Saturday, January 9, 2016

Richard Brunton - an accidental lighthouse engineer

Richard Henry Brunton was an unlikely candidate to be the father of the Japanese lighthouse. Born in Scotland in 1841, and with no engineering background in the design of the sea defences, from 1868, in little under a decade, he oversaw the construction of no less than twenty six lighthouses along the eastern coast of Japan whilst in his spare time designing the sewer system of Yokohama and establishing the Lighthouse Keepers Guild of the country to boot. 

Brunton survived into the twentieth century however his time in Japan during the Meiji restoration also saw him returning to England to host the Iwakura Mission, a delegation from the Emperor to experience British technology. Arriving in Liverpool, the forty-something strong group of Japanese representatives would become witness of more than a century of the industrial revolution. The forerunner of the trade delegation, there is a good reason why the first trains in Japan were made half way around the world.

Covering the Pacific coast, Brunton's lighthouses replaced the single story Japanese ventures that had existed to date and were constructed in little over five years from the breaking of ground in Shimoda, south of Tokyo, in 1871, something the British had been pressing both the Shogunate and subsequently the new Meiji government to complete as a priority facilitating trade with Japan. Replaced in purpose by modern satellite based navigation systems, many of Brunton's creations still stand today nearly 150 years later. Not a bad achievement for a man trained as a railway engineer.

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