John Innes was born and educated in Australia. He was a passionate mineral collector from an early age, and trained (and worked) as a geologist in Australia before relocating to Namibia as chief mineralogist for the Tsumeb Corporation in the late 1970s. Johninnesite (from the Kombat Mine) is named in his honour.
In Namibia, Innes assembled one of the finest modern collections of Tsumeb minerals. He was quite open in this objective with the mine management, but was careful not to abuse his position. He visited miners and bought specimens from them, but never removed valuable specimens from the mine without the knowledge of his superiors. His policy was to send specimens back to Australia as he acquired them and, as a consequence, very few people ever saw the complete collection. John’s contribution to mineralogy was immense though, apart from his junior authorship of a number of papers, it is largely unrecorded. He was a junior author of many of the descriptions of the new minerals from the Kombat mine, but it was he who was largely responsible for recognising the importance of the unique manganese-rich facies there which yielded so many of the new species. At Tsumeb, he was responsible for the recovery of countless specimens of the rarer minerals which the regular miners would not have recognised, and he is credited with the discovery of several new minerals including ferrilotharmeyerite, mathewrogersite, and zincroselite. He was a co-author of the 1986 paper describing the geology and mineralogy of the Tsumeb deposit (Lombaard et al., 1986), which still stands as the most comprehensive account of the mine geology. He developed good working relationships with several leading mineralogists, including Pete Dunn at the Smithsonian, and Paul Keller in Germany, which led to the description of several new minerals from both Tsumeb and Kombat.
Innes returned to Australia in late 1985, initially to his family home in Queensland, but then to take up employment with the CSIRO in Western Australia. Plagued with health problems for most of his adult life, he died under tragic circumstances in 1992. Shortly before his death, he arranged for the sale of his Tsumeb collection. It numbered 757 specimens, of which 55 of the most aesthetic pieces were purchased by Julius Zweibel, and a further 78 pieces by a second (unknown) buyer. The bulk of the remaining specimens were purchased by Australian collector Blair Gartrell, and were dispersed after Gartrell's death in 1995.