Hurst had hoped to read Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, but became ill at a critical time, possibly with tuberculosis, and this prevented him attending, although he recovered and led an active life thereafter.
Hurst inherited a plant nursery business in the small Leicestershire village of Burbage. At his Burbage laboratories, a part of the family plant nurseries, Hurst carried out his studies on hybridisation in orchids. He wrote an early paper proposing that new species evolved from hybridisation, based on his orchid knowledge, in 1898, almost two decades before similar theories were published by Johannes Paulus Lotsy. Hurst was a frequent correspondent and friend to William Bateson and helped in the introduction of Mendelian genetics in the early 20th Century.
Also in Burbage, Hurst collected the first data to advance the theory that blue eye colour was recessive to brown. He carried out many investigations into the genetics of coat colour inheritance in horses, chickens and other domestic animals. As well as studying eye colour in humans he was an ardent eugenicist and believed fervently that the human race could be improved by genetic study. In his book on 'Creative Evolution' he advocated a theory of musical ability based on Mendelian loci.
Although an early promoter and lifelong supporter of Mendelian genetics and a friend of Bateson's, he appears to have parted ways with his mentor on some points. In his 1932 book on The Mechanism of Creative Evolution Hurst adopted the chromosome theory of inheritance whole-heartedly referring copiously to Thomas Hunt Morgan's Drosophila work, and he was also clearly a staunch Darwinist. He believed that natural selection and Mendelian genetics were compatible, and referred to the theoretical work of Sewall Wright, R.A. Fisher, and J.B.S. Haldane, which proved that quantitative traits and natural selection were compatible with Mendelism. As he argued in Creative Evolution (1932), p. xix:
Hurst was also a major initiator of the modern "genetical species concept" later known as the biological species concept. This was very much in tune with William Bateson's own beliefs, and Bateson's views on this topic were accepted by many other geneticists worldwide, including Theodosius Dobzhansky. Here is Hurst's concept of species in Creative Evolution (1932), p. 66-7: