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Thomas Blake Glover

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Thomas Blake Glover, pd image
Thomas Blake Glover

Thomas Blake Glover (6 June 1838 - 16 December 1911) was born in Fraserburgh and is noted to be one of the first westerners to establish a business in Japan. He is now considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern Japan.

He was born at 15 Commerce Street, Fraserburgh, and was the fifth son in a family of seven boys and one girl. His father, Thomas Berry Glover, had served as an officer in the Royal Navy, and became Chief Coastguard when he left the service. His mother, Mary Findlay, came from Fordyce.

In 1851 the family moved to Bridge of Don, near Aberdeen.

Glover was employed by trading company Jardine, Matheson & Co after leaving school, and first visited Japan in 1857, at the time widely seen as a closed society where business was both difficult and dangerous for outsiders.

In 1859, at age 21, Glover established a presence for Jardine Matheson in Nagasaki, buying Japanese green tea. Two years later he set up his own company in Nagasaki, the Glover Trading Company (Guraba-Shokai).

During the 1860s he started trading in ships and arms to a number of rebellious clans opposed to the established regime in Japan, and found growing success.

In 1865 he brought the first steam locomotive to Japan, the "Iron Duke"

By 1868 he had gained sufficient influential to play a part in the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Meiji Restoration, a move which eft him very favourably placed with the new regime, and in 1869 he was able to commission one of the first modern warships to serve in the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Jho Sho Maru, built by Alexander Hall & Company in Aberdeen, launched on 27 March 1869, and later renamed Ryujo Maru. He also commissioned the smaller Hosho Maru for the navy, and the Kagoshima for the Satsuma clan from the same Aberdeen shipyard.

By the end of the 1860s Glover was operating Japan's first coal mines and had built its first dry dock.

In 1870, he suffered a temporary setback when he went bankrupt, but was still able to go on to found a shipbuilding company, later to became the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan. He also helped set up the Japan Brewery Company, which become the Kirin Brewery Company, a major player in the Asian market to this day.

Glover became the first non-Japanese recipient of the prestigious Order the or Rising Sun.

In the 1870s he married Yamamura Tsuru and the couple resided at Glover House in Nagasaki, a house which he had built in 1863, and the oldest western-style building in Japan. The house is also described as one of the few homes in Nagasaki to have withstood the atomic bomb dropped there in World War II.

The couple had two children, a son and a daughter. Glover and Tsuru lived together until Truru's death in 1899. Truru is said to have been the inspiration behind the original 'Madame Butterfly'.

Glover died in 1911, in Tokyo, and was buried at the Sakamoto International Cemetery in Nagasaki.

Despite his Japanese citizenship, Glover's son Kuraba Tomisaburō was hounded as a potential spy by the Japanese military police during World War II. His wife Waka died in 1943, and Tomisaburō committed suicide on 26 August 1945, soon after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a few weeks before the arrival of American occupation forces in Nagasaki.

Their daughter, Hana, was born in Nagasaki in 1876, and married British merchant Walter George Bennett in 1897, later moving with him to Korea, where she died in 1938. She had four children but only one grandchild, Ronald Bennett (born 1931), resident of the United States.

The Glover house at 15 Commerce Street, Fraserburgh, did not survive World War II, when it was destroyed by a bomb. A blue plaque marks the site. Another blue plaque marks the school in Saltoun Place, which Glover attended. Fraserburgh Heritage Centre hosts displays dedicated to the story of Glover, and has pictures of the Commerce Street house prior to World War II, and of its condition after being hit by a bomb in 1941.[1]

Glover House Brown Plaque, 2007
Glover House Brown Plaque
Balgownie Road
© Stanley Howe

The Glover family home at 79 Balgownie Road, Bridge of Don, was converted into a museum dedicated to Thomas Blake Glover after being bought by the company around 1996, and handed over to the Grampian-Japan Trust. But the building fell into a state of disrepair and closed as a visitor attraction in 2012.

Glover's house in Nagasaki (he also had a home in the Shiba Park area of Tokyo) was also turned into a museum, and the Glover Garden house in Nagasaki attracts some two million visitors each year.

2016 Mitsubishi CEO visits Glover home

Glover House Mitsubishi Plaque, 2007
Glover House Mitsubishi Plaque
© Stanley Howe
Glover House, 2007
Glover House
© Stanley Howe

CEO and president of Mitsubishi, UFJ Nobuyuki Hirano, flew to Aberdeen to see Glover’s family home and hear about plans for a £150,000 renovation of the building, including a proposal drawn up to help restore the building to its former glory by establishing it as a heritage centre celebrating the historic links between the city and the Far East.

As part of the plan, Aberdeen City Council has agreed to transfer £150,000 from another charitable trust, The Bridge of Don Trust, to secure the future of the iconic property and Glover’s legacy.[2]

The trust was originally intended to fund and maintain the bridge across the city's River Don in the 16th century, but the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has ruled that surplus cash from the trust may now be used to preserve other aspects of the city's heritage.

Investment group Aberdeen Asset Management also pledged to do "whatever it takes" to bring the property back to life and help preserve Glover's legacy, noting that Glover was one of the founders of Mitsubishi which now owns 18 per cent of the group.

References

1 Fraserburgh Heritage Centre: Thomas Blake Glover Retrieved January 30, 2017.

2 Mitsubishi boss visits ‘Scottish samurai’ home in Aberdeen - The Scotsman Retrieved January 30, 2017.

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