Scots do get around and have played interesting roles in different parts of the world. Thomas Blake Glover is a classic example.

Thomas Blake Glove

Thomas Blake Glover

Glover was a Scot, who lived from June 6 1838 until Dec. 16, 1911. He was born in Fraserborough and died – in Tokyo Japan. Glover’s father was an officer in the Coast Guard and Thomas spent his first years in this rapidly expanding seaport. After that, the family moved around Scotland to different Coast Guard bases.

After finishing school, Glover took a job with the Jardine Matheson trading company and went to the far east. In 1859, when he was 21 he wound up in Nagasaki in Japan, where he built a Western stylehouse which still stands as the oldest Western style house in Japan. Two years later he founded his own company.

This was a crucial period in Japanese history. Japan had been a fairly isolated island nation. In 1853 Commodore Perry arrived from the United States in order to force the Japanese to open their ports to the United States for trading purposes. The Japanese government at the time was ruled by a military leader known as the shōgun and the form of government was the shōgunate. The shōgun himself, Tokgawa Ieyoshi, was ill at the time, and serious problems arose with the government as to how to handle the arrival of the Americans with their demands.

There was a lack of understanding by Westerners of the Japanese political system. There was indeed and “emperor” but the political head of the country was the shogun. So there was confusion as to who had the power to sign what. The idea that there are different kinds of political systems in different cultures led to much confusion and many problems as representatives of one society interact with others.

After sending a letter that the Americans would destroy them, Perry fired a number of blank shells from his cannons. The letter was received and Perry said he would return in a year for an answer. In fact, he returned about a half year later with ten ships and sixteen hundred men. Japan signed an agreement in which Japan was unbalanced with Japan faring badly in the deal. This led to a great deal of anti Western sentiment on the part of the Japanese.

Other Western countries including Great Britain, France and Russia also were similarly involved.

Ultimately, in 1868, the Meiji restoration overthrew the shōgunate and returned power (at least nominally) to the Emperor.

The Meiji restoration is a complex affair, but Glover became involved with supplying both weapons and warships to the Nationalist who ultimately overthrew the shōgunate. These deals were in violation of treaty agreements made between Great Britain and Japan.

Glover role in this led to other interesting developments. In 1865, he brought to Japan the first steam locomotive, named “The Iron Duke” and several railroad cars. He demonstrated these on a short run of track in an area in Nagasaki. This seems to have had a huge effect on the Japanese as they realized the advantage of railway travel.

Glover was influential in the industrialization of Japan. He was involved in the commissioning of the first Japanese warships, built by an Aberdeenshire firm, Alexander Hall and Company. He was also responsible for the building of the first dry dock in Japan. He was involved with the founding of the company that would ultimately become Mitsubishi as well as the company that would become Kirin Beer.

Glover had a common law marriage with a woman named Awajiya Tsuru and had a daughter by her. Glover died in Tokyo Japan, on 16 December 1911, but not until he had been awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, second class, for his achievements in Japan.