As a young man, he worked at the botanical garden in Lyon, where his influences included Nicolas Charles Seringe and Claude Thomas Alexis Jordan. In 1843 he relocated to Paris, where he was hired by Philip Barker Webb as a herbarium assistant. In 1845-46 he collected plants for the "Webb collection" in the Canary Islands.
He had previously been a botanical collector in Spain, North Africa and the Canary Islands before joining the British North American Exploring Expedition of Western Canada from 1857 to 1860. In Canada, he collected botanical specimens north of Lake Superior and areas around Lake Winnipeg, also journeying down the Saskatchewan River and venturing into the Rocky Mountains.
Later expeditions included two trips to Asia Minor (the Lycia region and the Pontic Mountains), a journey to Spain and the Balearic Islands (1863), a scientific mission to Mexico (1865–66), and in 1870, a trip to the island of Rhodes.
- Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists edited by Keir Brooks Sterling
- JSTOR Global Plants (biography of Bourgeau)
- James Hector's Journal
- Index Nominum Genericorum database Bourgaea - Smithsonian Institution
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