Bourne, William (d.1583) (DNB00)

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BOURNE or BOURN, WILLIAM (d. 1583), mathematician, was the son of William Bourne of Gravesend, who died 1560. The earliest mention of the mathematician is in the first charter of incorporation of Gravesend, granted 22 July 1562, where he appears on the list of jurats of the town. His name is also repeated in the same capacity in the second charter, granted 5 June 1568. It is worthy of remark that the only records of the measures taken for the regulation of the traders of the town under the authority of the second charter are in the handwriting of Bourne. In one of the presentments of a jury, touching the office of clerk of the market, drawn up by him in a tabular form, 15 March 1571, he records his own name as Mr. Bourne, portreve, one of fourteen of the 'Innholders and Tiplers that were amerced for selling Beer and Ale in Pots of Stone and Cans not being quarts full measure' (Cruden, p. 208). The fine inflicted upon Bourne was 'vid .' This serves to show that, according to the practice of the period, he engaged in business as an inn-keeper. In 'A note of all the inhabitants, reseant [i.e. resident] and dwelling in the parishes of Gravesend and Milton the 20th Sept. 1572-3,' his name appears once more as one of the jurats, and as having paid for his freedom of the Mercers' Company (Cruden, 197). In the dedication of his 'Treasure for Travellers' to Sir William Winter, he writes : 'I have most largely tasted of your benevolence towards me being as a poore gunner serving under your worthiness.' In book iii. cap. 9 of the same work he describes himself as being 'neither Naupeger or Ship-carpenter, neither usuall Seaman.' From these passages it is clear that 'he was not a seaman by profession ; as the offices of his patron were of a general nature, not to be discharged at sea, it may be that Bourne served under him on shore, perhaps as one of the gunners of Gravesend bulwark, which he has delineated and referred to in more than one of his works. These, from internal evidence, appear to have been written at Gravesend, his native town. He wrote : 1. 'An Almanacke and prognostication for iii yeres, with serten Rules of navigation,' 1567 (Arber, i. 336). 2. 'An Almanacke and prognostication for iii years . . . now newly added vnto my late rules of navigation that was printed iiii years past. Practised at Gravesend, for the meridian of London by William Bourne, student of the mathematical sciences,' T. Purfoot, imp. 1571 (Ames, 996). 3. 'An Almanacke for ten yeares beginning at the yeare 1581, with certaine necessarie Rules,' R. Watkins with J. Roberts, imp. 1580 (Ames, 1025). 4. ' A Regiment of the Sea : conteyning . . . Rules, Mathematical experiences, and perfect Knowledge of Navigation for all Coastes and Countreys : most needfull and necessarie for all Seafaring Men and Travellers, as Pilots, Mariners, Merchants, &c.,' T. Dawson and T. Gardyner for Iohn Wight, imp. [1573]. It is dedicated to the Earl of Lincoln, lord high admiral, whose arms are given in his flag flying at the maintop of a large ship-of-war on the title-page. This work, by which Bourne is best known, passed through several editions, viz., 1580, posthumous 1584, 1587, 1592 (corrected by T. Hood), 1596, and 1643. 5. 'A booke called the Treasure for Travellers, divided into five Bookes or partes, conteynyng very necessary matters, for all sortes of Travailers, eyther by Sea or Lande,' Thomas Woodcocke, imp. 1578. It is dedicated to 'Syr William Winter, knight, Maister of the Queenes Maiesties Ordinaunce by Sea, Survaior of her highnesse marine causes,' whose arms and crest are given on verso of the title-page. 6. Another edition, under the title of 'A Mate for Mariners,' 1641 (Cruden, p. 209). 7. 'The Arte of Shooting in great Ordnance, conteyning very necessary matters for all sortes of Servitoures, eyther by Sea or by Lande,' Thos. Woodcocke, imp. 1587. It is dedicated to 'Lord Ambrose Dudley, Earle of Warwick . . . Generall of the Queen's Maiesties Ordnance within her highnesse Realme and Dominions.' Other editions, 1596 (Cruden) and 1643. That 1587 is not the date of its composition is certain, as the license for printing was granted to H. Bynnemann 22 July 1578 (Ames, 992 ; Arber, 2, 150) ; moreover it is referred to in Bourne's next work : 8. 'Inventions or Devises ; Very necessary for all Generalles and Captaines, or Leaders of men, as wel by Sea as by Land,' Thos. Woodcocke, imp. 1578. This is dedicated to 'Lorde Charles Howard of Effingham.' Some of these devises are of peculiar interest, as they anticipated by more than eighty years the 'Century of Inventions' by the Marquis of Worcester. No. 21 is supposed to be the earliest mention in our language of a ship's log and line, the deviser of which was Humprey Cole, of the Mint in the Tower. No. 75 is a night signal or telegraph, afterwards used by Captain John Smith, and for which he obtained such renown. No. 110 seems to be a curious anticipation of the telescope, apparently borrowed from the Pantometria by Digges (1571), while some have been brought forward as new discoveries at Gravesend within the present century.

Of Bourne's manuscripts three are extant:

  1. 'The Property or Qualytyes of Glaces [glasses], Acordyng vnto ye severall mackyng pollychynge & gryndyng of them' (Brit. Mus. 'Lansd.,' 121 (13), printed by Halliwell-Phillipps).
  2. 'A dyscourse as tochying ye Q. maejisties Shypes.' Brit Mus. 'Lansd., '29 (20). All doubt as to the authorship is obviated by a reference to his 'Inventions and devises ' to be found in it.
  3. A manuscript in three parts (1) 'Of Certayne principall matters belonging vnto great Ordnance;' (2) 'Certayne conclusions of the skale of the backside of the Astrolabe;' (3) 'A litle briefe note howe for to measure plattformes and bodyes and so foorth' (Brit. Mus. 'Sloane,' 3651). Dedicated to Lord Burleigh. The substance of this manuscript is to be found in 'Shooting in Great Ordnance' and 'Treasure for Travellers;' it, however, contains two unpublished drafts in Bourne's hand: a small one of the Thames and Medway, and another on a larger scale of the Thames near Gravesend, with 'plattformes' for the defence of the river. A short study of his writings serves to show that Bourne was a self-taught genius, who, although he had mastered mathematics as then understood in all its branches, did not always succeed in setting forth his acquired knowledge in fairly good English. His sentiments, as expressed in his several addresses to 'ye gentell reader,' are as pious as they are patriotic, the little incident of the fine notwithstanding, which arose doubtless from the negligence of his servants or from preoccupation. He died 22 March 1582-3, leaving a widow and four sons.

[Tanner's Bibl. Brit., 1748; Ames's Typogr. Antiq., 1785; Hutton, Math, and Philos. Dict., 1815, i. 244; Halliwell-Phillipps's Kara Mathematica, 1839, p. 32; Cruden's Hist. of Gravesend, 1843, pp. 207-12; Arber's Register of Company of Stationers, 1875, 4to.]

C. H. C.