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The Glovers as Gun Runners

Glover’s 1st fortune came from Property, Currency Speculation, Refired (black) Tea (kōcha, as it’s known in Japan — even though this means “crimson tea”), and General Trading - but overwhelmingly from Guns and Warships. He cast around restlessly for projects, but the real profits he always came back to reap were in Weaponry. So, after the post-Restoration collapse of his business in small arms, rifles and machineguns, Glover changed tack to focus on Warships and Ship-brokering as his career staples. In this, he often worked closely with his brothers, who all developed Japanese connections - and indeed, his every surviving sibling would eventually spend long periods in Japan.

Glover & Co. became the biggest Western firm in Nagasaki, opening branches in Shanghai and Yokohama in 1864. In 1865 Glover ordered munitions from Armstrong & Co. on behalf of the shogunate; he sold ships and even arranged for some domains to have ships built in Britain. Such orders were generally made through Glover Brothers, the Aberdeen firm of his brother Charles (1830–1877).

Glover Brothers Co., Shipbrokers, 19 Marischal Street, Aberdeen.
William James (Eldest) James Linley, Charles Thomas, Alexander Johnson,  Jim, Thomas Blake, Alfred (Youngest 1850-1904), , 
(7 Brothers) (Sister Martha Ann)

According to some accounts, Glover Brothers’ business almost single-handedly revived the prestige of the Aberdeen Shipyards.  Others point out that Glover diverted some Shipbuilding from Scotland to Japan, and others that the 1870s would have been a boom time for Aberdeen Shipping with or without the Glovers’ intervention. In any case, Glover banked on the fact that labour was cheaper in the north-east than in Glasgow. Most significantly for Japan, not only did he promote investment into new weapons, he also promoted the idea that a strong national military was central to development. Looking at British imperial success in the decades before Japan’s opening, this seemed an attractive proposition, and was taken up by the Samurai who slid into Governmental positions in the 1870s and 1880s, who aimed to turn the age into one of expansion based on the new weaponry.

Satzuma – Barque built 1864 by William Duthie Jr's Yard
The owner Charles Thomas Glover having all 64 shares, empowered Thomas Blake Glover to sell the ship for a sum of no less that £500 in any place outside the UK
Lost on the Japanese coast in 1865

Kagosima – Built 1866 John Humphrey Co's Yard for Glover Brothers
Original Owner: James Lindley Glover, Shipowner (Aberdeen)

18/02/1867: James Lindley Glover 28/64 to Charles Thomas Glover, Shipowner, Aberdeen.
15/10/1868: Thomas Blake Glover, Merchant, Nagasaki, Japan, empowered to sell the ship for sum not less than £500 sterling at any port in China or Japan within 12 months.

On 1 June 1868 Kido wrote:
In the morning I went to the Glover Trading Company; and I chanced to meet Godai Saisuke [later Tomoatsu] there, as well as Joseph Heco. I talked with Glover about leasing a warship, and he assented; but we have not yet concluded the negotiations for a contract. I did make an appointment for further discussions of the matter in Naniwa [Osaka]…

Glover also commissioned the smaller Ho Sho Maru for the Navy and the Kagoshima for the Satsuma Clan from the same Aberdeen Shipyard.
Aberdeen Herald, 22nd August 1868;

'Trial Trip - The Ho-So-Maru, a new steam gunboat, built for the Japanese Government by Messrs. A Hall & Co. made a trial trip in the bay on Thursday, leaving the harbour about noon, and returning again about 4 o'clock. The anticipations which existed regarding her speed were fully realized. For the 1st 1/2 hour after leaving the harbour she made 8 knots an hour before the wind, and during the 2nd 1/2 hour, 9 knots. When the vessel was put about, she steamed with bare poles over 7.5 knots, in the face of a stiff breeze, although the engines were not working anything like their full power. The hopes maintained regarding her speed were thus fully met. Nothing could have exceeded the manner in which the Ho-So-Maru conducted herself, both under canvas and steam.'

This left him very favourably placed with the new regime, and in 1869 he commissioned one of the 1st modern Warships to serve in the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Jho Sho Maru, later called the Ryujo Maru. This was built by Alexander Hall & Company.  A 1500-ton, iron-clad warship called the "Ryujo" that he sold to the Kumamoto Clan in 1870. This ship was later donated to the Meiji Government and went on to become the 1st Warship of the new Imperial Japanese Navy and Emperor Meiji's flagship on a tour around Japan in 1872.Moreover, after January 1868 the rebels had to account for themselves in government rather than opposition. The transfer of power would not be smooth, and the clans unevenly offloaded responsibilities onto the central government. Glover would struggle to deal with the complex power shifts and to adapt his arms and ships business to a peacetime economy. Despite these cash flow problems, his pre-Restoration arming role would be long remembered by many in the new samurai bureaucracy, who saw him as a natural connector and ally. His office became a meeting place for high-ranking officials, and he was discussed casually as an insider.

This wooden Corvette had a belt of iron armour plating at the waterline and carried eight 64 pounder guns and two 100 pounder guns. Unfortunately, due to a miscalculation of costs, the firm actually lost £500 on the project.  This ship was unlucky for another reason, it was almost complete when a fire broke out nearby.  James Hall was afraid the warship would be burned and rushed to the scene. He ordered the ship be pulled into the middle of the Navigation Channel, away from the flames. However, while helping to fight the blaze, James suffered a fatal heart attack, probably brought on by his earlier anxiety.  Below - Glover standing by the Wheel on the Rear Deck Bridge of the Jo Sho Maru later Ryujo Maru with Lieutenant Horse centre surrounded by Trainees

From September 1870, the English Lieutenant Horse, a former gunnery instructor for the Saga fief during the Bakumatsu period, was put in charge of gunnery practice on board the Ryūjō. 

In 1871, the ministry resolved to send 16 trainees abroad for training in naval sciences (14 to Great Britain, 2 to the United States), among which was Heihachirō Tōgō

A 34-member British naval mission visited Japan in 1873 for 2 years, headed by Commander Archibald Douglas.  Later, Commander L.P. Willan was hired in 1879 to train naval cadets

From the time of the defection to England of the Choshu 5 to the height of what became known as Meiji Conservatism in the 1880s, national pride was increasingly tied to Military Logistics.
Itō Shunsuke
(later Ito Hirobumi; Prime Minister)
Inoue Monta
(later Inoue Kaoru; Foreign Minister)
Yamao Yōzō who later studied engineering at the Andersonian Institute, Glasgow, 1866-68 while working at the River Clyde shipyards by day
Endō Kinsuke
Nomura Yakichi
(later Inoue Masaru)

A Mr. Weigal, Jardine Matheson's Manager in Yokohama, put the Chōshū youths, disguised as English sailors, aboard a reluctant Captain J. S. Gower's vessel at 1000 ryo each, bound for Shanghai where they were sheltered on an opium Storage Ship before being divided into 2 groups for the long voyage to London.  When they reached London the Chōshū students were introduced by William Matheson to Professor Alexander Williamson.  Inoue Kaoru and Ito Hirobumi, destined to be 2 of the greatest Japanese Statesmen of the age, worked as deckhands aboard the 1500 ton steamer Pegasus on the voyage to Europe. They also returned earlier than the other 3 (who had travelled to London as passengers on the White Adder) when they realised that the Chōshū Clan was in danger of attack by the Western Allied Powers for trying to close the Straits of Shimonoseki to foreign shipping.

Yozo Yamao was one of the 5 young Japanese Samurai from the Choshu Clan smuggled out of Nagasaki with the aid of Thomas Blake Glover in 1863 (5 years before the Restoration of the Emperor) on a ship belonging to the Jardine-Matheson Company.  Yozo Yamao had been born in Akiu a village in the Suo Domain, and had received the traditional training of a Samurai at a private school in Tokyo (then Edo). All 5 Samurai came to Britain where they travelled and studied for several years.  Yozo Yamao lived in Glasgow between 1866 and 1868. During this period he lived in the home of Colin Brown, and worked at Napier's Shipyard on the Clyde. At the same time he attended classes at Anderson's College alongside Henry Dyer.  After returning to Japan, Yamao entered the Meiji Government and was for a while in charge of the Yokohama Shipbuilding Yard.  By the time Henry Dyer went to Japan,  Yozo Yamao was Acting Vice Minister of Public Works and as such was responsible for setting up the Imperial College of Engineering as well as the Imperial College of Art.  Yamao assumed the Office of Rector of the ICE and was a strong advocate of the need for technical education to support the industrialisation of the Japanese economy.  Henry Dyer and Yozo Yamao had an extremely good relationship during this period, strengthened no doubt by their common background.  Yozo Yamao was made an Earl (hakushaku) by the Japanese Emperor, and it has been claimed that he introduced the well known Scottish song 'Auld Lang Syne ' to Japan.

By the time of the Restoration in January 1868, Choshu had long since passed through the frantically joi period when Ito had helped to burn down the British Legation, and had determined, like Satsuma, to reorganise its army, placing the diarist Kido Takayoshi in a brokering position. As early as 1865, influenced by what his troops had seen of foreign armies, the Choshu Daimyo had taken a step away from the way of the sword by decreeing that the clan should be restructured as a western-style army on meritocratic grounds, using the latest military technology largely supplied by Glover. At the height of arms sales in October 1865, to conduct deals with Choshu, Glover disguised himself as a Satsuma Samurai, his business suit replaced with a yukata and his already thinning hair tied back. Despite the comic look, he took his espionage seriously: ‘We’re all here getting good experience… there are also about 30 men here from all parts of Japan, all getting experience, and this is really a very busy place’. He may have seen this as an adventuresome piece of pantomime, but he was determined to go native to get between the clans if he had to. He was also risking treason: according to official policy, the bakufu still had British support, and Glover was by now arming against both the bakufu and the British Navy itself. Yet even while watching several years of gunrunning, British Consuls had shown themselves unwilling to question him. The Foreign Office knew about but tolerated his behaviour. The young Glover recognised the slipperiness of the attitudes of the Foreign Office: on paper they were behind the Bakufu, but in practice wanted little to do with what was turning into a civil war. By 1866, he realised that because of the British punitive strikes and the influence of the traders, Satsuma and Choshu were increasingly facing the Bakufu together as a modern force. Nor could diplomats fail to notice the Bakufu’s nervousness in the face of the assembled clans: the Bakufu appealed for support to the British head of state, sending ‘a pointed request to the British Queen not to allow the illicit trade. The Shogun himself sent her a personal letter’.

Until 1867, Glover continued to watch his fortune rise as he rearmed the clan alliance leaders via 2 of the best-remembered Restoration heroes, Sakamoto Ryoma and Kido Takayoshi, and organised by Ito and Inoue. Sakamoto founded a Company as a flag of convenience to get around sanctions on munitions imports. He was particularly well placed to mediate, since as a member of Tosa he had numerous joi comrades, but was relatively untroubled by Saccho rivalries. As Marius Jansen says, ‘in Nagasaki, Sakamoto’s dealings were largely with foreign merchants. Of these, the most important was Thomas Glover…’

When Parkes softened towards the Clans, Glover came to feel that his foresight into Japanese politics had been vindicated, and he began to move politically on behalf of the rebels.  After the Parkes-Saccho meeting, it was clear that British Diplomats mainly, if grudgingly, had come to regard Glover as an authority in dealing with Samurai. However, Parkes was also under orders to threaten to remove protection for rogue traders, which he did in spring 1866. Regardless, Glover went on to sell the steamship Union as well as 7,300 Minie Rifles through Ito and Inoue. On 22 June 1866 Parkes again half heartedly reminded Traders that anyone dealing with the Rebels would lose the protection of the Foreign Office, but by this point, Nagasaki had already become a focal point for Samurai for the organising southern rebel clans. Sakamoto likened 1860s Nagasaki to the most fluid times of the country: ‘Nagasaki, with all these people here, is as interesting as something from the period of the warring states’.

Pattern 1853 Enfield - The rifle used a conical-cylindrical soft lead bullet, slightly smaller than the barrel bore, with 3 exterior grease-filled grooves and a conical hollow in its base. When fired, the expanding gas forcibly pushed on the base of the bullet, deforming it to engage the rifling. This provided spin for accuracy, a better seal for consistent velocity and longer range, and cleaning of barrel detritus.

American-made handguns were also popular, such as the 1863 Smith & Wesson Army No.2, which was imported to Japan by Thomas Blake Glover and used by the Satsuma forces

The shrewder settlers had realised after the Saccho alliance in 1866 that amongst the clans the immediate priority was to get rid of the Bakufu, and settle old scores later. Politely ignored by Queen Victoria and a Foreign Office that showed little interest in non-European domestic situations, the Bakufu prepared to fall on its sword. The 2 Clans that it had been relying on to slice one another apart were now united in a common cause, and armed with guns rather than swords. There could no longer be any divide-and-rule policy. The Bakufu perished under the weight of arms: with no real struggle, the revolution was more or less a velvet one, with a tinge of seppuku. As it turned out the Shogun, Tokugawa Lemochi, died not long before the armed rebellion began on 10 January 1867, and the end of the Bakufu era was presided over by a new Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.  Later that year, anticipating consistently strong arms markets when he returned to a new Japanese government, Glover took a trip home to Aberdeen, after a decade away.  On 3 January 1868, in his absence, the end of the Bakufu was officially declared by 5 Clans in Kyoto. In Glover’s last interview, as pointed out by Alexander McKay, Glover claimed that ‘it wasn’t simply about getting money: I believe that I was the greatest rebel of them all against Tokugawa’.

The Meiji Government abolished Japan's Class System. Aristocrats were now allowed to marry commoners. Common people were given the right to wear formal apparel and to travel on horseback. The lowest caste status of people called Eta and Hinin, was abolished. The Government abolished the right of Samurai to cut down disrespectful commoners with impunity. Samurai lost their right to wear swords. Daimyo and Samurai were paid pensions, putting a heavy drain on Government finances, but the pensions of lower ranking Samurai were reduced to the pay level of the common soldier

But there would be an ironic outcome for Glover’s Nagasaki after the Meiji Restoration.


In the mid-1860s, Nagasaki had been a City dependent on its frontier status, where business could take place on a semi-legal basis and weapons dealing was common. Within 3 years of the Restoration which standardised Trade and removed the need for surreptitious deals, Kyogo (Kobe) and Osaka would both expand and sideline Nagasaki. As early as 22 July 1871, the Nagasaki Express was reporting that ‘beyond having a trade in Coal and Tea, both of which articles are likely to cause few firms to remain, Nagasaki has but little business of any description worth speaking of, so that literally the port, year by year, continues on its downward course’. While Glover was overcoming his reverse-culture-shock in Aberdeen, the Japanese war economy centred on Nagasaki was in fact contracting, and military demand slowing.

Moreover, after January 1868 the rebels had to account for themselves in Government rather than opposition. The transfer of power would not be smooth, and the clans unevenly offloaded responsibilities onto the Central Government. Glover would struggle to deal with the complex power shifts and to adapt his Arms and Ships Business to a peacetime economy. Despite these cash flow problems, his pre-Restoration arming role would be long remembered by many in the new Samurai Bureaucracy, who saw him as a natural connector and ally. His office became a meeting place for high-ranking officials, and he was discussed casually as an insider.

On 1 June 1868 Kido wrote:_
In the morning I went to the Glover Trading Company; and I chanced to meet Godai Saisuke [later Tomoatsu] there, as well as Joseph Heco. I talked with Glover about leasing a Warship, and he assented; but we have not yet concluded the negotiations for a contract. I did make an appointment for further discussions of the matter in Naniwa [Osaka]…

As the Clans were converted to modern warfare, facilities were built on-site for Education in Military Logistics, and there was a phase of enthusiastic training in Nagasaki in Seamanship. Marcus Flowers, Nagasaki British Consul, noted in 1868 that so anxious are they to learn that there is not a single steamer that enters the harbour but they are sure to visit and take minute copies of everything they see, and such rapid progress have they made with regard to machinery, that they are able to work all the Steamers they have recently purchased themselves.

After Restoration, Godai, Ito and Inoue would gain important positions as reformers in Osaka, Hyogo and Nagasaki, all good news for Glover. On the other hand, after rifles had flooded the market, his days of small-arms dealing were over. The new Central Government would have to resist only occasional armed uprisings, or counter-revolutions, by discontented joi samurai – not a mammoth task with their new military superiority. After having made a fortune selling guns to rebels and regarding himself as ‘the greatest rebel’, Glover saw his weaponry pressed into service by the authorities against any remaining rebels – for example, his great ship Ho Sho Maru was used to put down the rebellion of Eto Shinpei in 1874.


The end of the old way of the Sword was conclusively sounded with the defeat of the Last Samurai Saigo Takamori, a model for the film. In 1877 Satusma Rebels led into revolt by Saigo called for an immediate invasion of Korea, a hawkish stance typical of those Conservative Rebel Samurai of the 1870s and 1880s who feared the erosion of national pride with the new ways – a stance which would later be embraced by the Government as a whole, including Glover’s allies. But Saigo’s sword bearing rebels were defeated on their home turf of Kumamoto in a desultory manner without getting near the Government Forces. This would be the last uprising which the new Government would have to exert itself to suppress, and the agents of this disarming were the Politicians Glover had empowered. While Glover has sometimes been colloquially compared to Bonnie Prince Charlie because of his pre-Restoration activity, in the Saigo affair he occupied something like the opposite position: the Government armed with his technology were able to disarm native rebels seeming to hang on to misguided clan causes –
the part played by the British Authorities in the Jacobite Defeat of 1745-46.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013