John Furphy was born in Moonee Ponds on 17 June 1842, the son of bounty immigrants from Northern Ireland.
He set up as a blacksmith in Kyneton in 1864, and moved to the tiny settlement of Shepparton in 1873. There he quickly gained a reputation for good workmanship and fair dealing. By 1888 Furphy's Foundry was the most extensive establishment of its kind in northern Victoria.
An inventive man, Furphy successfully adapted farm machinery to suit the dry conditions of the Goulburn Valley. His iron swingletrees, furrow plough and grain stripper won the highest possible award at the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne in 1888-89.
Furphy’s greatest success was his water cart, which was copied by other manufacturers but never surpassed. In 1985 the Institution of Engineers Australia acclaimed it as an outstanding example of agricultural engineering ingenuity. By World War I, the cart had made Furphy a household name in farming districts of south-eastern Australia. The use of the carts during the war, and their association with the spread of rumours, meant that the word 'furphy' entered soldier's slang and then wider usage.
John Furphy was widely known as a leader of the United Free Methodist congregation in Shepparton, where he often preached. Admired by his contemporaries for his personal integrity and enterprise, he expressed his essential philosophy of life in his 'Good better best' message on the cast iron ends of the water tank.
He took his sons into partnership in 1893, and the firm J. Furphy & Sons continues in Shepparton today. John Furphy died in Melbourne on 23 September 1920.