Francis Brinkley

Francis Brinkley bigraphy, stories - Educators

Francis Brinkley : biography

30 December 1841 – 12 October 1912

Francis Brinkley (30 December 1841 – 12 October 1912Who’s Who 1914, p. xxi) was an Irish newspaper owner, editor and scholar who resided in Meiji period Japan for over 40 years, where he was the author of numerous books on Japanese culture, art and architecture, and an English-Japanese Dictionary. He was also known as Frank Brinkley or as Captain Francis Brinkley, and was the great uncle of Cyril Connolly.

Private life

Frank Brinkley had many hobbies which included gardening, collecting Japanese art and pottery, cricket, tennis, horse riding and hunting. Part of his significant collection of art and pottery was donated to various museums around the world, but the most part was reduced to rubble and ash after the Great Tokyo earthquake and World War II.

He wrote books for English beginners interested in the Japanese language, and his grammar books and English-Japanese Dictionary (compiled with Fumio Nanjo and Yukichika Iwasaki) were regarded as the definitive books on the subject for those studying English in the latter half of the Meiji period.

He wrote much on Japanese history and Japanese art. His book A History of the Japanese People, which was published after his death by The Times in 1915, covered Japanese history, fine arts and literature from the origins of the Japanese race up until the latter half of the Meiji period.


In 1912, at the age of 71 and one month after General Nogi’s death, Francis Brinkley died. At his funeral, the mourners included the Speaker of the House of Peers, Iesato Tokugawa, the Minister of the Navy Makoto Saito, and the Foreign Minister Kosai Uchida. He is buried in the foreign section of the Aoyama Reien cemetery in central Tokyo. Find-a-Grave site

After his death Ernest Satow wrote of Brinkley to Frederick Victor Dickins on 21 November 1912: "I have not seen any fuller memoir of Brinkley than what appeared in “The Times”. As you perhaps know I did not trust him. Who wrote “The Times” notice I cannot imagine. As you say, it was the work of an ignorant person." Satow Papers, PRO 30/33 11/7, quoted in Ian Ruxton [ed.], Sir Ernest Satow’s Private Letters to W.G. Aston and F.V. Dickins,, 2008, p. 294

On his death bed Frank Brinkley had told his son, Jack, of an episode that occurred during the Russo-Japanese War. After the Japanese had defeated the Russians at the Battle of Mukden, the Chief of the General Staff, Gentarō Kodama, rushed home in secret to urge the Japanese Government to conclude a treaty with Russia. At the time it was a hugely consequential secret and yet he confided this national secret to Brinkley, the foreign correspondent of The Times, demonstrating the utmost confidence in which the Chief of the General Staff held Brinkley.

Life in Japan

In 1867 Captain Brinkley returned to Japan, never again to return home. Attached to the British-Japanese Legation, and still an officer in the Royal Artillery, he was assistant military attache to the Japanese Embassy. He resigned his commission in 1871 to take up the post of foreign advisor to the new Meiji government, and taught artillery techniques to the new Imperial Japanese Navy at the Naval Gunnery School. He mastered the Japanese language soon after his arrival, and both spoke and wrote it well.

In 1878 he was invited to teach mathematics at the Imperial College of Engineering, which later became part of Tokyo Imperial University, remaining in this post for two and a half years.

In the same year he married Yasuko Tanaka, a daughter of a former samurai from the Mito clan. Interracial marriages could be registered under Japanese law from 1873. Brinkley sought but was refused permission by the British Legation to register his marriage in order that his wife would have undisputed claim to British nationality (she forfeited her Japanese nationality by marrying him). He fought this refusal and eventually succeeded by appealing to the British judiciary, with the help of some influential friends. They were the parents of two daughters and a son named Jack Ronald Brinkley (1887–1964).