Henry Dyer was an influential engineer and educationalist who had an important role in revolutionising the Japanese higher education curriculum. After he graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1873, Dyer was appointed Principal of the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo at the age of twenty-five. The Imperial College or Kobu Daigakko was a new institution created to educate the burgeoning generation of engineers that they hoped could modernise Japan. Founded by Yamao Yōzō, who had taken night courses at Anderson’s University in Glasgow and worked at the Napier’s shipyard on the Clyde, Dyer created a new and innovative curriculum aimed at both theoretical and hands on training.
Upon leaving his post in 1882, Dyer was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class by the Emperor Meiji, the highest honour a foreigner could receive, and was also made Honorary Principal of the Imperial College of Engineering [GUAS Court Papers 21 Sept 1886] in recognition of his upwards of nine years as Principal of, and Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering. Returning to Scotland, Dyer remained a proponent of and friend to the many Japanese students who would continue to train at the University of Glasgow.
One of the first in a long line of Japanese students to travel to Glasgow for further study was Taniguchi Naosada. He arrived in 1876 after attending the Imperial College and spent his time in the care of Lord Kelvin. Like Taniguchi, many of the early Japanese students went on to do remarkable things in Japan: Taniguchi became a Professor in the College of Science at Tokyo University and the chief engineer to the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce.
Dyer rightly considered his students as potential revolutionaries who would bring about economic and social change for Japan.
Further information on Dyer can be found in Olive Checkland’s invaluable book Britain’s Encounter with Meiji Japan, 1868-1912.
By Heather Gillispie, MA History