John Frederick Bourne, member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers, was the son of John Henry Bourne and his wife Hannah, born Budden. At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a firm of merchants based in Liverpool, but later decided to enter the church. After receiving his Deacon's Orders in December 1842 he became assistant curator to Holy Trinity Church, Esrequito, Demerara (British Guiana). Eventually he rose to rector of St Paul's Church, Demerara, and chaplain to the bishop of Guiana. However, he was interested also in engineering and resigned his position in 1853 to begin practising as an engineer. In July 1854 he was appointed civil engineer and overseer of the Public Works for British Guiana. His interest in military engineering led him to join the Artillery Corps of the Georgetown Militia. He later published a paper on how military batteries could be improved and in 1861 was granted a patent for his ideas.
After 20 years in British Guiana Bourne served as Colonial Railway Engineer of the Cape Colony from 1863 to at least 1865. He was still in the Colony in August 1866, as he evaluated tenders for railway construction at that time.
In March 1863 Bourne advised the commissioners for improving the port and harbour of Algoa Bay on some aspects of the work to be carried out there. In 1865 they asked him to visit the site again and he did so in December of that year. His report contains his opinions and recommendations on various problems, particularly the deposition of sand and silt by the sea within the breakwater, and how to deal with it.
John Frederick Bourne published a paper, 'Experiments on flying', in the Annual Reports of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain (Vol. 2, pp. 51-54) in 1867. He also contributed a paper on 'The Roman Rock lighthouse, Simons Bay, Cape of Good Hope' to the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1869. He ended his career as superintendent of public works on Barbados.
Bourne married Eliza Jane Wolseley in 1845 and they had two sons. After her death in 1848 he marred Laetitia Constable Crosby, with whom he had a third son.