William Cookworthy

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William Cookworthy
William Cookworthy.jpg
William Cookworthy
Born 12 April 1705
Kingsbridge, Devon
Died 17 October 1780
Nationality England
Fields Pharmacy, Porcelain manufacture

William Cookworthy (12 April 1705 – 17 October 1780) was an English Quaker minister, a successful pharmacist and an innovator in several fields of technology.

Parents, birth, siblings and early life

He was born of Quaker parents in Kingsbridge, Devon on 12 April 1705.[1] His father, also called William, was a weaver and his mother was Edith, the daughter of John and Margaret Debell of St Martin-by-Looe in east Cornwall: they had married in 1704. Their children were:

  • William – 1705
  • Sarah – 1706
  • Jacob – 1709
  • Susannah – 1711
  • Mary – 1714
  • Philip – 1716
  • Benjamin – 1717

William was a bright child but his education was halted when his father died on 22 October 1718 and the family's investment in the South Sea Company failed in the autumn of 1720.

William had been offered an apprenticeship, at no cost, by the Bevan Brothers, two Quaker apothecaries, with a successful business in London.[2] As the family had no spare money, William walked to London to take up the offer and, eventually, successfully completed the apprenticeship.


The Bevans set him up in business in Plymouth, where he was extremely successful. He brought his brothers Philip and Benjamin into the partnership. He bought out the Bevans' interest in 1745.


In 1735, he married Sarah Berry, a Quaker from Wellington in Somerset.They had five daughters:

  • Lydia – 1736
  • Sarah – 1738
  • Mary – 1740
  • Elizabeth & Susannah (twins) – 1743



He discovered china clay in Cornwall and devised a way of making porcelain, which previously was imported from China.

Lighthouse engineering

He was also an associate of John Smeaton, who lodged at his house when he was engaged in building the third Eddystone Lighthouse (1756–1759). Cookworthy helped Smeaton with the development of hydraulic lime, which was essential to the successful building of the lighthouse[citation needed].

Dietary advice

He advised naval officers that scurvy might be prevented and treated by supplying crews with fresh fruit and vegetables, and in their absence, sauerkraut (rich in vitamin C).


In 1767 Cookworthy, in conjunction with Rev Thomas Hartley, translated Emanuel Swedenborg's theological works, The Doctrine of Life, Treatise on Influx, and Heaven and Hell, from Latin into English.

His initial reaction to Swedenborg's works was one of disgust, but with persistence, he was convinced of their merits and was a persuasive advocate. Hartley and Cookworthy later visited Swedenborg at his lodgings in Clerkenwell shortly before Swedenborg's death.

Porcelain factory

In 1768 he founded a works at Plymouth for the production of Plymouth Porcelain.[3]


It is also known that prior to his departure, Captain James Cook and Captain John Jervis, together with the naturalists Dr Solander and Sir Joseph Banks, were guests of Cookworthy.


  1. Penderill-Church John (1972). William Cookworthy 1705 – 1780, p. 12. D.Bradford Barton Ltd,Truro Cornwall.
  2. Silvanus and Timothy Bevan
  3. Three Centuries of Ceramic Art in Bristol – The Story of Bristol Pottery and Porcelain: William Cookworthy (accessed 8 March 2008)


  • Early New Church Worthies by the Rev Dr Jonathon Bayley
  • Cookworthy's Plymouth and Bristol Porcelain by F.Severne Mackenna(1947) published by F.Lewis
  • William Cookworthy 1705–1780: a study of the pioneer of true porcelain manufacture in England by John Penderill-Church, Truro, Bradford Barton (1972).