as varied as colour, trumpet notes, recoil in guns and falling bodies [19]. In France he is chiefly known for having
published in 1679 in his Essais de Physique, what is known in England as “Boyle’s Law”: the volume of gas is
inversely proportional to pressure [20]. In his lifetime Mariotte published dozens of books and articles [21]. He
had prepared his book on hydraulics, Traité du mouvement des eaux et des autres corps fluides. Divisé en V.
parties, but died in 1684, having entrusted the manuscript to Philipe De la Hire (1640-1718) who saw it through
to publication in 1686. De la Hire says in his introduction, he felt that he should publish it without addition or
editing and thus we can presume it was very much as Mariotte had intended [22]. Mariotte’s book as the full title
suggests, was divided into five parts. These are essentially five separate essays: the first discusses the sources of
water and springs, the second problems of pressure and fluids at rest; the third looks at measuring running water
and spouts; the fourth the height of jets; and the fifth at pipes and networks of distribution.
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
Unlike De Hire, Desaguliers was not content to publish Marriotte’s book entirely unaltered. He was clearly
interested primarily in Mariotte’s work on fountains. Desaguliers added a foreword praising his patron,
annotations and notes at the end and adds his own essay as appendix, using Mariotte’s calculations and figures to
produce tables of the amounts of water that could be supplied from reservoirs and the heights of jet fountains.
This essay is a genuine contribution and was of huge use to those designing fountains at the time. Desagulier’s
translation was evidently popular and was referred to in books of the time such as the Builders’ Dictionary (1734)
Other books
Desaguliers’s translation of Mariotte was neither his first nor his only published work. His obvious facility with
both French and English and his interests in science made him an obvious translator of French scientific texts.
While still at Oxford he had translated two treatises by Jacques Ozanam, one on fortification and the other on the
mathematics of sundials [24]. Once in London he translated Nicolas Gauger’s advice on the prevention of
smoking chimneys [25] and after Mariotte he went on translate the two volumes from French of ‘sGarvesande’s
work on Newton (in 1721 and 22) which went to numerous editions [26] and Vaucanson’s description of an
automaton (1742) [27] while in 1715 he had co-translated Archibald Pitcairn’s works from Latin [28]. While all
these translations were a useful sideline, they should not detract from the fact that Desaguliers was a frequent
contributor of articles to Philosophical Transactions, the scientific journal of the Royal Society. He published 55
articles in all [29]. His first “book” was the publication of his Sermon Preach’d Before the King at
Hampton-Court on Sunday, Sept. 29th, 1717 [30] which ran to 23 pages. Physico-Mechanical Lectures. Or, an
Account of what is explain'd and demonstrated in the course of mechanical and experimental philosophy given by
J. T. Desaguliers, etc. It contained a list of 22 lectures covering topics as varied as the Newtonian laws of motion,
steam power and the working of the human eye and was essentially, little more than a syllabus and advertisement
for his courses [31]. A System of Experimental Philosophy, prov'd by Mechanicks [32] was a more systematic
treatise on the Newtonian world and over 200 pages long. It was compiled from notes by Paul Dawson. This was
based on Dawson’s own notes of the lectures and not strictly speaking Desagulier’s own work although the
critical preface by Desaguliers shows that it at least had his approval [33].
The publication of the Course of Experimental Philosophy
In the publication of the contents of his lectures in 1717, he declared his intention of publishing a full account of
the lectures at a later date [34]. In fact it was not until 1734 that he managed to put together a full set of lectures
in the first volume. The second had to wait nearly ten years. Desaguliers says the reason for the delay was he
grappling with the international debate that was raging between the followers of Newton and Leibniz over the
mathematical relationship between force and velocity of a moving object [35].
James W.P. Campbell
Figure 2. Engraved portrait of John Theophilus Desaguliers
Organisation of Book
In the introduction to the first volume published in 1734, Desaguliers explains at length the background to his
lectures and how he came to deliver them and how he had already begun to translate the book that followed into
French [36]. The first volume contains five lectures: Lecture I contains experiments demonstrating basic
Newtonian mechanics, including gravity and atmospheric pressure, and the nature of light and matter; Lecture II
looks at motion, momentum and velocity; Lecture III at simple machines (levers, pulleys, cranes etc.); Lecture IV
discusses friction in mechanical engines; Lecture V (the last in this volume) covers Newton’s five laws of motion.
While these are not without interest to the construction historian, they tell us nothing about the subject of this
paper. Water is only discussed in the second volume.
In the opening to the second volume Desaguliers explains how his second volume had been delayed because of
the dispute about whether force was related to mass times the square of velocity (as believed on the continent) or
directly proportional to mass times velocity (as believed by the English). He also explained that he had originally
intended to include his lectures on optics but after putting in the information about water he had no further room
[37]. The second volume contains seven lectures (number VI-XII): Lecture VI looks at momentum and its
preservation using the impacts of bodies; Lecture VII is entitled “Hydrostaticks” and is the first of the chapters to
deal with the subject of this paper. The accompanying notes carry Desaguliers tables on the heights of jets of
water; lecture VIII covers siphons and pumps; Lecture IX looks at Archimedes Principle, specific gravities,
differences in densities and buoyancy; Lecture X looks at pneumatics, atmospheric pressure, barometers and the
use of suction in machines; Lecture XI looks at air pumps, condensing engines and “wind guns” while the last
lecture, Lecture XII, is on engines of all types, but especially those using water, including watermills, steam
engines and fire pumps.
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
Chief contributions
There is no doubt that one of the chief reasons for historians for examining Desagulier’s Courses has been for his
early descriptions of steam engines, although these will not detain us here. Likewise he gives details of early
pumping devices for fire hoses which are interesting for those studying the history of firefighting. As far as
construction history goes, however, our chief interest lies in his descriptions of devices associated with water
supply and water power. These include Desagulier’s work on the Edinburgh Water supply, Vauloüe’s pile driving
engine; the design of water wheels including, London bridge waterworks; the Machine of Marly; the Nuneaton
Water Mill; Francini’s pump and perhaps most importantly for the current paper Mr Holland’s engine at Wansted,
together with Desagulier’s comments on jet de l’eau. As we shall see only some of these were original
Fig.3 Desaguliers’s illustrations of the problems of air bubbles at the top of pipes and various solutions for
relieving them made in response to the problems with the water supply in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s Water Supply
Edinburgh’s volcanic rock strata create problems with water supply, making the digging of wells difficult and in
most cases unprofitable. The city expanded in the seventeenth century and water began to become a major civil
issue. An aqueduct and system of pipes was constructed in 1675 to conduct the water from Comiston where
reservoirs were filled by springs directly into the city but for reasons that were unclear the water failed to flow as
expected. Desaguliers became involved when he dined with his patron the Duke of Chandos at Canons on 31 July
1721. Chandos had invited John Campbell (1680-1743), 2nd Duke of Argyll and Lord Provost of Edinburgh and
the discussion turned to the water supply [38]. Just three weeks later Desaguliers was in Edinburgh, presumably
at the behest of the Duke and both successfully analysed that the cause of problem and came up with a solution:
the pipes went up and down and air pockets were forming at the top of the rises which were then preventing the
water from flowing. Desagulier’s solution was simply to drive a nail into the top of the pipe which released the air
and then driving the nail further sealed the gap [39]. Having correctly determined the cause he then went on to
James W.P. Campbell
devise a system of release valves and riders to prevent the situation arising again. The riders are illustrated in the
book (fig.2) together with a full description and references to the paper that Desaguliers had written on the subject
for Philosophical Transactions at the time [40].
Fig. 4 Vauloüé’s pile driving engine for driving the caisson walls for the pillars of Westminster Bridge
Vauloüé’s Pile Driving Engine
Lecture XII is a lecture on engines. It begins with a discussion of the efficiency of engines, and Desaguliers is
drawn to discuss the appropriateness of designs and the importance of calculations. One of the factors he notes is
the time involved in operations. He gives two examples: Mr Padmore’s crane at Bristol, which he does not
illustrate but describes, which had two modes of operation - a heavy lifting mode and a mode more suitable for
small loads which needed to be transferred with less force but more quickly as there were more of them [41]. The
second example is for a machine that had to operate only in one mode but swiftly so as to take advantage of the
low tide, which was the horse-powered floating pile-driving machine used for the building of Westminster Bridge
invented by the watchmaker Mr James Vauloüé [42]. The fact that this machine was actually used and functional,
as well as its ingenious construction is seen in Desagulier’s illustration (fig.4). The pile driver was used to create
the caisson dams which enabled the creation of the stone foundations for the bridge. Vauloüé received the Copley
Medal from the Royal Society for his work but, beyond the fact that he was French and a watchmaker, nothing
more is known about him.
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
Desaguliers had a particular interest in the Westminster bridge project: the house which he had moved to when he
arrived in London and in which he gave his famous courses of lectures was in Channel Row overlooking the
bridge. Its designer, Charles Labelye, even rented a room off Desaguliers in 1738 during its construction [43].
Sadly in 1741 the house had to be demolished to make way for the access road to the bridge [44] and Desaguliers
died before the bridge was completed. The image of the pile driver in the book is the same a Vauloüé published
referred to in Labelye’s books on the construction A short account of the methods made use of in laying the
foundations of the piers of Westminster Bridge (1739) and A Description of Westminster Bridge (1751) [45].
In the next part of the book Desaguliers considers Holland’s engine which we will leave for slightly later but
which leads to and grows out of a discussion of the efficiency of water wheels [46]. This leads to a discussion of
the London Bridge Waterworks.
London Bridge Waterworks
Just as Desaguliers had got his illustration of the pile driving machine (fig.5) from another source which he had
copied and redrawn and which he acknowledges in the text, so he drew his next description and illustration from
an existing source, this time a paper in Philosophical Transactions by another Fellow of the Royal Society, Henry
Beighton (1687-1743) [47]. Beighton had not designed the London Bridge Waterworks, he was was merely
describing them. They had been constructed by the greatest British water engineers of the age, George Sorocold
(c.1668-c.1738). Sorocold designed waterworks for Derby, Bridgnorth, Bristol, Deal, Kings Lynn, Leeds,
Newcastle upon Tyne, Norwich, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Great Yarmouth as well as Marchants Waterworks
and the London Bridge Waterworks in the capital [48]. Desaguliers described his London Bridge Waterworks
where the wheel pumped water out of the Thames using a waterwheel powered by the flow underneath the bridge.
It was used as an illustration of the optimum number of paddles wheels should have, being looked upon as a
particularly efficient example [49]. Sorocold’s work deserves more research and despite his obvious influence on
the history of water supply he remains a largely unsung hero [50].
Fig. 5 London Bridge Waterworks from Desaculiers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy
James W.P. Campbell
Machine of Marly
Desaguliers goes on from the description of the London Bridge Waterworks to say that the pumping mechanism
is more efficient than the great Machine de Marly [51]. The Machine de Marly (figs 6 and 7) is of such
significance that it is difficult to believe that it had not been heard of by Desagulier’s readers but as far as I am
aware there had been no descriptions or illustrations of it in Britain before the Desaguliers’s book.
As has already been mentioned, Desaguliers drew on a number of sources in compiling this collection of lectures,
but one of the most important was Belidor’s four volume Architecture Hydraulique published between 1737 and
1753. Much of the material came from volumes one and two published in 1737 and 1739 respectively which had
been published just before Desagulier’s second volume [52] and indeed the time taken to absorb the contents of
Belidor’s work after the release of it second volume may have been another reason for the delay in Desagulier’s
own second volume going to press. There is not the space to describe the Machine de Marly in detail here and
anyway it has been done adequately elsewhere [53]. Suffice it to say that was build for Louis XIV to provide
water to power the greatest water garden ever assembled: the fountains of Versailles. The machine consisted of
14 wheels which drove over 250 pistons to lift water from the Seine 162 metres up the hillside and into the
Louveciennes Aqueduct. Desaguliers says that at its most efficient it lifted 3.5 tons a minute [54].
Fig. 6 and 7 showing Desaguliers’s plates of the Machine de Marly from his ‘Course of Experimental
Philosophy’ which were copied directly from Belidor.
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
Nuneaton Water Mill
All the aforementioned mills were undershot. Desaguliers then provides an example of an overshot mill and
compares their efficiency [55]. The example chosen is a water mill at Nuneaton that is used to power a mill grind
corn. The source once again is Henry Beighton, as acknowledged in the plate (fig.8).
Fig.8 The Water Mill at Nuneaton as originally drawn by Henry Beighton FRS in 1723.
Francini’s Pump
After a brief description and illustration of a machine by Antoine Parent for a watermill fed from the middle [56],
Desaguilers moves on to describe Francini’s chain pump (fig.9) and used the water from a spring to lift pump
water out of a mine and was first illustrated in Belidor [57]. Mine pumps had been of particular interest to
Desaguliers as he had been involved in pumping operations for the various mines owned by the Duke of Chandos
[58]. This leads naturally onto Desaguliers’s descriptions of Steam Engines used for pumping out mines. While
these and the smaller pumps used for putting out fires are interesting and worthy of study, space prevents further
James W.P. Campbell
discussion of them here. I would like instead to concentrate on the earlier pumps that Desaguliers had illustrated
before the London Bridge Works: namely Mr Holland’s engine at Wansted House.
Fig.9 Francini’s Chain Pump
Mr Holland’s Engine at Wansted
While Desagulier’s illustrations mentioned above are all interesting in their own right, they are all drawn, as we
have seen, from other sources. Desaguliers does seem to have relied on his friend Henry Beighton again for the
drawing and description of Holland’s engine but while Beighton published his account of the London Bridge
Waterworks, he does not appear to have published elsewhere himself. Beighton died in 1743, shortly before
Desaguliers. Desagulier’s account of Holland’s engine [59] is thus the only surviving account. The water wheel is
an undershot wheel whose efficiency is impeded by having too many paddles. What is of particular interest
however is not its inefficiency but its purpose which was to drive a series of pumps which were carefully timed to
operate in sequence by a mechanism devised by Holland that allowed the water wheel to directly drive a fountain.
Up until this point all garden fountains had been driven by gravity. Modern fountains are all driven directly by
pumps and indeed we take this so for granted we never think twice about it, but up until the late seventeenth
century all fountains were driven by pipes from cisterns above the level of the fountain. The water might be lifted
by water wheel into the reservoir or cistern but the fountain itself was always driven simply by gravity from that
source. The reason was that pumps did not flow smoothly- they produced bursts of water at intermittent intervals.
Holland’s ingenious gearing system solved this problem. It meant that gardens were situated in places without
convenient sites for reservoirs and cisterns but close to a river could now have impressive jet fountains.
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
Fig.10 Mr Holland’s engine for driving a pump to drive directly the jet fountains at Wansted showing the use of
chains and especially spaced metal teeth on the pulleys G. F, E and D to ensure that the pistons act to produce a
continuous flow.
The jet de l’eau was by the end of the seventeenth century by far the most common and sought after type of
fountain in England. A number of theories have been put forward as to why this was the fashion, the most
convincing of which was probably that there was and had been since the Reformation a shortage of statuary
masons and that sculptural fountains were thus rare. The English thus seem to have grown to favour the simple
vertical jet of water (known always by its French term jet de l’eau) and in the spirit of rivalry fountain owners
competed to produce ever taller and more elaborate examples [60]. Desagulier’s treatise thus sought to provide
practical guidance on this subject and in the process he inadvertently provides us with key information that was
unavailable elsewhere on the progress being made in the science. In his text he provides useful information on the
manufacture of pipes and spouts and on the heights that could be expected from different heads of water using
James W.P. Campbell
conventional gravity fed examples. He then goes on to tell of Holland’s pump and how that was the first example
anywhere of a directly driven fountain. Desaguliers illustrates the pump at Wansted House built for Lord Tylney
[61]. This very grand house was started in 1715 and completed in 1722. The engraving in Desaulier’s book is
dated 1720 so the pump must have been in action before the house was completed. But Desaguliers says that
Holland had already successfully used the same type of pump at Wilton for the Earl of Pembroke. The
waterworks at Wilton had been elaborately laid out a century before by De Caus and thus a new driven fountain
was no doubt a part of a renovation of the former scheme (and possibly a simplification) [62]. We do not have
any firm dates for such a renovation but presuming that it predated the patent it must have been between 1700 and
1715. The fountain at Wilton was 70-80 feet (24m) high [63]. The inefficiency of the wheel at Wansted led to a
slightly less impressive 70-72 feet (21m) [64]. Versailles’s tallest fountain which was gravity fed by comparison
managed 88 feet (27m) [65].
Desaguliers goes on to tell Mr Holland’s ideas were then stolen by one “Mr B.” who passed them off as his own
and fraudulently acquired the job of producing a similar driven fountain in 1716 for George I at Herrenhausen
[66]. That fountain designed was to be taller than any previous jet fountain and indeed to be the tallest jet fountain
in the world, managing jet of 100 feet high (33m) [66]. The Mr B. in question is William Benson (1682-1754).
Benson was a notable rogue and social climber. He had moved to Amesbury in 1708 and not doubt it was there he
met Holland [67].
In the late nineteenth century the previously unidentified Mr Holland became the subject of a number of short
articles in the first volume Wiltshire Notes and Queries [68] These add to what Desaguliers tells us. First, his full
name was the Reverend Thomas Holland. It also records that his gravestone reveals that he had been vicar of
Amesbury Church for 50 years and died on 11 May 1730 aged 84 (which suggests he was born in 1645/6) and
that he patented his pumping machine on 8 November 1716 (patent no. 410) presumably to protect himself from
further frauds such as that instigated by Benson. Early patents did not include descriptions or illustrations.
Nothing more is known of Holland, but he was clearly influential at the time.
The Subsequent of History of the Book and Desaguliers
After the demolition of his house in Channel Row, Desaguliers spent the last years of his life living alone in
rooms above the Bedford Coffee House in Covent Garden where he continued to give lectures but his health had
been plaguing him for years [69]. He had been suffering from gout and even went on a vegetarian diet to try to
reduce his symptoms. This is said to have caused him to lose a substantial amount of weight so that his clothes
had to be taken in, but the fact that this weight loss still left him at over 224 pounds was probably more revealing
and it seems likely that he had been substantially overweight [70]. Whatever the underlying conditions, his health
continued to deteriorate and John Theophilus Desaguliers died on 29 February 1734, before his 60th birthday. His
son saw that the manuscript of the Course volume II and a corrected edition of Volume I were published after his
death. A French edition fittingly appeared in 1751 [71].
Desaguliers is a strange figure. It is hardly surprising that he is not well known in the history of technology. His
career was chiefly dedicated to the popularisation and dissemination of science and he was evidently extremely
good at it. He, like so many men, dabbled in many things and made minor contributions in many areas. His books
were not in themselves immensely innovative. What they did do was successfully translate science into a
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
language the wider public could understand and he would have been pleased with the reception his books
received. He is, however, of interest to the historian in recording the thinking of the time. For that and in the
fact that he appears to record the first driven fountains he deserves more attention than he has hitherto
This study is part of the ongoing work on the history of water supply and fountains funded by the Seear Fund at
Queens’ College, Cambridge, the fund set up from the legacy of Thelma Seear to promote the study of
Architecture and History of Art and particularly fountains.
[1] I am here referring to Hunter and Rose, History of Hydraulics. London: Dover, 1963 and G.A. Tokaty, A
History and Philosophy of Fluid Mechanics. New York: Diver, 1971.
[2] Audrey Carpenter, John Theophilus Deagulier: a Natural Philosopher, Engineer and Freemason in
Newtonian England. London: Continuum, 2011.
[3] See Carpenter, (Note 2), chapter four, pp.81-111; John Stokes, ‘Life of John Theophilus Desaguliers’, Ars
Quatuor Coronatorum (hereafter AQC), 38 (1925), 285-307; Edward Newton, “Brethren who made Masonic
History”, AQC, 78 (1965), 130-4; Dudley Wright, England’s Masonic Pioneers. London: Kenning, 1925.
[4] Andrew Morris, ‘Evaluating John Theophilus Desaguliers’ Newtonianism: the Case of Waterwheel
Knowledge in A Course of Experimental Philosohpy’ Notes and Records published online DOI:
[5] Bernd Adam, ‘The Great Fountain at Herrenhausen - innovations from England enabled the creation of the
highest water jet in Europe’ in Marcus Köhler and Joachim Wolschke-Bumnahn (Eds.) Hannover and
England- a grdane and personal union. Hannover: Leibniz University, 2018, pp.133-150, 11, 12, 14 ns.19,22,
35, 36, and 56.
[6] Carpenter, (Note 2), p.13.
[7] ibid., p.15.
[8] ibid.
[9] ibid., p.17.
[10] ibid., p.19.
[11] ibid., p.23.
[12] ibid., p.225-28.
[13] Patricia Fara, ‘Desaguliers, John Theophilus (1683-1744)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online
version (, p.5.
[14] On the circumstances and for the full story see Carpenter, (Note 2), pp.57-63.
[15] ibid. pp.33.
[16] The Hanoverian George I’s English was notoriously poor and thus perhaps the choice of Desagulier. Ibid.
[17] Fara, (Note 13), p.2; Carpenter, (Note 2), p.23.
[18] M. Marriotte, A Treatise on the Motion of Water and Other Fluids..writtne originally in French, by the
learned M.Marriotte…and translated into English by J.T. Desaguliers M.A. F.R.S , Chaplain to the Ruight
Honourable James, Earl of Caernavon. London: Senex, 1718, pp.iii-v.
[19] Carpenter, (Note 2), pp.118-119.
[20] Robert Boyle had discovered this in 1662.
[21] These included: E. Mariotte, Nouvelle découverte touchant la veüe. Paris: Leonard, 1668; Seconde lettre de
M. Mariotte à M. Pecquet pour montrer que la choroïde est le principal organe de la veüe. Paris: Cusson,
James W.P. Campbell
1671; Traitté [sic] du nivellement [Texte imprimé], avec la description de quelques niveaux nouvellement
inventez. Paris: Cusson, 1672; Essay de logique, contenant les principes des sciences et la manière de s'en
servir pour faire de bons raisonnemens. Paris: E. Michallet, 1678; Essays de phisique, ou Mémoires pour
servir à la science des choses naturelles. E. Michallet, 1681, as well as numerous papers for the Academy of
[22] De Hire, ‘Preface’ in Marriotte, Treatise on the Motion of Water. London: Senex, 1718, pp.viii-xii.
[23] Anon. Builders’ Dictionary. London: Bettesworth and Hitch, 1734, not paginated but listed under Water,
reprinting tables.
[24] Jacques Ozanam, A Treatise of Fortification. Oxford: Nicholson, 1711; Cursus Mathematicus…. translated
by J.T. Desaguliers. London:Nicholson, 1712.
[25] J.T. Desaguliers, Fires Improved: Or a New Method of Building Chimnies…By Monsieur Gauger London:
Senex, 1715.
[26] Willem Jacob 's Gravesande, (1688--1742) Mathematical elements of natural philosophy, …Written in Latin
by William James s'Gravesande, ... Translated into English by J.T. Desaguliers. Leiden 1720-1.
[27] An account of the mechanism of an automaton, or image playing on the German-flute by M.
Vaucanson…translated by J.T. Desaguliers. London: T. Parkes, 1742.
[28] Anon. [George Sewell and J.T. Desaguliers] The Works of Dr Archibald Pitcairn London Curl, 1715,
initially produced without the names of the translaters from Latin which were added to the second 1727
[29] A full list of the articles can be found at the website of Philosophical Transaction created by the Royal
Society by searching under his name:
&SeriesKey=rstl&startPage=&ContentItemType=research-article; (Consulted on 1 January 2020)
[30] J.T. Desaguliers, Sermon Preach’d Before the King at Hampton-Court on Sunday, Sept. 29th, 1717. London:
Taylor, 1717.
[31] J.T. Desaguliers, Physico-Mechanical Lectures. Or, an Account of what is explain'd and demonstrated in the
course of mechanical and experimental philosophy given by J. T. Desaguliers, etc. London: by the author,
[32] J.T. Desaguliers, A System of Experimental Philosophy, prov'd by Mechanicks. London: B. Creake; J.
Sackfield, 1719.
[33] On Dawson’s involvement see the entry in Fara, (Note 13), p.6.
[34] J.T. Desaguliers, Physico-Mechanical Lectures. p.A2.
[35] J.T. Desaguliers, Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II. London: Innys, 1744, p.V.
[36] ibid., Vol. I, the note is at the end of the errata, not paginated.
[37] ibid., Vol II, p.vii.
[38] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II. p.126. The full story of the water supply and background to
Desaguliers’s involvement is told in E.H.Winant and E.L. Kemp, ‘Edinburgh’s Water first water supply: the
Comistan Aqueduct, 1675-1721’, Proc. Instn. Civ. Engrs, Civ. Engng. 1997, 120 (August), pp.119-124. For
the dining see Carpenter, p.140.
[39] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II. pp.124-26.
[40] J.T. Desaguliers, ‘An account of several experiments concerning water in pipes’, Phil.Trans., Vol.34 issue
393 (1 January 1727), pp. 77-82.
[41] A Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II. p.417. The crane is described in greater detail in J.T.
Desaguliers, ‘Some observations on crane[s]’, Phil.Trans., Vol.36 issue 311 (1 January 1730), 194-204, p.
[42] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II. pp.417-418.
[43] Charles Labalye had acted as Desaguliers’s assistant. See Carpenter, (Note 2), pp.146-148.
[44] ibid., p.230.
The Significance of John Theophilus Desaguliers’s Course of Experimental Philosophy to
the History of Hydraulics and what it reveals about the First Pump-driven Fountains
[45] C. Labalye A short account of the methods made use of in laying the foundations of the piers of Westminster
Bridge. London, 1739. and A Description of Westminster Bridge. London,1751, pp.31-35.
[46] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II. pp.431-36.
[47] Henry Beighton, ‘A Description of the water-works at London Bridge’, Phil. Trans., vol.37 issue 417 (1
January 1731, pp.5-12.
[48] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II, pp.528-531.
[49] ibid.
[50] R. Jenkins, ‘George Sorocold: a chapter in the history of water supply’. Engineer, 1918, 126, 3334; K. R.
Fairclough, 'Sorocold, George (c. 16681738?), Oxford Dictionary National Biography online.
[51] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II, pp.442-49.
[52] See Belidor Architecture Hydraulique,4 vols. Paris: Jombert, 1737-1753. Audrey Carpenter’s speculation
that Desaguliers must have been corresponding with Belidor as all four volumes were not completed until
after his death (Carpenter, (Note 2), p.136) is based on the erroneous notion that they were not published
separately. All of the material discussed by Desaguliers was contained in the first two volumes which were
published in 1737 and 1739 respectively.
[53] The best account is Pascal Lobgeois, Versailles: the fountains of the Sun King (trans. Denis Mahaffey),
Paris: JDG, 2000, pp.52-69.
[54] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II, p.525.
[55] ibid., pp.450-473.
[56] ibid., pp.459-461.
[57] ibid., pp.455-459.
[58] For Chandos and mines see Carpenter, (Note 2), p.157.
[59] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II, pp.431-436, 520-527.
[60] For a discussion about the popularity of jets in England and sculpture see David Jacques, Gardens of Court
and Country, London and New Haven: Yale, 2017, pp. 95, 136, 155, 373.
[61] Desaguliers uses the strange spelling “Tinley” and no doubt a number of spellings were used at the time but
the family name was later formalised to “Tylney”.
[62] Paige Johnson ‘Producing pleasantness: the waterworks of Isaac de Caus, outlandish engineer’, Studies in the
History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 29:3 (2009), 169-191, DOI: 10.1080/14601170902818488 does
not reference the involvement of Holland at all and treats Wilton as if in 1700 it retained the De Caus
waterworks intact which is unlikely.
[63] Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II, p.526.
[64] ibid.
[65] The Apollo fountain reaches 19m and the obelisk fountain 23m (Pascal Lobgeois, op,cit., pp.132 and 142.
[66] For Desaguliers on Herrhausen see Course of Experimental Philosophy, Vol II, p.526-528. For a
commentary see Adam, (Note 5), passim.
[67] The best accounts of the life of Benson are: the entry in Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British
Architects, London: Yale, 2008, pp.12-121; Anna Eavis, “The avarice and ambition of William Benson’,
Georgian Group Journal, Volume XII, 8-37; Howard Colvin, ‘William Benson’ in H.Colvin (Ed.), The
History of the Kings Works Volume V, 1660-1782. London: HMSO, 1976, 57-65.
[68] George Simpson (Ed.), Wiltshire Notes and Queries, Volume 1, 1893-1895 London: Eliot Stock, 1896, pp.4,
42, 92-93.
[69] Carpenter, (Note 2), p.237.
[70] ibid.
[71] J.T. Desagulier, Cours De Physique Expérimentale.. traduit de L’Anglois par le R.P. Pezenas. Paris; Rollin
and Jombert, 1751.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744) was a French-born English Huguenot who made his name as a public lecturer in London and a demonstrator at the Royal Society, writing a very popular introduction to Isaac Newton's natural philosophy, the two-volume A course of experimental philosophy (1734-1744). This paper looks at the influence of three French natural philosophers, Edme Mariotte (1620-1684), Antoine Parent (1666-1716) and Bernard Forest de Bélidor (1698-1761), on the account of waterwheel functioning in the second volume of that work. The aim of the paper is to show that, although Desaguliers demonstrated a commitment to Newton's work, his own natural philosophical objectives also led him to borrow ideas from natural philosophers outside Newton's direct sphere of influence. To do this I shall give an account of what Desaguliers appropriated from Newton's Principia, how it fitted in with his own project and how he also made use of other natural philosophers' theories in his discussion of fluid mechanics. This will hopefully result in a more nuanced conception of Desaguliers' 'Newtonianism' that takes into account the diverse sources and influences in his work.
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I am here referring to Hunter and Rose, History of Hydraulics
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Edward Newton, "Brethren who made Masonic History", AQC, 78 (1965), 130-4;
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Dudley Wright, England's Masonic Pioneers. London: Kenning, 1925.
The Great Fountain at Herrenhausen -innovations from England enabled the creation of the highest water jet in Europe
  • Bernd Adam
Bernd Adam, 'The Great Fountain at Herrenhausen -innovations from England enabled the creation of the highest water jet in Europe' in Marcus Köhler and Joachim Wolschke-Bumnahn (Eds.) Hannover and England-a grdane and personal union. Hannover: Leibniz University, 2018, pp.133-150, 11, 12, 14 ns.19,22, 35, 36, and 56.
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Patricia Fara, 'Desaguliers, John Theophilus (1683-1744)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online version (, p.5.
A Treatise on the Motion of Water and Other Fluids..writtne originally in French
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M. Marriotte, A Treatise on the Motion of Water and Other Fluids..writtne originally in French, by the learned M.Marriotte…and translated into English by J.T. Desaguliers M.A. F.R.S, Chaplain to the Ruight Honourable James, Earl of Caernavon. London: Senex, 1718, pp.iii-v.
Preface' in Marriotte
  • De Hire
De Hire, 'Preface' in Marriotte, Treatise on the Motion of Water. London: Senex, 1718, pp.viii-xii.