Over the years, a number of individuals have helped shape Edinburgh City Libraries and our collections. In a series of posts, we’ll throw the spotlight on a few of these influential figures from our past and describe how their philanthropy helped our library collections evolve and grow in significance.
We start our series with arguably our most significant benefactor: Henry Dyer, engineer, educationist and Japanophile.
Henry Dyer was born in 1848 in the parish of Bothwell, Lanarkshire. In 1857 the family moved to Shotts where he received most of his schooling. From 1865 he was employed as an apprentice at James Aitken and Company’s foundry in Cranstonhill, Glasgow and while there he also attended classes at Anderson’s College (later Strathclyde University). He graduated from Glasgow University in 1873 with a degree in engineering. On the recommendation of his professor he was invited to become the Principal of the new Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo in 1873.
Greatly esteemed by the Japanese, his teaching methods were credited with assisting in the rapid industrialisation of Japan and in 1882 he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun (Third Class). Dyer returned to Scotland in 1882 bringing with him numerous art works and instruments. In Glasgow he continued to make a valuable contribution to engineering education and was awarded both an honorary DSc and LLD from the University of Glasgow.
Henry Dyer died on 25 September, 1918 at his home in Glasgow. After his death a substantial bequest was given to the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, which included papers relating to his roles as engineer and educator. It also included Japanese artworks and artefacts. He donated musical instruments to Glasgow Museums. In 1945 and 1955 Edinburgh City Libraries received two donations via his daughter Marie Ferguson Dyer.
The Edinburgh City Libraries bequest consists of 50 loose Japanese woodblock prints, a number of bound woodblock printed volumes, painted scrolls and a collection of nineteenth century Japanese photographs, attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried. Much of the Dyer Collection is available to browse on Capital Collections (www.capitalcollections.org.uk) including several online exhibitions:
- Theatres of the East – The Furuyama Moromasa Scroll
- Introduction to ‘A Modern Collection of Genji in Colour’ by Utagawa Kunisada
- Dai Nippon (Great Japan)
- Kunisada’s Tale of Genji
- Views and Costumes of China & Japan by Baron Stillfried
Get in touch if you’re interested to come into Central Library and see items from the Dyer Collection or any other material from our Special Collections. If you have archival material related to Edinburgh, Scotland or Scots abroad, and would like to help our collections continue to grow, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Read all the articles in this series of ‘The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries’: