Bourne, Richard (1770–1851), steamship owner and a founder of the P & O company, was born at Fethard Castle, Co. Tipperary, youngest of several sons. Entering the Royal Navy (1787), he was promoted lieutenant (1797) and commanded the Felix (1804); twice rewarded for gallantry by the Lloyds patriotic fund, he was wounded and placed on half pay in 1806; he accepted the rank of commander (retired) in 1840. The family were road builders, stage-coach contractors, and among the first to hold mail-coach contracts in Ireland; Bourne ran the Kinnegad–Sligo service from 1809 and the Leixlip–Galway service from 1813. The Bournes had interests in the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company and were the chief proprietors of the Dublin and London Steam Packet Company (1826–37), which inaugurated the first regular service between London and Dublin; it traded under this name, though first advertised as the ‘Dublin and London Steam Marine Company’. The company claimed that the Shannon completed the journey in seventy hours and was fitted with state cabins for private families and eighty well ventilated sleeping compartments, with warm baths ready for use at all times.
During the Portuguese and Spanish civil wars of the early 1830s, Bourne chartered the Royal Tar to the emperor Dom Pedro of Portugal and subsequently to the queen of Spain through the London brokers, Willcox and Anderson; at the instigation of the Spanish minister in London, Juan Alvarezy y Mendizabel, he joined them in 1835 in founding the Peninsula Steam Navigation Company to provide a service between England and the Iberian Peninsula. He supplied several ships, including the William Fawcett, the Tagus, and the Don Juan (advertised as the largest and most powerful ship afloat). He is credited with restoring the finances of the failing company by organising the government contract for the carriage of mails to the Peninsula, which was signed by him in 1837, the year traditionally accepted for the founding of the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P & O), as it was renamed in 1840 when its mail contract was extended to Egypt and later to India. Bourne was instrumental in raising the necessary capital by setting up a limited company incorporated by royal charter (1840). He remained a director until his death.
His brother Frederick Bourne was probably the coach proprietor of Bourne & Hartley, Dublin, who for thirty years held the post office contract for building mail coaches, held mail contracts, and built the village of Ashbourne, Co. Meath (presumably in part named after him) on the mail-coach road from Dublin to Derry. William Bourne was probably another brother; he won the first mail-coach contract between Dublin and Limerick (1791); the company's mail-coach office is listed (Dublin Almanack (1837), 387) for the Limerick, Sligo, and Galway service. Richard Bourne died at Blackheath, London, 9 October 1851. He married (1816) Louisa Helena Blake, sister of the 2nd Baron Wallscourt; they had three sons and two daughters.