Aleck William Bourne

Controversial Obstetrician

Aleck Bourne was born on 4 June 1866 as the son of a Methodist Minister in Middlesex.

He was a very clever young man who won a scholarship that allowed him to study and obtain a first class degree at Cambridge University.

He then won another scholarship that allowed him to join St Mary's Hospital at Paddington, London where he excelled in medical studies.

In 1912 he met and married Bessie W Hayward from Barnet.

During World War One he served as a surgeon stationed in Egypt and then France.

After the war he re-entered the world of obstetrics quickly building a reputation within the hospitals and from his private consulting rooms at 27 Harley Street in London.

He held many offices in medical bodies including the  Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal Society of Medicine and wrote a number of medical papers and books.

In 1934 he was appointed as consulting obstetrical surgeon at St Mary's Hospital.

One of his first moved was to change the admission rules for students to allow female students at St Mary's for the first time.

Sailing at Burnham on Crouch

Bessie and Aleck enjoyed sailing and established a family home at a large house called Keywayden in the hamlet of Creeksea that is part of Burnham on Crouch in Essex.

This move allowed them to sail in the River Crouch and to play a full role in the social scene at the Yacht Clubs in Burnham on Crouch becoming a member of both the Royal Burnham Yacht Club and the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club..

The Bourne's owned an ex pilot boat called Idris which they sold and bought another ex-pilot boat called Carlotta.

Carlotta was a well known yacht that had won many prestigious cruiser raced and a number of high profile owners including World War One veteran Lord Gort

Carlotta was again successful winning a number of cruiser races for the Bourne's

Many summers were spent cruising the European waters with trips stretching from Brittany to the Baltic.

In the summer of 1939 they were cruising off Brittany when there radio broke. They continued to cruise for several days until they docked in Brest for supplied to find a telegram waiting with the words “Return Home at once - War immanent"

Bourne decided that it was not safe to leave his beloved yacht in France but decided not to sail it home but instead sailed to the Channel Islands and left it at Guernsey. In 1940 when the scale of the war became apparent he sold the yacht and a few months later it was used by several channel islanders in a daring escape from German rule

The abortion row

In June 1938 a 14 year old girl was enticed into the barracks of the Royal Horse Guards in London and raped by five of the Guards.

After the rape she found that she was pregnant at a time when it was scandalous to be an unmarried mother and abortion was unlawful.

She tried several sources for help without success but on contacting Bourne at St Mary's Hospital he agreed to carry out an abortion.

Bourne had strong views that the abortion law should be relaxed which led him to inform the Police once he had carried out the operation.

He was arrested and charged with abortion appearing before the Central Criminal Court in 1938.

After a sensational trial he was acquitted after arguing that the defence a charge that an abortion was permissible if the mother’s life was at risk not only referred to a physical risk but could apply if it would make the woman a physical or mental wreck.

This landmark decision is believed to have eventually led to the change of law in relation to abortion although it prevented Bourne from the advancement in the medical world that he may have achieved before he retired in 1951.


In 1951 Bourne retired and moved to Ashstead in Surrey where he died on 30 December 1974