Bourne Family History

Recent DNA analysis suggests that on the male side there are the genes of Norse-Viking origin, suggesting that the family moved at some stage from the West country or Wales. On the maternal side the DNA profile is consistent with Celtic origin deriving from Greece prior to the last Ice Age and is described as close to that of Cheddar Man.

Rebecca Susannah Bourne (her married name) was born in 1780 in Newington in London. She was married to John Bourne identified at the time of his son, John's, christening as a cheese-monger and later on John's marriage certificate as a picture dealer. In later life, after her husband died, Rebecca lived with her son, John, at 27 Dorchester Street in Hoxton Old Town, part of Shoreditch. 1,2 In the census of 1851 she was listed as a nurse. They had at least three children, John (b. 1809), Thomas (b. 1811) and Catherine (b.1812). John was presumably their first son3. The records indicate that all three were christened at Christ Church, Newington. It is most likely that the family lived on the South bank of the Thames in the Lambeth, Newington (now Southwark) area. As he grew up John Bourne trained as an ivory turner. There were family stories that he carved the head of a walking stick for the Duke of Wellington and an umbrella handle for Queen Victoria. These were supposedly placed in the Victoria and Albert museum, but no record can be found of them. On December 20th, 1829, at the age of 20 he married a woman named Sarah Martha Davies. The marriage took place at Holy Trinity church in Newington. It appears that they did not have children. They lived, at least towards the end of their marriage, at 3 Granby Street, Lambeth. She died there on June 1st 1839, according to the death certificate, from >dropsy.' A little over a year later he married Charlotte Rose, born December 23rd, 1820 (baptized 14th January at St. Dunstan's church in Stepney.) Her father, John Fuller Rose, is identified as a waterman at the time of her christening and as a harbor master when she was married. The marriage took place at Holy Trinity church in Newington (where his first marriage also occurred) on the 24th of August, 1840. The address he gave for the marriage certificate is open to some question. He listed 38 Hamilton Place as his address. No such address can be found in any street directories of the period. She gave 33 Vere street. The only Vere street in London at that time was several miles away in Marylebone and that number appears to have been a boarding house. However, a street directory for the period lists a Thomas Bourne, picture frame maker living next door at 34 Vere street. Thomas turns out to be John's brother (he too was baptized at Christ Church, Newington, on January 26th, 1812 and married Eleanor Lawrence at Holy Trinity Church, Newington, on March 9th 1833.) It is a fair assumption that John met Charlotte Rose through his brother. Living in a rooming house at age 20 in an up-market section of London suggests that Charlotte was in domestic service (or worse).

After their marriage they moved to 26 Cavendish street in Hoxton New Town, Shoreditch. It was a newly developing section of London, perhaps the Milton Keynes of its day. Those achieving modest success moved there from the South bank which was for the very impoverished and was a center of pverty, crime and lawlessness. They shared a house with another ivory turner, John Houwen, his wife Susannah and their three year old son. Their own first child, Walter John, was born on the 19th of May 1841. On August 14th, 1843 their second child, Henry, was born. Frederick George was born on the 24th of August, 1846, by which time they had moved to 8 Ivy Street in Hoxton Old Town. James Howard was born on the 9th of November, 1849 when they were living at 27 Dorchester street. He died, however in infancy. Another child, Arthur Philip, was born on the 13th of July, 1852. All the children were baptized at St. John the Baptist church in Shoreditch. (None of these houses survive today because of the WW II blitz and there are modern flat blocks on those sites.)

On the 12th of February, 1851 gold was discovered in Australia. The news caused widespread excitement in Britain. As one historian described the situation:

A...the news columns in the papers were printing stories of men picking pieces of gold out of the earth in Australia as easily as a boy could pick plums out of a pudding. Very soon a mad rage for emigration to Australia seized all classes in the British Isles. Eight hundred people in Limerick signified to the mayor their desire to go. In
Liverpool by September of 1852 the docks were crowded with vessels bound for the gold country. It was estimated that in that month alone twenty ships would leave the Mersey for the new El Dorado taking with them six thousand passengers. In London the Government Emigration Office was besieged by hordes anxious to secure a passage to Australia. In Cork all through July, August and September emigration to Australia was all the rage: seamen deserted their ships to get on board any boat bound for Australia; respectable women jostled with tarts to attract the eye of the shipping agents; runners, thimble and pea men and confidence men preyed on the unwary and the gullible in that great human uproar on the docks of English, Irish, and Scottish ports as the passion of men women and children were raised to fever pitch by these stories of gold lying on the ground just waiting to be picked up.

On the 26th of August, 1853, John Bourne payed , 71. 10s for a passage for the entire family on a sailing ship bound for Australia. On October 3rd that year they sailed on the Jannetze (possibly the Jeanette) for the port of Geelong near Melbourne in Victoria. On arrival on January 16th, 1854 they traveled overland to the gold mining town of Ballarat. All indications are that he went to work immediately looking for gold. Family tradition has it that over the years he found around , 6,000 worth of gold and gambled it away. Their young son, Arthur Philip, died at the age of 8 years. The death certificate (8th of December 1860) says he was found drowned in a water hole at Kangaroo flat (near Amherst). The certificate was issued in the district of Maryborough. In 1861 they had a final child, Leonard John, perhaps as a replacement for the child they had lost. His birth place is also listed as Kangaroo Flat. In the period 1860 to 1870 the family are known to have lived in Talbot seeking gold. Talbot is about 30 miles from Ballarat and close to Maryborough. Walter is listed as the rate payer during the later years up to 1872. Henry Bourne, at the age of 42, was killed in a rock fall at the Sulieman Pasha mine in Ballarat on February 2nd 1885. He had married Ellen Ann Desnoy and it is noted in the records of the accident that he left 6 dependents. (His children were Henry Edward, Nellie Charlotte, Arthur Desnoy, Alfred James, Edward Ernest, Leonard John). Ellen later remarried and had two children. There are now more than sixty descendants of Henry (see the separate account of this side of the family prepared by Kevin Bourne.)

After Henry's death, Alfred and two of his brothers spent some time in the Ballarat orphanage. When Alfred left the orphanage he contracted a fever and was hospitalized.

The family's arrival in Victoria in January 1854 was eleven months before the events at Eureka Stockade. The mines fields had from the beginning been run by a corrupt and unjust administration with the licenses for prospecting being issued arbitrarily or for extortionate fees. After enduring several years of oppression the miners, under the leadership of Irishman Peter Lalor, declared, in December, 1954, an independent state under the flag of the Southern cross. They took up arms, barricading themselves in the Eureka Stockade and attempted to fight off the British militia. Although they succumbed in a series of bloody battles, the subsequent repeal of the licensing law and recognition of the rights of the miners and all citizens has led Eureka Stockade to be considered the birth place of true democracy in Australia. As such it is considered the site of one of the most significant events in Australian history. According to family lore John Bourne participated in the up-rising, but there is no clear evidence of his precise role.

In 1870, Walter Bourne married Maria Birtles (the daughter of Christopher Birtles, originally from Lincoln, England and Mary Barnett from Waterford, Ireland.) Their first child, Christopher was born on February 22nd, 1871 and their second, Walter Howard Bourne was born on the 29th December, 1873. Walter had considerable artistic talent, painting among other things a portrait in the style of Whistler's Mother of a woman who is presumably his own mother, Charlotte. He was also a musician who made an organ which he played.

Some time around 1875, John and Charlotte together with their children, Walter (with his wife and two children) and Frederick, moved to Moonta on the York Peninsula near Adelaide in South Australia. Why they made the move is unclear, but the gold mines in Victoria were playing out by then and the Moonta area had been opened up as a major copper mining area by Cornish immigrants. Employment was probably the primary motivation. They actually settled in the community of Moonta Mines. John and Charlotte would remain there for the rest of their lives. An item in the Yorke Peninsula Advertiser on September 5th, 1890 stated:


Mr and Mrs John Bourne of Moonta mines celebrated their golden wedding day last Tuesday, September 2nd. The aged couple have been living in Moonta Mines for
15 years. Mr Bourne has reached the ripe age of 85 years while his wife is ten years his junior. 4,5

John Bourne listed his occupation throughout his life as ivory turner, despite his time as a miner. He would have already been 64 yrs at the time of the move to Moonta, so probably did not work. Walter worked as an ore dresser in the copper mines. Following the move Walter and Maria had another son Leonard Alfred, born on the 30th of March, 1876. They had a final child on the 6th of July 1881 named Arthur Phillip after Walter's youngest brother who had drowned. Sadly this infant also died, from whooping cough and convulsions at the age of 1 yr and 11 months on June 10th, 1883.

John Bourne died in Moonta on the 20th of April 1899. No obituary has been found, but on December 24th, 1913 the People's Weekly in Moonta published the following:


Mrs Charlotte Bourne, who resides at Hamley, celebrated her 93rd birthday on Thursday 23rd inst. Mrs Bourne was born in London in the year 1820 and has been a resident of the district for about 40 years. Her husband, the late John Bourne, died 16 years ago. The aged and respected lady is still hale and hearty, and but for an injury received to her hip as the result of an accident some seven years ago, she would undoubtedly have been one of the most active women for her age in the state. Mr Walter Bourne of Hamley is a son.

Charlotte died three years later at the age of 96 yrs.

Their son Walter died in 1934. The People's Weekly of February 6th that year ran the following obituary:

“Mr Walter John Bourne, whom many local residents who have reached mature years will remember when they were mere youngsters, passed to his rest on Monday last. He had reached the ripe age of 93 years, and had lived here since the balmy days of mining. He was a native of London, where he was born, but he came out to Australia with his parents when a boy. For many years he was employed as an ore-dresser. On account of failing health he relinquished his duties, which was a good many years ago, and had since lived a retired life-first at the Mines and later in town, when he and his aged wife took up their abode at the residence on Blanche Terrace next to All Saints Church, where he died. In addition to his widow, there are left a family of three sons, Chris, Canada,Walter and Leonard (W.A.), and a niece, whom they brought up (née Alice Bourne, now Mrs W.R. Hume of Melbourne). The service was-first in the Anglican Church (where the deceased was a consistent member of the choir for 50 years) and afterwards at the grave-side.”



Following the death of her husband, Maria Bourne returned to live in Ballarat presumably joining her relatives, the Birtles. She would die there in the Benevolent Home on August 11th 1947 at the age of 92 yrs. On Walter's grave stone in Moonta there is also an inscription for Maria noting that she died in Ballarat even though she is not buried with him.

Walter and Maria's oldest son, Christopher, emigrated to Canada in his early twenties. He worked there as a conductor on the Canadian Pacific Railway but nothing further is known about him or his family. Leonard worked as a printer. He moved to Western Australia around 1901 and married Alma Lillian Olds on February 2th, 1902 at Christ Church, Geraldton (W.A.) She, however, was born in Daly District in South Australia. They would subsequently move to Mount Magnet and later to Perth. They had seven children ( Victor Francis, Leonard, Cecil, Ada Muriel, Norma, Milton and Doreen.) Most of the children were born in Mount Magnet and in the first decade of the twentieth century, but the precise dates are uncertain. Leonard, like his father was a talented musician and entertainer, but was a heavy drinker and philanderer who spent long periods away from home.

Walter and Maria had adopted a niece (Alice Mudford, born 10 June, 1883 and died, 13 March 1972, the daughter of Maria's sister, Honora, and her husband Benjamin Mudford). Throughout her live she remained very close to them. Alice went as a young woman to train as a nurse in Adelaide. While there and working as a district nurse she met a young man, Walter Reginald Hume, at a musical afternoon. She would marry on November 23rd 1909. He was in business with his brother Ernest James Hume, and together they created the largest steel pipe company in Australia. They also developed the spun-cast process of manufacturing concrete pipe. Ernest left the company after about thirty years to set up one of the first radio stations in Adelaide, 5DN, with his wife as Australia’s first female announcer. The acquired wealth allowed Alice to support Walter and Ria, as she was known, during their later years, including buying for them the house on Blanche Terrace. Alice had seven (perhaps ten) children giving each of them the middle name of Bourne and returning in each instance from Melbourne to have them baptized at All Saints Church in Moonta.

The middle son, Walter Howard, like his brothers went to school for five years from age 9 to 14 becoming a carpenter and a printer at Moonta Mines. It was expected that although they were cousins they would marry. However, in 1891, Walter at the age of eighteen married Mary Ann (Minnie) Mellen, also eighteen, at the Methodist Parsonage at Moonta Mines. Minnie Mellen had been born in St. Austell, Cornwall.

The Mellen family can be traced back to 1697 in St Austell. At least as far back as 1841 (census records) they were involved in the tin and copper mining industry and probably much earlier. It was a hard life in which the family lived a subsistence existence. In 1831 Joseph Mellen was born in St Austell. In Redruth in1851 he married Sophia Hocking from the tiny farming village of Gwinear where her family had lived for generations. Sophia’s parents had moved in the 1840s with their six children to Illogan a tiny mining community on the outskirts of Redruth where the modest wages from mining were presumably better than the income generated as farm laborers. After the marriage Joseph and Sophia lived briefly in Bodmin before returning to Illogan. Joseph and his sons worked underground as miners. Sophia and her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, worked as “ore-dressers” (picking out the pieces of rock brought up from the mine that had signs of copper ore). By 1871 they had 5 children. In 1873 one son, Joseph Henry , aged 14 was killed in a mining accident at the Carn Brea mine. The report of his death noted, “Fall of 10 fathoms. While walking along a level he strayed from the proper road and fell through to the next level. The level was full of powder smoke at the time.” In 1874 a tenth child, Mary Ellen (Minnie), was born. When she was two years old, in 1876, the family emigrated to Australia. They went first to Brisbane in Queensland where they lived on the Brisbane river. After two years they moved to Moonta where a sizable Cornish community had developed. There the male members of the family returned to their traditional trade of copper mining.

The decision to emigrate was probably due to several factors. First the death of Joseph Henry, second the decline of the mining industry in Cornwall during the second half of the eighteenth century as copper and tin mined were mined more cheaply overseas, and third the rage to seek a better life through emigration that swept the country between 1850 and 1890.

Walter and Sophia had their first child, Constance Winifred, on January 16th, 1893. A second child, Christopher was born on April 20th, 1894 but died at 9 months. Shortly thereafter they left for Western Australia where gold had been discovered. They went initially to the goldfields at Kalgoolie but after a couple of years and little success moved on to Perth. Their third child, Alice Mavis, was born there in 1897 (presumably named after Alice Mudford), but died at age 6 months. Dorothy was born in 1899. Wallace was born in 1902 in the Perth suburb of Subiaco. Their final child Geoffrey Howard was born on November 17th, 1909.

Walter Howard was a union organizer and founder of the Printers Union in Western Australia. He was also active in politics being an early sponsor of John Curtin who later became Prime Minster. At the start of the First World War he led the anti-conscription campaign in Western Australia which Curtain was leading nationally. He was bitter in later life that Curtin did nothing, after becoming Prime Minister, to reward him for his early backing.

Constance was married twice in her life having two children by her first marriage. Dorothy then married Stanley Clarke, a forestry researcher. They had one child, Loren John, who became a journalist living much of his life in South Africa. Winifred also married but had no children.

Wallace was an ambitious and talented young man. He became bantam weight boxing champion of Western Australia. By age 20 he had a job managing two cinemas in different towns. This involved rushing from one to the other at closing time on his motorcycle. One night he was in an accident and died shortly after his 21st birthday.

Geoffrey, the youngest, grew up under intense pressure from his father to succeed. Part of his early education was in a convent where the discipline was strict and he remembered being required to write two essays every night. Eventually he went to the University of Western Australia and obtained a degree in zoology. There he met Gwenllian Myfanwy Jones the daughter of an immigrant Welsh shoe maker who had progressed to become the owner of two large shoe stores. She became initially a school teacher in the outback town of Toojay. Eventually they moved to the East coast of Australia, first at the Australian Institute of Anatomy from 1933-35 and then in Sydney as a biochemist at the Commonwealth of Australia Advisory Council on Nutrition from !935-37. In 1935 he received a Biet Memorial Fellowship to do a D.Phil in physiology at Oxford University. His primary research was on vitamin C and he was the first person to demonstrate its presence in the human body (in the adrenal glands). At the outset of the second world war he was made an advisor on nutrition to the coalition government establishing the nutritional norms that had to be maintained in the in the population despite the war. In 1944 he joined the army serving initially in India as amajor with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). At the end of hostilities, and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he was moved to Malaya where he was put in charge of restoring the health of the badly malnourished civilian population largely starved by the Japanese.

Returning to civilian life in 1946 he spent a further year in Oxford before accepting a position as reader in histology in the anatomy department at the n the patho-physiology of muscular dystrophy. He also became a prodigious author, writing or editing books both for the scientific community and the general public. He was also, for more than twenty-five years, editor of The International Review of Cytology and Cell Physiology and The International Review of Nutrition and Dietetics. London Hospital Medical School. Over the next ten years he engaged in research in histochemistry in a variety of areas much of which was ground breaking. He was at the forefront of delineating the structure of nervous tissue and became a leading authority.

In 1957 he became the chairman of the anatomy department at Emory University in Atlanta. The largest acquirer of federal and other grants in the university's history he built the department into a major research center. In 1968, he became the director of the Yerkes Primate Center, a facility that was located at the time in Orange Park, Florida and had been given to Emory by Yale University. With substantial funding from the federal government and Emory the facility was moved to land adjacent to the Emory campus. The complex that was built rapidly became the leading primate research institute in the US conducting major studies on a variety of physiological and behavioral issues. It played a major role with NASA in the early years of the space program. Geoffrey Bourne continued to keep an active role in bench research and in writing, editing a multi-volume treatise on the chimpanzee and co-authoring with Prince Rainier of Monaco a book on primates. He also wrote two books for the general public on primates, largely as a way of educating the audience about the importance of primates in research that benefitted humans.

During the time he was the director of Yerkes the Atlanta zoo came under fierce criticism for the appalling conditions in which animals were being kept and the substantial neglect and decline that had been allowed to occur in the preceeding years. Geoffrey Bourne took the lead in establishing the Atlanta Zoological Society and convinced the mayor to let the organization play a major role in reviving the zoo. He also persuaded the city to increase dramatically the budget and to appoint a senior scientist from Yerkes as the new director. Through the zoological society he involved leading figures in the business and social world to help it raise substantial amounts of money. Today the Atlanta Zoo is considered among the best in the US.

In 1978, at the age of 68 Geoffrey Bourne faced mandatory retirement from Emory. With long attachments to the Caribbean he had already planned to divide his time between Atlanta and the islands. Fortuitously he was offered the position as Vice Chancellor of St. George's medical school in Grenada which was taking in its first class of students. He then lead the institution for ten years, until the time of his death in 1988, establishing academic credibility based on his own reputation for the school on both sides of the Atlantic. He was crucial to maintaining the survival of the school during the revolutionary period and the American invasion as well as during periods of financial crisis.

He continued to write until his death publishing more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and editing or writing dozens of books. He was survived by his two sone, Peter, born in 1939 and Merfyn in 1948.


1. The official register of births, marriages and deaths was not started in Britain until 1837, so finding records of these events before that date is difficult. 
2. The first nationwide census was done in 1841 and repeated every ten years thereafter.
3. In later years John would consistently give his age as suggesting he was born in 1811. Whether this was to appear younger than he really was or merely because, with limited education, he did not know his true age is uncertain.
4. The anniversary of their marriage was actually August 24th.
5. John Bourne would not have been 85 years old. The records suggest he was born in 1809.



© Peter G. Bourne - 2009