Illustration from Japanese scroll collected by Henry Dyer. Now in the Henry Dyer Collection, Mitchell Library, Glasgow

Illustration from Japanese scroll collected by Henry Dyer. Now in the Henry Dyer Collection, Mitchell Library, Glasgow

Henry Dyer

1848 – 1918

Henry Dyer

the father of engineering education in Japan.

Engineering Achievements

On the recommendation of Professor W J M Rankine, of the University of Glasgow, Henry Dyer was offered the posts of Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and founding Principal of the Imperial College of Engineering, in Tokyo, designed to train the first generation of modern engineers for the newly opened Japan. Dyer had just completed his studies and was 25 years old. Rankine considered Dyer to be one of his most outstanding students.

In April 1873 Dyer left Southampton by sea for Japan. In his book Dai Nippon, Dyer mentions that his time on the voyage was mainly spent in writing the Calendar for the College which, on his arrival in Japan, was accepted without change by the authorities. It has been said that Dyer invented a revolutionary concept for educating engineers in the course of that voyage. The academic curricula which he compiled were based on a single principle: the combination of classroom teaching, laboratory work, and practical experience. According to the Japan Weekly Mail of June 7 1873, Henry Dyer arrived in Japan from Hong Kong on June 3 aboard the British Steamer Avoca.

The teaching methods introduced by Dyer and his colleagues were revolutionary at the time. Courses had a strong practical element and lasted for over six years with all classes being given in English.

The College opened in August 1873 with 56 students, 31 of which, Dyer insisted, had to attend an emergency 'preparatory school' in the first instance. Much of the practical work took place at the college workshops at Akabane where Dyer had set up extensive facilities.

Alongside Yamao Yozo, Japanese Minister of Public Works in the first Meiji era government, Dyer created a new and innovative curriculum aimed at both theoretical and hands on training. Upon graduation, many of the Japanese students were awarded Japanese Government funding to undertake further study abroad, many of them attending the University of Glasgow and gaining work experience in the industries of Scotland.

Dyer returned to Glasgow in 1883, having been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun (3rd Class) by the Japanese Government in recognition of his achievement in establishing a scheme of engineering education in Tokyo. (the highest order of its kind given to any foreigner up to that time). He then concentrated on developing engineering education at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, which ultimately became the University of Strathclyde.

His collected works, edited and published in Japan, run to 2000 pages in five volumes.

His Life

  1. 1848 Born in Muirmadkin, Bothwell, Lanarkshire on 16th August
  2. c1863 Attended evening classes at Anderson's College, Glasgow
  3. c1863 Student engineer at James Aitken & Co, Cranstonhill, Glasgow under Thomas Kennedy and A C Kirk
  4. 1868 Age: 19 Won a Whitworth exhibition as a 'workman'
  5. 1870 Age: 21 First Scot to win a Whitworth scholarship
  6. 1873 Age: 24 Graduated BSc from University of Glasgow
  7. 1873 Age: 24 Appointed principal of Imperial College of Engineering, Tokyo
  8. 1874 Age: 25 Married Marie Euphemie Aquart Ferguson
  9. 1882 Age: 33 Awarded Japanese Order of the Rising Sun (Class III)
  10. 1882 Age: 33 Left Imperial College of Tokyo and returned to Scotland in July
  11. 1887 Age: 38 Appointed Life Governor of the West of Scotland Technical College
  12. 1888 Age: 39 Published The Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College in Nature
  13. 1890 Age: 41 Became DSc
  14. 1891 Age: 42 Member of Glasgow School Board
  15. 1895 Age: 46 Published The Evolution of Industry
  16. 1904 Age: 55 Published Dai Nippon: the Britain of the East
  17. 1908 Age: 59 Awarded Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure (Class II)
  18. 1909 Age: 60 Published Japan in World Politics: a Study in International Dynamics
  19. 1910 Age: 61 LLD from University of Glasgow for services to education
  20. 1914 Age: 65 Chairman of Glasgow School Board
  21. 1915 Age: 66 Awarded honorary Doctor of Engineering, University of Tokyo
  22. 1918 Age: 70 Died on 25 September and buried in Glasgow Necropolis

His Legacy

The establishment of a system of engineering at the Imperial College of Engineering, Tokyo, which became the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tokyo.

The development of engineering education at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, later the Royal Technical College, later still the Royal College of Science and Technology and ultimately the University of Strathclyde.

The development and maintenance of Japanese-Scottish relations from 1883, beyond his death and until the outbreak of hostilities in the Far East in 1941.

His legacy in engineering education continued to be understood in Japan despite the UK-Japanese hostilities and in more recent times his contribution has been rediscovered in Scotland. In 1998 two busts of Henry Dyer were created by Kate Thomson, one for display in Tokyo University, the other for Strathclyde University.

More Information

Henry Dyer: Pioneer of Interchange with Japan - focusing on friendship with Sakuro Tanabe S Katoh. Annual Research Report of the Course for Teaching Profession, Aichi University, No. 1. December 2011.
The Published Works of the Meiji Era Educational Advisor Henry Dyer: Themes and Characteristics S Katoh. Annual Research Report of the Course for Teaching Profession, Aichi University, No. 3. March 2014.
Science and technology in 19th century Japan: The Scottish connection Alex D D Craik. Science Direct, Fluid Dynamics Research 39 pp24-48 2007
Henry Dyer - a Man with a Mission Lesley Hart and Robin Hunter. Henry Dyer Symposium, University of Tokyo, 1997.
Henry Dyer: Engineer and Educational Innovator David Allsobrook & Gordon Mitchell. Paedagogica Historica, 33:2, 433-457. 1997
Japan and Britain after 1859: Creating Cultural Bridges. Olive Checkland, 2003.
Britain's encounter with Meiji Japan, 1868-1912. Olive Checkland, 1989.
The Scots in Meiji Japan, 1868-1912 Olive Checkland in R A Cage (ed) The Scots Abroad, Labour, Capital, Enterprise. 1985
The Japanese Connexion: Engineering in Tokyo, London, and Glasgow at the End of the Nineteenth Century (Presidential Address) W H Brock. The British Journal for the History of Science. Vol 14. Issue 03. Nov 1981
Henry Dyer Collection Mitchell Library, Glasgow [Bequeathed by Dyer's family to The Mitchell Library in the 1920s]
Henry Dyer Collection Edinburgh Central Library. In 1945 and 1955 his daughter Maria donated items from Dyer's collection of Japanese art work and photographs.
Dr Henry Dyer Obituary in Nature C.G.K. Vol 102 (2554) p109, 1918
Henry Dyer website by Robin Hunter
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry (full text available to subscribers and UK library members)

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