Thomas Blake Glover an intriguing Scotsman
What or rather who did Mitsubushi, Jardine Matheson and Kirin Beer have in common?
- Thomas Blake Glover was employed by another company founded by some impressive two equally impressive Scotsmen, Jardine Matheson & Co which continues to trade today as Jardine Matheson Holdings. Jardines was founded by William Jardine and James Matheson. Their company was founded in 1832 and led the way for the west trading in the Far East. More on their incredible story later.
- Thomas Glover was born 15 Commerce Street, Fraserbrugh on 6 June 1838, the fifth son of a family of seven boys and one girl. His mother was from Fordyce in Banffshire and his English father was an officer in the Royal Navy.
- Glover visited Shanghai with his brother in 1857, and in 1859, in the closing days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, he arrived in Nagasaki, aged 21.
- Set-up on his own 2 years later, in 1863 built Glover House on Minami Yamate
- He learned the language and became steeped in his understanding of Japanese culture, which was an exceptional achievement.
- In the early days of the Meiji Restoration, Glover provided technical know-how for shipbuilding and mining; he owned the Takashima Coal Mine and later constructed the first Western-style shipyard in Japan, in an inlet of Nagasaki harbour in 1869.
- He formed strong links with the former samurai clans Satsuma and Chôshu, and was instrumental in sending sons of these clans to Britain to study in 1862, among them Hirobumi Ito, later to become the first prime minister of Japan.
- Glover was the first non-Japanese to be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun – one of the top honours in the country, the citations ran to some 20 pages, it is recognised as a gift of ultimate honour from his Samurai clan friends
- Another claim to fame is that Glover’s Japanese wife Tsuru, whom he married in 1867, is said to have been the inspiration for “Madame Butterfly”, a story written by the American author John Luther Long, and later turned into the famous opera by Puccini and first performed at the Scala, Milan, in 1904.
- Eventually Glover overstretched himself and in 1870 he became bankrupt. Mitsibushi took over the companies but retained Glover as a consultant.
- More controversial was his supply of arms and notably Enfield and Tower Rifles to initially the Satsuma Samurai clan and later to all sides.
- He took sides and smuggled to Britain for a period of education and enlightenment the Satsuma 19 to learn about the contribution the west could make to trade and industry in Japan.
- He was the go-between for Sir Harry Parkes and the Samurai clan’s leaders, they were campaigning for the overthrow of the Shogun and the established order and laying the way for a new Japan.
- The British withdrew their support for the Shogun and there was tacit agreement for what would be a bloody civil war with the clans armed by Blake Glover and the establishment of the Meiji Restoration , renamed the capital as Tokyo and moved forwards dramatically from what had previously been an almost medieval culture. For two centuries science, physics and engineering had been closed to the Japanese. Blake Glover was ideally placed to facilitate this new era of modernisation.
- He provided expertise as well as the equipment for the profitable development of ship-building and coal- mining in Japan. He introduced the concept via steam engine train built in Japan by his company.
- He diversified his interests including Bank notes and Beer (Kirin Beer.)
- Glover eventually became the most famous foreigner in Japan, and died in Tokyo on 13 December 1911, aged 73. His ashes were interred in Nagasaki’s Sakamoto International Cemetery.
- Glover House is the oldest western-style building in Japan and the house and garden are visited by two million Japanese every year. Last year, the plaque on the building was changed to describe him as a “Scotsman” rather than English, history and current affairs colliding and connecting again…Every month the local authorities place flowers and a can of Kirin Beer on his grave
- Mitsubishi corporate site still acknowledges and documents it’s links with Blake Glover
- Blake Glovers introduction of Ship-building led to the 3rd largest naval power by 1905
- His influence on Japan extends beyond his lifetime and were tragically marked by the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki, where two thirds of the population were killed. The official surrender was in a form of Japanese only understood by the Samurai class and paraphrased here ‘We surrender and acknolwedge the superiority of your weapons.’
- Japan endured despite this tragedy and much of the seeds of trade and industrial growth were sown by the actions and influence of Sir Thomas Blake Glover.
- What made scotsmen so successful and entrepreneurial in their colonial trading exploits?
- What from his work at Jardine Matheson had provided him with the knowledge and abilities to be so successful in his trading and integration with the Japanese culture?
Look out for more posts about the successful Scotsmen’s exploits in the far East on Intriguing History