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John Frederick Bourne

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John Frederick Bourne (1816-1879)

1816 Possibly born Lincolnshire[1] (but still living in the county in 1841)

1831-6 Employed in various official duties with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and other lines[2]

1836 Went into business on his own account as mechanical engineer and locomotive builder in Manchester

Carried out surveys in England, USA and British Guiana

c.1840 Partner in Bourne, Bartley and Co

1854 Appointed Colonial Civil Engineer of British Guiana; reinforced sea defences

1863 Appointed Inspector General of Railways and Colonial Civil Engineer of Cape of Good Hope

1867 Rebuilding lighthouse at Simon's Bay

1867 of Civil Service Club, St James's. Elected to Inst Civil Engineers[3]

1874 of Trinidad, West Indies

1879 Died in Barbados[4]


1880 Obituary [5]

MR. JOHN FREDERICK BOURNE was born on the 24th of May, 1816. He was the eldest son of John Henry Bourne, Lieutenant, 2nd Dragoon Guards, and subsequently an agriculturist on the family estate at Dalby, Lincolnshire.

His education was commenced at Spilsby grammar school, under the Rev. Isaac Russell, and completed at Mill Hill school.

In 1831 he was articled to five of the original directors and promoters of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, in Liverpool, and was employed by them in various office duties connected with that and other lines.

He then entered into partnership with a Mr. Bartley, in Manchester, where, in 1838, he invented and patented a wrought-iron railway wheel, afterwards known as "Chambers’ wheel.”

Taking holy orders, Mr. Bourne next was for some years in clerical charge of a parish in Demerara; but, under the influence of conscientious convictions, he threw up this preferment, and left the colony to indulge his taste for civil engineering, which he had always felt would be a more congenial vocation.

He was afterwards employed on the Burlington and Missouri rivers, and the Iowa and other railways, in the United States, and also paid a visit to Canada.

From North America Mr. Bourne returned to Demerara, and in 1854 was appointed Civil Engineer and Superintendent of Public Works in the colony of British Guiana. One of his most important achievements was the construction of the sea-defences of Georgetown, the capital. Up to the year 1855 these had been in charge of the Royal Engineers of the neighbouring garrison, and the practice had been to obtain from the penal settlement, and other places, loads of rubble granite and deposit them in front of the parapets, where they gradually subsided into the mud, requiring constantly to be replaced. In the month of February of that year, however, the dams gave way and the whole suburb of Kingston was flooded by the sea. This led to the abandonment of the sea defences by the Imperial Government, and their transfer to the Colony.

Mr. Bourne then commenced the construction of a solid mass of masonry on an inclined plane from the dams, combined with groynes at frequent intervals, and this plan has been continued and extended ever since with great, if not absolute, success. He visited Europe professionally to study plans in Holland and in Lincolnshire for sea defences, furnishing detailed reports on his return to the Colony. A scheme prepared by him for better supplying Georgetown with water and for improving the system of drainage was, owing chiefly to its costliness, never carried out.

Amongst other works, designed and constructed by Mr. Bourne in Demerara, may be mentioned the parish church of St. Paul‘s, and the Assembly Rooms and Almshouses in Georgetown. He also organised and commanded a corps of Militia Artillery.

In 1863 Mr. Bourne was appointed Inspector-General of Railways, and Colonial Railway Engineer, Cape of Good Hope, by the Governor, Sir Philip Wodehouse, a position which he occupied till 1867. Plans and surveys were drawn out by-him, and a small portion of the work executed. While still acting in his capacity as Colonial Railway Engineer, Mr. Bourne proposed a plan to reconstruct the Roman Rock lighthouse, situated at the entrance to Simon’s Bay, which had been previously condemned as unsafe. His design was accepted, and executed by the resident engineer, Mr. W. Fairbairn King, under Mr. Bourne’s superintendence.

The drawings and description of an invention made about this time, of a compass without magnetism, were issued under the name of a Whirl Wheel Star Pointer,” in the "Mechanics’ Magazine" for April 8th, 1869.

In the autumn of the previous year, Mr. Bourne was commissioned by H.M. Government to visit the West Coast of Africa, with the object of preparing reports as to the best means of carrying out a system of drainage at Gambia, and of constructing a dry dock at Sierra Leone.

On his return to England he was appointed Superintendent of Public Works at Barbados in 1869, and after remaining there for two years he removed to the Island of Trinidad, to take charge of the sugar estates belonging to the Colonial Company, Limited. Here he was appointed member of the Legislative Council in March 1872.

The large reservoirs, designed and carried out by him for the supply of water to the sugar factory of the company, were a complete success. In the summer of 1877, Mr. Bourne came to England on leave of absence, returning to Trinidad in December ; and on the termination of his agreement with the Colonial Company, in June 1879, he was re-appointed to his old post of Superintendent of Public Works at Barbados, where his chequered and eventful career was cut short by paralysis on the 27th of October, 1879.

The following is extracted from a letter received from a friend who had been acquainted with Mr. Bourne for over thirty years:-

“Mr. Bourne was a man of singular simplicity and straightforwardness of character, combined with a most amiable and cheerful temperament. As a matter of course, his conduct of the department of Public Works (in Demerara) was exposed to such adverse criticism, but I never saw him ruffled or out of temper. In private life he was a most pleasant and intelligent associate, and those who knew him best will feel his loss the most keenly.”

Mr. Bourne was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 2nd of April, 1867.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. BMD
  2. 1867 Application to join Inst Civil Engineers
  3. Civil Engineer Lists 1818-1930
  4. Probate Calendar
  5. 1880 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries