Scotland and Japan: one is renowned for its rich and varied culture, its stunning countryside, its friendly and welcoming people, its industriousness, and a history of fierce warriors who keep its borders free of marauding neighbours. The other is …oh wait, hang on…
All joking aside, direct links between the two nations may not seem immediately apparent, but they are there – in the case of Mr Albert Richard Brown prominently so. A R Brown was the founding partner of A R Brown MacFarlane, now a major player in the world’s steel industry, and was also widely regarded as the father of the Japanese Shipping Industry.
Born in 1839 in Ringwood, Hampshire, the young AR Brown dreamed of far off lands and voyages of discovery (obviously not an indictment of Ringwood in the modern day, which is a delightful place). In 1853, at just 14 years of age he defied the wishes of his parents and secured a role on a merchant ship heading for the West Indies.
The life of a Mariner in the mid 1800’s was undoubtedly a wee bit harsher than the modern day comfy-seat-laden heated ferries and table-service-included cruise liners, but Brown thrived, rising through the Officer ranks to be eventually offered a position in the Imperial Japanese Service, where he became one of their most trusted advisors.
Japan at the time was going through some significant changes. The establishment of the Meiji Government in 1869 ended 250 years of Tokugawa feudal regime, and placed a strong emphasis on introducing and absorbing Western Culture. The dream was to turn the (relatively) small collection of islands in the South China Sea into the ‘Britain of the East’.
On the other side of the globe, changes were also happening. In the UK, the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution had produced numerous pockets of intense manufacturing all over Great Britain, not least in the heavily industrialised region surrounding Glasgow, Scotland.
Scottish merchants were among the first to take advantage of Japan’s new technology and business focus, as Glasgow was such a significant source of both industrial goods and skilled workers. The connection was mutually beneficial.
And of course, A R Brown was ideally placed to take full advantage. After receiving the Order of the Rising Sun 3rd Class by H.I.M. Emperor, Brown returned to the UK and settled in Clydeside, where he took over the commissioning and building of ships for the Meiji Government.
The early 1900’s saw a brisk spurt of industrialisation in Japan as they sought to raise their international profile.
Now, over 100 years later, it’s safe to say that it worked.
The role Albert Richard Brown played in this resurgence onto the world’s stage cannot be done proper justice on these pages alone, but it was he who forged those links – links as strong as the steel he purveyed – between two major economies, that have a lasting effect to this day (although the problem of the noisy neighbours arguably remains).
As well as bringing back to the UK over fifty years of experience in the Japanese Maritime Industry, A R Brown also returned with the five Oval Gold Koban’s you can see here – coins that have remained in the family ever since, now offered for sale in our Hong Kong Auction.