Edmund Bourdillon was admitted as a land surveyor in the Cape Colony in 1864. By 1867 he was employed in Grahamstown as mathematics master at St. Andrews College Grammar School. He was also an amateur astronomer and on 21 August 1867 observed the rare event of the planet Jupiter appearing without any of its four large satellites. Such an event had not been seen since 16 November 1681. Three of the moons, namely Io, Ganymede, and Callisto, were in conjunction and thus passed over the planet's disc, while the fourth, Europa, passed behind the planet, being partly occulted and partly eclipsed. Bourdillon must have used a fairly powerful telescope as he was able to see and sketch the three satellites as well as their shadows in transit across the planet's surface. His observations, with sketches, were reported in the Grahamstown Journal of 26 August 1867.
Bourdillon moved to the Orange Free State (now the Free State) in 1870 and in about 1885 became a land owner there. He was a member of the Commissie van Publieke Examinatoren (Commission of Public Examinors) of the Orange Free State until he resigned this position in 1898. Around the turn of the century he wrote notes on farming in the territory, aimed at intending immigrants, which were published in The Times of London. After expanding the notes he also published them as a monograph entitled Farming in the Orange River Colony (Bloemfontein, 1901). This was during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), after Bloemfontein had been occupied by British forces. In 1902 the British authorities confirmed his registration as a land surveyor in the Orange River Colony. He was married to Dora Kate Hull, with whom he had five sons and four daughters. Two of his sons, Victor and Thomas, became well-known cricket players.