John Stuart Webb, the British ‘father of applied geochemistry’, died at Redhill, England, on 2 April 2007. He was born at Balham, London, on 28 August 1920, eldest child of George Stewart Webb and his wife Caroline Rabjohns, née Pengelly. His sister, Mona Audrey, was born in 1924.
He attended St Mary's school, Balham (1925–30) and Westminster City School, London (1930–38). Despite having given a paper ‘‘On Earthquakes’’ to the school Science Society in 1938, he tossed a coin in his father's garage (where he had a chemical laboratory) to decide whether he should read medicine or geology. He subsequently enrolled at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. He graduated BSc (First Class Honours) in Mining Geology in 1941, having received the Murchison medal and prize (1939), the Brough medal and prize (1940), the Clement le Neve Foster prize (1941) and Cullis Testimonial Fund (1941).
Following a short period as assistant mining geologist to the Government's Non-Ferrous Metallic Ores Committee, he joined the Royal Engineers in 1941, but was transferred in 1943 to the Geological Survey of Nigeria, as an economic mineralogist, to look for tantalum. He was invalided back to England in 1944, having caught both tick-typhus and malaria.
On recovery, he was awarded a Beit Scientific Research Fellowship at Imperial College and began his thesis on ‘The origin and mineral paragenesis of the tin lodes of Cornwall’, for which he was awarded the Judd Prize in 1946 and his PhD (Mining Geology) and Diploma of Imperial College in 1947. Appointed, by London University, Lecturer in Mining Geology, he remained at Imperial College, becoming Reader in Applied Geochemistry (1955) then Professor of Applied Geochemistry (1961), and retired in 1979 as Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow (1979–89). He was awarded his DSc …