Bourne, Frederick William
1830-1905; e.m. 1850

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BC minister, born at Woodchurch, Kent on 25 July 1830, the eldest of six. His father was a builder and a Strict Baptist. There was a BC society at Woodchurch, in the Tenterden Mission, and a preaching place had been opened in the early 1820s. There Bourne was converted at the age of fifteen and by the time he was eighteen he had become a local preacher. When he offered for the itinerant ministry in 1849 he did not know very much of the extent of the BC Connexion. It was an omission he was quick to correct and his great knowledge of the entire Connexion became almost proverbial.

Initially sent to Chatham, he had his first taste of west country BC Methodism at Devonport from 1852. It was though, like all his appointments, an urban station. In the four years he spent there then a long appointment he proved his mettle, and when in 1856 the relatively new Swansea station was struggling (with just 55 members) Bourne was sent. Three years there pulling things together were followed by another three at Newport, Mon. He was an able and successful circuit minister, and was described as a tireless worker, later much in demand as a special preacher.

Yet it was as the chief BC administrator and spokesman in succession to William O'Bryan and James Thorne, that Bourne excelled. He held many Connexional offices between 1859, when he was appointed Missionary Secretary, and 1904, including 38 years as Connexional Treasurer (1866-1904) and Book Steward and Editor 1869-88. From 1869 all his appointments were in London, reflecting his Connexional offices. None the less, he regularly preached twice on a Sunday, often in mid-week, and accepted pastoral oversight at Sevenoaks for several years. He was President of the Conference in 1867 only thirteen years after being received into Full Connexion and again in 1875 and in 1891. Yet one sketch of his character notesthat 'the limitations common to humanity were shared by Mr.Bourne. He was not destitute of irrational prejudices.'

He travelled extensively to the BC circuits in England and Wales, for instance baptizing the first infant in the Durham Mission in September 1874. Frequently his visits would include his 'Billy Bray' lecture. In 1881-2 he visited the BC work in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, attending both the Australian and the Canadian BC Conferences, and returning in time for the British Conference. An earnest advocate of Methodist Union, he was a member of the Ecumenical Methodist Conferences of 1881 in Wesley's Chapel in London, 1891 in Washington, USA and 1901, again at Wesley's Chapel. He died on 26 July 1905, the day after his 75th birthday. His body was taken by train to Shebbear where he was buried in the rain in the graveyard beside Lake Chapel.

He published mainly biographies and sermons. The former are A Mother in Israel … a Memoir of Mrs Elizabeth Chalcraft (1874), All for Christ … a life of William M.Bailey (1880), Ready in Life and Death … Mrs.S.M.Terrett, founder of the White Ribbon Gospel Temperance Army (1893), James Thorne (1895) and the highly popular life of Billy Bray, The King's Son (1871). His collected sermons appeared in 1875 under the title Ministers, workers together with God.

His Connexional history, The Bible Christians: Their Origins and History (1905) was published in parts beginning in September 1901. Intended to be completed in nine monthly parts, a nervous breakdown and loss of memory caused a delay after Part V (January 1902) until September 1904, and the final part did not appear until July 1905, the very month Bourne died. Starting in great detail, by the end it has deteriorated to little more than an account of the Conferences, a consequence both of Bourne's illness, but also of the sense that events and people in the recent past needed delicate handling. It remains none the less an invaluable source.


'One never thinks of speaking of him as "an able man"; he was more than that - he was a greatman... No one could fail to be impressed by the majesty of his presence. To hear him give out a hymn was to experience a thrill. He was at home 'in the deep things of God'. When he stood to speak at the Bible Christian Conference, theough there was a number of men of marked ability present, he was the acknowledged king... Had he been in the great Wesleyan Church, I have no doubt he would have taken an effortless place among the greatest... But it was part of his greatness that no thought of deserting his own people seems ever to have entered his mind.'

Richard Pyke, Men and Memories(1948) pp.78-9

  • G.J. Stevenson, Methodist Worthies, vol. 6 (1886), pp.903-12
  • W.J. Michell, Brief Biographical Sketches of Bible Christian Ministers and Laymen (Jersey, 1905-6), vol. 1 pp.3-18
  • William B. Luke, Memorials of Frederick William Bourne (1906)
  • Roger Thorne, 'F.W. Bourne's The Bible Christians. Their Origin and History (1815-1900), in WHS Proceedings, 50 pp.241-43
  • Maureen B. Burnham and C. Paul Burnham, 'The Making of an Evanglical Minister: The Early Years of Frederick William Bourne'in Wesley Historical Society Proceedings, 60:5, pp.199-213