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Henry Dyer

Henry Dyer (1848 - 1918) was a Scottish engineer who contributed much to founding Western-style technical education in Japan and Anglo-Japanese relations.


Early life

Henry Dyer was born on 16 August 1848, in the village of Muirmadkin (now absorbed in to the town of Bellshill) in the Parish of Bothwell in what is now known as North Lanarkshire.

Around 1865, the Dyer family moved to Glasgow where Henry was employed at James Aitken and Company's foundry in Cranstonhill. There he served his apprenticeship as a student engineer under Thomas Kennedy and A C Kirk. At the same time, he attended classes at Anderson's College (later to become the University of Strathclyde) together with Yamao Yozo.

Dyer studied at Glasgow University from 1868 He was the first Scot to win the Whitworth scholarship awarded in 1868, which was for the further instruction of young men gifted in the practice and theory of mechanics. Henry Dyer graduated from Glasgow University in 1873 with a "certificate in proficiency in engineering", the forerunner of the BSc in Engineering, from the Engineering department.

Japan (1873-1882)

Dyer was recommended to Ito Hirobumi during the Iwakura Mission's visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the post of Principal and Professor of Engineering at the new Imperial College of Engineering (ICE or Kobu Daigakko) in Tokyo by his professor, William John Macquorn Rankine and appointed in 1872 when just 25 years old.

The Government of Japan at the time was actively seeking to transfer skills and knowledge from the United Kingdom and other countries in order to catch up with them. The courses Dyer implemented at the ICE required the student to spend two years on general and science subjects, two on technical subjects in the student’s chosen field, and two more on purely practical work.

To provide practical training, Dyer helped set up the Akabane Engineering works, the largest in the Empire of Japan. Many of the major engineering works carried out in Japan at the end of the 19th century were by his former students, and Dyer also sent many to Glasgow to complete their education.

When he left the ICE in 1882, Dyer was made Honorary Principal and the Emperor Meiji awarded him the Third Class of the Order of the Rising Sun, the highest Japanese honour available to foreigners. He had established a progressive system of engineering education in Tokyo and greatly contributed to the progress Japan made as an industrial power.

Scotland (1882-1918)

Henry Dyer went back to Scotland and in 1886 became a life governor of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (previously Anderson's College, where he had been a student, and later to become the University of Strathclyde)and governor of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Agricultural College. He became a member of the Glasgow School Board in 1891 and was its president from 1914 until his death.

Dyer represented a tireless pro-Japanese lobby within Scotland. He assisted Japanese students, engineers and trainee managers and had a staunch ally in Captain A R Brown of the company Brown, McFarlane who had been responsible for taking the first Clyde built ships to Japan. Dyer worked as an unofficial liaison officer for the Japanese Government in Glasgow and thanks to his efforts Glasgow University Court permitted Japanese as a language for entry in 1901. In the same year Professors Joji Sakurai and Isao Iijima of the University of Tokyo were awarded honorary degrees during the University’s Ninth Jubilee celebrations.

The University of Strathclyde's Henry Dyer Building, home to the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, was named after him.


  • The Evolution of Industry (1895)
  • Dai Nippon: The Britain of the East (1904)
  • Japan in World Politics (1909)
  • Collected Writings of Henry Dyer, in 5 vols., edited by Nobuhiro Miyoshi, Tokyo: Edition Synapse. ISBN 978-4-901481-83-0


  • Olive Checkland, 'Henry Dyer at the Imperial College of Engineering Tokyo, and afterwards in Glasgow', Chapter 11, Britain & Japan: Biographical Portraits, Volume 3, Japan Library, ISBN 1-873410-89-1
  • Collected Writings of Henry Dyer, ISBN 1-901903-71-0
  • Henry Dyer: Pioneer of Education in Japan, by Nobuhiro Miyoshi, 2004, ISBN 1-901903-66-4

See also

External sources



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