Richard Henry Brunton – A very famous Brunton

My Dad wrote this article for a local website that had recently updated and removed all information regarding Richard Henry Brunton. Richard (great name!) was primarily famous for installing lighthouses in Japan, amongst other acts, he was quite renowned in those parts and a bust still remains in the town centre in Japan.

So, over to my father for the life and achievements of Richard.

Richard Henry BruntonRichard was born in the Coastguard House at Muchalls (now 11 Marine Terrace) on the 26th December 1841. His father, Richard Brunton, was the Chief Coastguard Officer at Muchalls, a retired Naval Officer, and a writer of sea stories. His mother was Margaret Telford from the Parish of Crimond.

In 1856 he became an apprentice engineering assistant with John Willet of Aberdeen. After completing his apprenticeship, he was engaged in the construction of railways and bridges in the Scottish Highlands, then the London & South-west Railway, and the Midland Railway.

1865 was an important year in his life, in that he married Elizabeth Charlotte Wauchope in St. Martin in the Fields, Middlesex, and his future career opened up when the Japanese Government decided to establish lighthouses at the approaches to Yokohama, Tokyo, Kobe and Osaka to allow foreign shipping safe access to the ports.

In 1868 he was elected an Associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers, who recommended him to the Board of Trade as a suitable person for the Japanese project. By August of that year he arrived at Yokohama with his wife, two Assistant Engineers and some equipment – the first foreign engineer to be invited to Japan

His first step was to survey the 1500 miles of uncharted coast, and 36 sites were chosen for lighthouses, which were constructed during the following 9 years. Richard’s greatest problem initially was that masons, bricklayers and blacksmiths were almost unknown in that country. Brick-making was something relatively new in Japan, and the quality of bricks manufactured was of a poor standard.

By 1876 he had also established two lightships, thirteen buoys, and three beacons plus the beginnings of a lifeboat service.

As he had experience in railways prior to coming to Japan, his advice was sought regarding the construction of railways in the country. He felt that it was more important to upgrade the tracks in the country to decent roads, but the Japanese Government decided instead to proceed with the railways first. Richard was instructed to construct a railway line between Yokohama and Tokyo, a distance of 22 miles, and a stretch of 20 miles from Osaka and Kyoto, and by autumn 1872, the first part of the task was completed, with hourly trains running.

His next task was that of setting up the country’s first telegraph line between Yokohama, Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, which he completed by 1870.

In 1866, the British Minister in Japan had been recommending to the Japanese Government that Yokohama should be upgraded to make it a place “fit for the residence of Europeans and Americans”, and his recommendations were accepted, with advice again being sought from Richard. He was faced with the reclamation of marsh areas into usable ground, the provision of a piped sewage system, a piped water supply, macadamised streets and paving, and the installation of street lamps.

His final act, before leaving the country in 1876, was to compile the first Ordnance Survey map of the country to a scale of 20 miles to the inch.

By the time of his return to Britain, he had been made a Fellow of the Geological Society, and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He spent three years as manager of Young’s Paraffin Oil Company in Glasgow, and then fifteen years as an architect and engineer in London, before his death in 1901.

37 comments on “Richard Henry Brunton – A very famous Brunton”

  1. Richard Morrison Reply

    Hello there

    I am presently researching a man named Joseph Dick who had some connection to the building of the Wakayama lighthouses under Brunton.

    I do not have access to Bruntons published writings. Would you have any information about this man, Dick?

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Kind Regards

    Richard L. Morrison.


    • Joe Dick Reply

      Hi there .
      I was just curious if you managed to find out much about Joseph Dick .
      My name is Joseph Dick and the aforementioned was my great , great, great grandfather .

      Best Regards


  2. Colin Houston Reply


    i am the gr-gr grandson of C.A.McVean who was one of the engineers who accompanied R H Brunton to japan.

    want to get in touch?



  3. Reply

    Just to let everyone know, I am responding to enquiries on this post, it’s just that some people don’t want to post any information, just to contact and talk/exchange information, so keep them coming, I am responding.

  4. Alison Kay Reply

    Joseph Dick was brother to my Great Grandfather.

    He went to Japan with Richard Brunton, stayed and married a Japaneese lady. They had a number of children, one of whome I am in touch with.

    Joseph is buried in Kobe Foreign Cemetery. I have photo’s of his grave.

    Alison Kay nee Dick.

  5. Hiroshi Nakata Reply

    I’m a Japanese researcher for western style lighthouses in Meiji-era and their foreign builders and keepers. R. H. Brunton was a leader of hired foreign engineers, artisans, lightkeepers that Japanese Government clled them Yatoi.

    In my city, there is Inubosaki-lighthouse build by Brunton. And I organized Inubosaki-Brunton Association and have been to Westnorwood cemetery near London to held a commemoration ceremony of 100th anniversary of Brunton’s death.

    Please exchange informations each other about Brunton and J.MacRitchie(enginer), S.Fisher(engineer), R.A.Bigglestone(engineer), J.Russell(Mechanic), J. Oastler(plumber), J.Mitchel( mason) , J.Dick(principal light keeper), W.Bowers(PLK), J.burnett(PLK), J.Martin(PLK), etc.

    • Joe Dick Reply

      Hi Hiroshi

      Are you by any chance in contact with any descendants of Joseph Dick .
      My name is Joseph Dick and he was my great great great grandfather .


  6. Anonymous Reply

    Hello Hiroshi,

    I can send you info and a photograph of Joseph Dick if this would be of Help. Mrs.Alison Kay.

  7. Colin Houston Reply

    I have some photos of the surveying team in Japan that might interest Hiroshi, do you have a direct email. Plus I have some indivudual portrait photos of the Japanese officials involved, with names.


    • Arent Reply


      I am writing an article for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ magazine Lamp about the Father of Japanese Lighthouses. I would be very interested in the photo you have of the surveying team. Would it be a problem to publish this photo in our magazine?

      Kind regards,

      Arent van der Veen

  8. Daniil Reply

    Hello all. I`m seaching for information about Inubosaki Lighthouse and buildings near it for my graduation project (it`s Inubosakis reconstruction). Unfortunable, I dont know japan language, so I cant find enougth info) If anyone can send me any info about soil, construction damages, materials, drawing(not from digital.archives), fact about UNESCO guard this buildings, etc, please send it to Also my ICQ number is 413976999. I`ll really thankful for any information. Thank you very much advance.

  9. Colin McIntosh Reply

    My great grandfather’s eldest brother James McIntosh went out to Japan in the late 1860’s as a lightkeeper (he trained in Scotland with the Northern Lighthouse Board)to train Japanese lightkeepers. I reckon he must have gone out with, or hard on the heels of, Richard Brunton. He stayed for about 4 r 5 years then moved on to the Chinese Imperial Customs Service in Amoy (now Xiamen) resigning in 1886 as an Assistant Examiner.

    I don’t know what happened to him after that, he doesn’t seem ever to have come back to the UK.

    I would love to know more about his time in Japan too. Does he crop up in journals, photographs or anything else?

  10. Joe Dick Reply

    FAO Alison and Richard . Hi – I believe the afore mentioned Joseph Dick was also my great grandfather who helped establish lighthouses in Japan , then set up an Import/Export business with America – I believe he had three separate families . One in his native Scotland (Dalkeith nr Edinburgh ) One in Kobe and one in America.

    • Eileen Heefner Reply

      Hello Joe!
      I am the granddaughter of Olaf Dick, who was the son of Joseph.. I too heard that he had a wife and family in Scotland. His son Olaf Dick began a shipping business in Kobe, which is where my mother and her sisters grew up. Please keep in touch! Don’t know how much more info I can supply to help you out; but let me know!

      Eileen Heefner (By the way, my mother is Amy Oida… Oida is her mother’s last name, apparently they didn’t want the children to have the last name Dick because it sounded very “foreign”.

      • robert francis Reply

        I am the little brother of Eileen Combs Heefner. I have much information in my book, some in Japanese written by Amy-San. Much was taught to me by Murray and more by Amy-San. I will give this information to my brilliant, beautiful sister Eileen as a gift from her little brother. I want nothing. Please nothing. I will give the information to Eileen, my sister.

        I have the information in a fireproof safe, in 3 copies. I am attempting to finish the work . . . but it is not my story . . . I am German. Ich spreche Deutsch. I am not Japanese. German. Then Murray told me everything over many beers. Thank you.

        robert francis prettyman

      • Robert F. Prettyman Reply

        hello. i do not understand the workings of this internet site.

        i have a bit of information re: joseph dick. not much, but some is written in japanese by amy-san. thank you,

        robert francis prettyman

  11. Joe Dick Reply

    Hi – I would like to contact Alison Kay nee Dick — [Email available on request]


    Joe Dick

  12. Anonymous Reply

    My gr gr grandfather Thomas Wallace was an engineer working on the lighthouses in Japan during the Brunton era and my father Dr W S Wallace was involved in the ceremony that i believe Hiroshi Nakata referred to in June ’08 held at Norwood cemetery.

  13. Hiroshi Nakata Reply

    We Inubosaki Brunton Association’s members have been to London 2001 to held a Centenary Celemony for R.H.Brunton at West Norwood Cemetary. And next day, I and my friends visited Dr.Wallace and his daughter at Hove to exchange opinions and informations for Brunton.

    I have heard Dr. Wallace made some contributions to discover grave of Brunton. And a diary of T.Wallace had been presented by him in Japan.

    T.Wallce engaged in as a blacksmith hired by Japanese Gvernment from 1869 to 1872. Let me know Which did T.Wallace work James Milne & Son Ltd or James Dove & Co before his Japan era. I would like to know T.Wallce more.

  14. Alison Kay Reply

    Interesting to read your commets, Joseph’s wife, and children left Japan and went back to Scotland to live. Joseph married a Japanese lady and they had three children. Joseph is buried in Kobe foreign cemetery.

    Joseph’s brother James Dick had a son who went to America and had a family,his decendents still live there.

    My GGrandfather, John, Joseph’s brother, stayed in Scotland. My Grandfather Alexander left Scotland, and settled in Liverpool.

    I hope you find this interesting.

    Alison Kay (nee Dick)

  15. Alison Kay Reply

    This is a reply to message I received on 15.7.09

    My Great Uncle Joseph Dick had a nephew James Dick who lived in America, decendents still in America. His younger brother, John Dick my GGrandfather lived in Castle Douglas, their father Joseph Dick moved from Edinburgh to Castle Douglas around 1845. Alison Kay.

  16. Anonymous Reply

    Joe Dick



    Hi – I would like to contact Alison Kay nee Dick — [Email available on request]


    Joe Dick

    Regarding your note above.

    Please let me have your email address and I will send you more information. (I don’t know how to exchange address through this blog)


    Alison Kay

  17. Alison Kay Reply

    For Joe Dick, would like very much to receive your email address. I have lots to tell you about

    Joseph Dick. regards Alison Kay

  18. Emily D Reply

    Dear Alison Kay,

    I’m very curious to know whether your great uncle Joseph ever returned to Wakayama after moving back to Scotland? Do you also have any information on exactly how long he lived there?


  19. Alison Kay Reply

    To Emily D,

    Hello,My great uncle Joseph never return home again once he left Scotland, His Scottish wife and Children did return home without him.

    hope this is of interest to you.


  20. Hiroshi Nakata Reply

    Please let me know What did Burnton do in UK from April 1872 to April 1873 when he had come back to home country. I know that he visited some scottish ligthouses and Chance Bros Co. to guide Japanese Minister Hirobumi Ito.

    And I would like to get some informations about Joseph Dick from Ms.Alison Kay. Please let me have your email address (I don’t know how to exchange address through this blog too)

  21. David R Collin Reply

    I would like to contact Alison Kay regarding Joseph Dick and his time on Little Ross Lighthouse, Kirkcudbright

  22. Alison Borrowman Reply

    To Alison Kay – I would like a photo of Joseph Dick if you have one, and also one of his grave that you mentioned. I am a descendant of his daughter Alison Dick (my great grandmother) – my family have an egg shell china tea set with his intitials on it which may have come from him. I would like to know more about him as well.

  23. Hiroshi Nakata Reply

    Let me know for Stirling Fisher who was an assistant engineer and was a right-hand man of R.H.Brunton to build Japanese Lighthouses. He had worked from April 1870 to August 1874 in Japan. Unfortunately, He came back to home country with illness. Eapecially,He built most part of Inubosaki-lighthouse in my city during Brunton’s one year holiday.

  24. H Izumida Reply

    I was commissioned to make biographical study on Brunton by Yokohama City Archive in 1990 for Publication of “R. H. Brunton : the father of Japan lights and Yokohama urban planning(1991)”. It is quit interesting that descendants of Brunton and McVean meet in this web site since they clashed in term of contract in Japan. For

    development of Japanese Modern Architecture, McVean played important role without his intension. His grandson is very famous figure, but McVean himself especially after he retired in Scotland. I need his photo and information.

  25. katherine Keane Reply

    I am currently doing a study of the architecture of the Everyman Palace Theatre In Cork, Ireland. Formerly The Dan Lowry Palace of Varieties, it was designed by R.H.Brunton as a sister theatre to the Empire Palace Theatre in Dublin.It opened in 1897. I understand that R. H. Brunton worked as a theatre architect and designer, based in London, in the 15 years before his death and following his return from Japan. I would really appreciate any information on this phase of his life and work as I try to piece together the history of this well loved Cork theatre. Thank you

  26. willie Orr Reply

    Re.Colin Houston 2007. Colin MacVean’s great granddaughter (granddaughter of John Harrington Gubbins) lived in Aros, Mull, married to Kenny Way of Tenga

  27. Kazuo Nomura Reply

    Dear ancestors of Ricard Henry Brunton and who helped Japanese ancient lighthouses,
    I’m traveling to Aomori to visit Shiriyazaki Lighthouse at the end of June 2015.
    Does someone know about essay regarding Japanese culture Mr. RH Brunton wrote? Can I find it in library in Yokohama archives?
    Anyway I’ll put a picture of Shiriyazaki Lighthouse in the end of June 2015.
    Best regards,

  28. Arent Reply


    I am writing an article for the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ magazine Lamp about the Father of Japanese Lighthouses. I was wondering if anyone who has photo material, drawings, maps etc. regarding the Japanese Lighthouses build under the supervision of Brunton could get in touch with me.
    I am also looking for a copy of the article “Richard Henry Brunton and the Japan Lights 1868–1876, a brilliant and abrasive engineer” written by Olive Checkland.

    Kind regards,

    Arent van der Veen

  29. G M Thomas Reply

    Dear All,

    It seems I can’t attach a photograph to these comments but I would like to update those who are interested that the name of Richard Henry Brunton is now commemorated on a granite plinth that was unveiled on the island of Sanuki Hiroshima in August 2018. This is in connection with a Royal Navy sailor who was on HMS Manilla and is buried on the island. There is also a wikipedia entry at which shows a photo of the plinth.

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