Born at Thursby in Cumberland on 22nd February 1822, Bouch was to become one of the highest profile civil engineers in mid-19th century Britain. Son of a sea captain he was educated locally and in Carlisle, then entered a mechanical engineering business in Liverpool in 1840. Very soon, however, he was working for Joseph Larmer, a civil engineer then engaged on the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway under Joseph Locke and John Errington.
Late in 1844 the young Bouch moved on, first to Leeds, then to the Stockton & Darlington Railway where he worked for four years under John Dixon. From January 1848 he became manager and engineer of the Edinburgh & Northern Railway, later the Edinburgh & Dundee, and soon to form part of the North British Railway. Here he designed the first ever train ferries to handle traffic across both the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay, but he left in the early 1850s and went into general engineering consultancy.
In his new role Bouch undertook surveys and plans for a whole series of railways and branches, mainly in Scotland and Northern England, including the Darlington & Barnard Castle, the South Durham & Lancashire Union, the Eden Valley, the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith, the Sevenoaks and Maidstone, the Peebles, the Kinross-shire, the Leven (Fife), the Leslie, the St. Andrews, the Creiff Junction, the Coatbridge, the Edinburgh, Loanhead & Roslin, the Leadburn, Linton & Dolphinton, the Penicuik, the Arbroath & Montrose, the Newport (Fife), the Tay Bridge and the Edinburgh Suburban.
Apart from those on the SD&LU he built several remarkable bridges, including over Bilston Burn on the Edinburgh, Loanhead & Roslin line, over the River Esk at Montrose, and Hownes Gill Viaduct near Consett on the Stanhope & Tyne Railway. On the SD&LU his masterpieces were the iron viaducts at Belah, Deepdale and over the Tees west of Barnard Castle. Belah, the greatest of them, was 1,040 feet long and carried the railway 196 feet over the gill below.
However, Bouch's magnum opus was the Tay Bridge, built to carry a single line of railway for nearly two miles on 85 spans, high above the waters of the Firth of Tay between Dundee and Wormit, and opened to traffic on 22nd September 1877. Bouch was honoured, first, when Queen Victoria crossed the structure on her way to Balmoral in June 1879, and second, by the bestowal of a knighthood. However, serious faults were exposed in the design and construction of the bridge when it was blown down in a severe storm on the night of 28th December 1879, with the loss of over 70 lives of the passengers and crew of a train which was passing over at the time.
The shock of this disaster was a great blow to Bouch, and to his reputation. His health quickly deteriorated, and he died less than a year later, at his home in Moffat, in Dumfriesshire, on 30th October 1880