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Made In Japan? A Scottish Invention.

Thomas Blake Glover by Niamh Wood Thomas Blake Glover was a Scottish merchant described as being one of the founding fathers of Japan's modern industrialisation.

Thomas Blake Glover was born on June 6th, 1838, at 15 Commerce Street, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland. He was the fifth of eight children to parents Thomas Berry Glover, and Mary Findlay. His father was a coastguard officer from Vauxhall, London, and his mother was from the parish of Fordyce, Banffshire. Young Thomas spent his early years being educated at the recently opened parish school in Fraserburgh. However, in 1844, his father, Thomas senior, was promoted to Chief coastguard officer. This meant that the family had to relocate several times to suit Thomas senior’s work. They first moved to the coastguard Stations at Grimsby, then to Collieston in Aberdeenshire, and finally to the Bridge of Don by Aberdeen. Due to his family’s constant moving, young Thomas had to switch schools several times. He attended primary schools in Grimsby, Collieston, and secondary school at the Chanory school in Old Aberdeen. After Thomas had completed his schooling, he took on a job as a shipping clerk with the trading company Jardine Matheson. He excelled in this job and, in 1857, made the big decision to move to Shanghai.




In 1859, at just the age of 21, Glover had already established a name for himself in the company by massively contributing to the buying and selling of Japanese green tea. Just two years later, Glover set up his own company in Nagasaki, which he named the Glover Trading Company. The 1860s were a period of significant success for Glover. He started trading in ships and arms. In 1865, Glover announced the first steam locomotive that Japan had ever seen. He called it the ‘Iron Duke’. By 1868, Glover had worked his way up so much so that he was influential enough to play a part in the downfall of the Tokugawa dictatorship during the Meiji restoration. This downfall was predominately down to the decline in trade leading to other countries seeing them as untrustworthy as well as the fact that they were in massive debt and didn't have supplies to support their military, which subsequently lead to other counties taking advantage of this. Glover was left in a very favourable position with the new regime, especially as his trading company was now going so well with so many others around him failing. In 1869, he commissioned one of the first modern warships. This warship was set to serve in the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was built by Alexander Hall and Company in Aberdeen and was called the ‘Jho Sho Maru’, and later the ‘Ryujo Maru’.

Glover had also begun working on Japan's first coal mines and had built the first dry dock by the end of the 1860s. This did eventually lead him into bankruptcy in 1870. However, this proved to be only a temporary setback and Glover continued his work and went on to become a founder of a shipbuilding company, which later became known as the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan. During this time, he also helped to set up the Japan brewery company, which later went on to become known as the Kirkin Brewery Company. The Kirin beer labels show a fantastic creature with facial hair. It sounds bizarre; however, it is believed that this creature is in his memory of Glover himself and matches Glover's moustache.

Glover married Yamamura Tsuru in the 1870s. The couple settled at Glover's house that Glover himself had built-in 1863. It is in Nagasaki and is the oldest western style building in Japan. Together, the couple had a son and daughter. In 1899, Yamamura died, and in 1911, on December 16th, Glover himself died in Tokyo. Glover was buried at the Sakamoto International ceremony in Nagasaki.

Glover's former house in Nagasaki, is now a museum devoted to him and has become a top tourist attraction. The Glover family home in Bridge of Don, has also become a museum and is open to the public as a restored Victorian house. His childhood house, fared less well, being destroyed in WWII by a bomb.

Thomas Blake glover, otherwise known as the ‘Scottish Samurai’, is, to this day, widely remembered as one of the founding fathers of modern Japan due to his huge contributions to the country’s industrialisation. Including the introduction of the first railway locomotive, the mechanisation of coal mines, the founding of the Japanese Navy, and subsequently the country’s modernisation.

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