Lives of the fellows

William Arthur Bourne

b.1900 d.1 February 1976
MRCS LRCP(1925) MA MB BChir Cantab(1927) MRCP(1927) MD(1936) FRCP(1947)

William Arthur Bourne was born at Moira, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the only son of Moses Bourne whose family had been closely linked with the collieries in the West Midlands since at least 1842. Moses Bourne was a strict Methodist and married a Miss Edith Bacon. Their son William continued as a Nonconformist, going first to the grammar school at Ashby-de-la-Zouch and then on to Mill Hill School. From there he won an open scholarship to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he took a full part in college life, playing cricket, football, and becoming a keen beagler. He also spent some time writing verse and novels.

From Cambridge he went to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he qualified with the Conjoint diploma in 1925. He became house physician to Sir Percival Horton-Smith-Hartley, then house surgeon at the Metropolitan Hospital, later spending a year in gynaecology under Malcolm Donaldson. In 1928 he went into a general practice at Bedford, bought for him by his grandparents, later moving to Exmouth, and then in 1935 to Hove. General practice gave Bourne the fullest scope for his versatile talents, and he turned his hand to many different interests as well as becoming an exceedingly skilful and experienced practitioner. He kept the fullest notes about his patients and read widely in medical literature, as well as continuing to write poetry. He was never idle and became keen on sailing, golf, sketching and photography.

During the 1939-1945 war he was - to his disappointment — not allowed to join the Forces but was appointed honorary physician to the Royal Sussex County Hospital (1942) and to the Hove General Hospital in 1946. At this time he gave valuable help on the committee of the Royal College of Physicians which was concerned with the introduction of the National Health Service, and himself began to specialize in gastroenterology. He was one of the first physicians in England to acquire and use the semi-flexible gastroscope, which had been introduced from Germany.

He was elected FRCP in 1947, by which time he had become an expert in his specialty, contributing papers on the oesophagus, gastric cancer, anaemia, and other subjects. He was elected president of the section of medicine of the Royal Society of Medicine and also of the clinical section, and in 1963 of the British Society of Gastroenterology.

Bourne was a fine clinician; a man of the widest general interests and knowledge, and immensely popular with his patients and friends. In build he was a big man, appearing to some as taciturn, reticent and even forbidding, but he was in fact a man of deep sympathies and a delightful sense of humour. He had a remarkably good memory, fine powers of observation, and abounding energy and enthusiasm. It was largely Bourne’s work which started the idea of day hospitals, which followed his formation of ‘An Outpatients’ Club’, which he described in The Lancet in 1950.

He married Joyce Postle, who was a nurse at Bart’s and daughter of an old Norfolk family. He had two sons, one of whom became medically qualified, and two daughters, one of whom followed her mother as a nurse at Bart’s. The other daughter died tragically in a sailing accident which seemed to precipitate Bourne’s own death in 1976, as he lay for some months paralysed and speechless after this shock.

TC Hunt

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 1, 775, 843; Lancet, 1976, 3, 757; Times, 10 Feb 1976]

(Volume VII, page 56)

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