In 1828, John went to the boarding school of Thomas Rossell Potter, the historian of Charnwood Forest at Wymeswold in Leicestershire, and in 1833 to the Review Solomon Saxon, of Darley Dale. He was apprenticed to Mr.
Bemrose, the head of the printing firm of William Bemrose & Sons, Derby, but ill-health compelled him to give up his indoor occupation, and continue his ancestors" occupation of farming at Elms Farm in Kings Newton.
He became the faithful chronicler of the seasons, and recorded all the facts and occurrences coming within his observation during at least thirty years. He kept these notes carefully bound in manuscript volumes, and shortly before his death they were announced as ready for publication. He utilised his notes regularly in the magazine The Field, in which as early as 1855 he had originated "The Naturalists" column," and entered into correspondence with the leading naturalists of the time.
In 1863 he was in correspondence with Charles Darwin concerning the regrowth of fishes" finances
His notes in the Zoologist, Critic, Reliquary, Sun, Derby Reporter, and Leicestershire Guardian (edited by his old schoolmaster, Mr Potter), were full of picturesque descriptions of nature and sketches of places and objects in the Midland counties of archaeological and antiquarian interest. His History of Melbourne included references to Robin Hood, John Wesley"s early journeys and how the Duke of Bourbon was imprisoned in the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI.
He became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a member of the British Archaeological Association.