Richard Henry Brunton

Richard Henry Brunton FRGS MICE (26 December 1841 – 24 April 1901) was the so-called "Father of Japanese lighthouses". Brunton was born in Muchalls, Kincardineshire, Scotland.[1] He was employed by the government of Meiji period Japan as a foreign advisor (o-yatoi gaikokujin), primarily to build lighthouses.

Richard Henry Brunton
Born(1841-12-26)26 December 1841
Died23 April 1901(1901-04-23) (aged 59)
London, England
OccupationCivil engineer, railway engineer, foreign advisor to Japan
Known forLighthouses

Over a period of seven and a half years he designed and supervised the building of 26 Japanese lighthouses in the Western style, which became known as Brunton's "children". To operate the lighthouses he established a system of lighthouse keepers, based on the one used in Scotland. He also helped found Japan's first school of civil engineering. In 1871, he was received by Emperor Meiji in recognition of his efforts.

Early life

Brunton was born in the Coastguard House (now 11 Marine Terrace) at Muchalls, Fetteresso in The Mearns. His father Richard was an officer in the Coastguard Service[2] who had married Margaret Telfor in January 1841.[3] After training as a railway engineer he joined the Stevenson brothers (David and Thomas Stevenson) who were engaged by the British government to build lighthouses.


Life in Japan

Under pressure from British minister Sir Harry Parkes to fulfil its obligations to make the waters and harbors of Japan safe for shipping, the Tokugawa shogunate hired the Edinburgh-based firm of D. and T. Stevenson to chart coastal waters and to build lighthouses where appropriate. The project had already begun under French foreign advisor Léonce Verny, but was not proceeding fast enough for the British.

Brunton was sent from Edinburgh in August 1868 to head the project after being recommended to the Japanese government by the Stevensons, despite the fact that he had no experience in lighthouse building at all. He was accompanied by his wife, sister-in-law and two assistants. The party received word while docked at Aden of the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate and its replacement by the Meiji government, and decided to continue on to Japan, reasoning that the new government was still bound by the international commitments of its predecessor.[4] Over the next seven and a half years he designed and supervised the building of 26 Japanese lighthouses in the Western style, along with two lightvessels. An obituary published in the journal of the Institution of Civil Engineers states "in ten years he had he executed 50 lighthouses".[5]

There had been Japanese lighthouses before then, but they were short and squat buildings, such as the old Shirasu lighthouse now in the grounds of Kokura Castle in Kitakyushu.

Brunton also established a system of lighthouse keepers, modeled on the Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland.

Aside from his work on lighthouses around Japan, Brunton also surveyed and drew the first detailed maps of Yokohama, planned its sewage system, street paving and gas lights, established a telegraph system, and designed and built the settlement's first iron bridge. He also helped found Japan's first school of civil engineering. In recognition of his efforts, he was received by Emperor Meiji in an audience in 1871.[4]

Brunton returned to London on a leave of absence in July 1872, and was enlisted to assist the Iwakura Mission during its visit. In September, Brunton took Itō Hirobumi and a group of his assistants to visit 28 factories around London making a variety of manufactured goods, and continued on to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool before rejoining the main group of the Iwakura Mission in Edinburgh in early October.[6]

Return to Britain

After disagreeing with Japanese officials he left Japan in March 1876, later receiving a prize for his paper "Japan Lights".

On his return he first set up in Glasgow for Young's Paraffin Oil, before moving to south London in 1881 making architectural plasterwork, where he remained until his death. He is buried in West Norwood Cemetery, where his marble memorial there was restored by Yokohama Chamber of Commerce in 1991.

List of Brunton's Japanese Lighthouses

The names of the 26 lighthouses (Brunton's "children") constructed by Brunton, in order of north to south, and the names of their present locations after mergers of towns etc.

English Japanese Location Illuminated
Nosappumisaki Lighthouse 納沙布岬灯台 Nemuro, Hokkaidō 15 August 1872
Shiriyazaki Lighthouse 尻屋埼灯台 Higashidōri, Aomori 20 October 1876
Kinkasan Lighthouse 金華山灯台 Ishinomaki, Miyagi 1 November 1876
Inubōsaki Lighthouse 犬吠埼燈台 Chōshi, Chiba 15 November 1874
Haneda Lighthouse 羽田灯台 Ōta, Tokyo 15 March 1875 (now extinguished)
Tsurugisaki Lighthouse 剱埼灯台 Miura, Kanagawa 1 March 1871
Mikomotoshima Lighthouse 神子元島灯台 Shimoda, Shizuoka 1 January 1870
Irōzaki Lighthouse 石廊埼灯台 Minamiizu, Shizuoka 5 October 1871
Omaezaki Lighthouse 御前埼灯台 Omaezaki, Shizuoka 1 May 1874
Sugashima Lighthouse 菅島灯台 Toba, Mie 1 July 1873
Anorisaki Lighthouse 安乗埼灯台 Ago, Mie 1 April 1873
Tenpōzan Lighthouse 天保山灯台 Minato-ku, Osaka 1 October 1872 (now extinguished)
Wadamisaki Lighthouse 和田岬灯台 Suma-ku, Kobe 1 October 1872 (now extinguished)
Esaki Lighthouse 江埼燈台 Awaji, Hyōgo 27 April 1871
Kashinozaki Lighthouse 樫野埼灯台 Kushimoto, Wakayama 8 July 1870
Shionomisaki Lighthouse 潮岬灯台 Kushimoto, Wakayama 15 September 1873
Tomogashima Lighthouse 友ヶ島灯台 Wakayama, Wakayama 1 August 1872
Mutsurejima Lighthouse 六連島灯台 Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi 1 January 1872
Tsunoshima Lighthouse 角島灯台 Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi 1 March 1876
Tsurishima Lighthouse 釣島灯台 Matsuyama, Ehime 15 June 1873
Nabeshima Lighthouse 鍋島灯台 Sakaide, Kagawa 15 December 1872 (now extinguished)
Hesaki Lighthouse 部埼灯台 Kitakyūshū, Fukuoka 1 March 1872
Shirasu Lighthouse 白州灯台 Kitakyūshū, Fukuoka 1 September 1873
Eboshijima Lighthouse 烏帽子島灯台 Shima, Fukuoka 1 August 1875
Iojimazaki Lighthouse 伊王島灯台 Nagasaki, Nagasaki 14 September 1871
Satamisaki Lighthouse 佐多岬灯台 Minamiōsumi, Kagoshima 20 November 1871


Brunton wrote a memoir of his time in Japan, titled Pioneer Engineering in Japan: A Record of Work in helping to Re-Lay the Foundations of Japanese Empire (1868–1876). However, it was not published until the 1990s, when it was printed by separate publishers under two different names: Building Japan 1868–1876 and Schoolmaster to an Empire: Richard Henry Brunton in Meiji Japan, 1868–1876. (See below.)

The former, containing the text (with some modified spellings) as edited by William Elliot Griffis at the turn of the twentieth century, contains plates with photos and illustrations. The latter however, purports to be based on a manuscript predating the heavy editing of Griffis, while retaining updated versions of Griffis's footnotes.

  • Building Japan 1868–1876 by Richard Henry Brunton with an introduction by Hugh Cortazzi, Japan Library Limited, 1991, ISBN 1-873410-05-0
  • Schoolmaster to an Empire by R. Henry Brunton, edited by Edward R. Beauchamp, Greenwood Press, 1991, ISBN 0-313-27795-8

In his memoir, Brunton describes in some detail the burial of Frank Toovey Lake, a midshipman who was sailing with him on HMS Manilla when he was making his first survey of locations to site lighthouses. His high regard for the care that the islanders gave to the grave was, as he himself admitted in his book, in contrast to his general impression of the Japanese.

See also


  1. Centenary memorial service for Richard Henry Brunton Archived 2007-09-14 at the Wayback Machine
  2. 1851 Scottish Census.
  3. Scotland Select Marriages at Ancestry.
  4. McKay, Alexander (2012). Scottish Samurai: Thomas Blake Glover, 1838-1911. Canongate Books. ISBN 085786730X.
  5. "Obituary - Richard Henry Brunton". Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. 145 (1901). 1901. pp. 340–341. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  6. Nish, Ian (2008). The Iwakura Mission to America and Europe: A New Assessment. Routledge. p. 37. ISBN 020398563X.
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