Henry Dyer (1848-1918)


Henry Dyer

Henry Dyer

Henry Dyer was a Scottish Engineer who played a major part in the industrialisation of Japan in the latter half of the nineteenth century through his capacity as founding Principal of the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo. He was born in 1848 in what is now Bellshill about eight miles east of Glasgow. Henry was one of three children of John and Margaret Dyer. After the family moved to Glasgow about 1865 Dyer became an apprentice engineer and attended classes at Anderson’s College, now the University of Strathclyde.

From 1868 until 1873 Henry Dyer attended the University of Glasgow where he graduated with an MA, BSc and CE (Certificate of Engineering). At the age of 24 Dyer received an invitation to become Principal of the Imperial College of Engineering (ICE) being set up in Tokyo by the Japanese Ministry of Public Works. Having accepted the invitation he set sail from Southampton to Japan. A year later he was followed by his wife to be, Marie Ferguson. While in Japan Henry and Marie had five children, the eldest of which died in infancy.

The courses given at the ICE had a strong practical element, the last two years of a six-year course being spent entirely on practical work. The courses were revolutionary at the time and much credit for the rapid industrialisation of Japan at the end of the nineteenth century has been attributed to the work of Dyer’s College as it was often known.

After almost ten years in Japan Dyer resigned from his post at the ICE for personal and family reasons, and on July 14 1882 the family returned home to Glasgow via San Francisco. Before leaving Japan, Dyer was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun for his work in the country and appointed Honorary Principal of the College.  Later when the College became part of the University of Tokyo, he became an Emeritus Professor of the University.

Henry Dyer, still a young man, devoted the rest of his life to a number of activities of an educational and cultural nature. In particular he was a life governor of the Royal Technical College in Glasgow (now the University of Strathclyde) and Chairman of the Glasgow School Board for many years. Throughout the rest of his life he took a strong interest in all things Japanese and befriended many Japanese students who came to study in Glasgow. The University of Glasgow honoured him by awarding Dyer both a DSc and an LLD.

Dyer brought a number of artefacts back from Japan with him, many of which were donated by him or his daughter to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Mitchell Library (both in Glasgow) and the Edinburgh Central. Library. Throughout his life he published many books and papers details of which can be seen in the links below.

Henry Dyer died on 25th September, 1918, aged 70, and was buried in the Necropolis, later to be joined by his wife and daughter.

Henry Dyer - Necropolis

Henry Dyer – Necropolis

For more about Henry Dyer’s life please see


Hunter, R, (with a Foreword by Lesley Hart), Henry Dyer, A Scottish Engineer in Japan, published by Amazon in ebook and paperback, 2017.

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