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Ottoway Bourne (c. 1833–1887)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Bulli Mine Disaster Memorial, South Face

Bulli Mine Disaster Memorial, South Face

Ottoway Bourne, also known as Attaway Bouren (c.1833-1887) labourer, killed in mine explosion

Birth: about 1833 in Linham, Kent, England, son of Attaway [Felix] Bourne (1804-1836), agricultural labourer and liveryman, and his wife Maria, née Hampshire (1806-1873). Marriage: 23 January 1862 in Wollongong, New South Wales, to Mary Taylor (1844-1913), born in Cupar, Fife, Scotland. They had five daughters and ten sons, registered under the surname ‘Bourne”. Death: 23 March 1887 at Bulli, NSW. Religion: Anglican. 

  • After his father’s death his mother remarried and in 1841 ‘Attaway’ was living with her and his step-father Rainer Brewer and family at Wychling, in Kent, aged 8.
  • In 1851 ‘Ottaway’, aged 16, was, like his step-father, an agricultural labourer at Lenham, in Kent.
  • By 1862 he was a labourer at Bulli, NSW. On his marriage documents his name was mis-transcribed as ‘O’Harvay’ and both he and his wife signed with a mark.
  • He continued to work as a labourer at Bulli for the following quarter-century. About 1881 his wife left her husband and family, who was looked after by their housekeeper Margaret Tobin.
  • With eighty other mine employees, ‘Attaway Bouren’, aged 53, died in the calamitous gas explosion at Bulli Coal Mining Company pit at 2.30 pm on Wednesday 23 March 1887. The catastrophe is estimated to have left fifty women widowed and one hundred and fifty children fatherless. It was the worst mine disaster in Australia until that at Mount Kembla in July 1902. The sole survivor was a youth aged 16, Herbert Cope.
  • Other mine employees killed in the explosion included three of Bourne’s sons: 22-year-old John Felix, 17-year-old William Andrew and 16-year-old James Ernest. Another son, David Clarence, died in Bulli Colliery on 16 July 1928.
  • After the explosion, the committee of the Bulli relief fund granted a bonus of £5 and annuity of £20 to “the guardian of Attaway Bouren’s two children” and a bonus of £5, and an annuity of £20 to Margaret Tobin, for 8 years A. Bouren’s housekeeper”.
  • Mary Bourne returned to Bulli, turned Margaret Tobin out of the house and took possession. In February 1888 Tobin successfully sued to recover wages.
  • A special commission of inquiry in mid 1887, which was biased in favour of the government and the mining company, found that it was common to remove the safety gauze from around the flame of the oil safety lamps that were used at the mine. Both the miners and the management were criticised by the commission for their safety failures. However, as Don Dingdsdag writes, “the official inquiries failed to resolve the safety breaches that precipitated the disaster.”
  • Probate on the estate of “Otaway Bouren, miner” was granted to Mary Bouren, the widow. She moved to Western Australia.
  • His name – as ‘William Ottaway Bourne’ - and the names of his three sons are inscribed on the monument to the Bulli mine disaster, in Park Road, Bulli, erected in March 1888.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Bourne, Ottoway (c. 1833–1887)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Bulli Mine Disaster Memorial, South Face

Bulli Mine Disaster Memorial, South Face

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bouren, Attaway
  • Bourne, William Attaway

c. 1833
Lenham, Kent, England


23 March, 1887 (aged ~ 54)
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

mining accident

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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