World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Rutherford Alcock

Sir Rutherford Alcock

Sir Rutherford Alcock, KCB (May 1809[1] – 2 November 1897) was the first British diplomatic representative to live in Japan.


  • Early life 1
  • Service in China 2
  • Service in Japan (1858–64) 3
  • Service in China (1865–69) 4
  • Later years 5
  • Selected works 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Alcock was the son of the physician, Dr. Thomas Alcock, who practised at Ealing, near London. He was named John Rutherford Alcock, but dropped the John very early.[1] As he grew up, Alcock followed his father into the medical profession. In 1836, he became a surgeon in the marine brigade which took part in the Carlist War, gaining distinction through his services. Alcock was made deputy inspector-general of hospitals. He retired from this service in 1837.

Service in China

In 1844, he was appointed consul at Fuchow in China, where, after a short official stay at Amoy, he performed the functions, as he expressed it, " of everything from a lord chancellor to a sheriff's officer." Fuchow was one of the ports opened to trade by the Treaty of Nanking, and Alcock had to perform an entirely new role with regard to the Chinese authorities. In doing so, he earned a promotion to the consulate at Shanghai. He worked there until 1846 and made it a special part of his duties to superintend the established Chinese government and lay out the British settlement, which had developed into such an important feature of British commercial life in China.

Service in Japan (1858–64)

Rutherford Alcock located the British legation in Tokyo from 1859 in Tōzen-ji.
Attack on the British legation in Tōzen-ji on 5 July 1861.
Attack of the British legation in Tōzen-ji, Edo, in 1861.

In 1858, he was appointed Consul-General in Japan.[2]

Alcock opened the first British legation in Japan within the grounds of Tōzen-ji in Takanawa, Edo (now Tokyo). He saw

"peace, plenty, apparent content, and a country more perfectly cultivated and kept, with more ornamental timber everywhere, than can be matched even in England", Sir Rutherford Alcock, 1860.[3]

In those days, foreign residents in Japan faced some danger, with noticeable Japanese hostility to foreigners (sonnō jōi). In 1860, Alcock's native interpreter was murdered at the gate of the legation, and in the following year the legation was stormed by a group of ronin from the fiefdom of Mito Han, whose attack was repulsed by Alcock and his staff.

In 1860 he became the first non-Japanese to climb Mount Fuji.

Service in China (1865–69)

Shortly after these events he returned to England on leave in March 1862, and was replaced in Japan by Colonel Neale. Alcock had already been made a Commander of the Bath (CB) (1860). In 1862 he was made a Knight of the same order (KCB), and in 1863 received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Oxford University.

In 1864, he returned to Japan, and after a year's further residence he was transferred to Peking, where he represented the British government until 1869, when he retired.

Later years

Although no longer in official life, he remained active. He was for some years president of the Royal Geographical Society, and he served on many commissions. The official Japanese section at the 1862 International Exhibition in London was prepared by Sir Rutherford and included his own collection. This is considered one of the most important events in the history of Japanese art in the West and a founding date for English Japonism in the decorative arts, the Anglo-Japanese style. From 1882-93 he was chairman of the British North Borneo Chartered Company.

He was twice married, first in May 1841 to Henrietta Mary Bacon (daughter of Charles Bacon), who died in 1853, and second (on 8 July 1862) to the widow of the Rev. John Lowder. His second wife died on 13 March 1899.

Alcock was the author of several works, and was one of the first to awaken in England an interest in Japanese art. He tried hard to learn the language and even wrote a text book. His best-known book is The Capital of the Tycoon, which appeared in 1863. He died in London on 2 November 1897, and is buried at Merstham in Surrey. (R. K. D.)

Selected works

In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about Rutherford Alcock, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 70+ works in 100+ publications in 5 languages and 1,000+ library holdings.[4]

  • Notes on the Medical History and Statistics of the British Legion of Spain; Comprising the Results of Gunshot Wounds, in Relation to Important Questions in Surgery (1838)
  • Life's Problems: Essays; Moral, Social, and Psychological (1857)
  • Elements of Japanese Grammar, for the Use of Beginners (1861)
  • Catalogue of Works of Industry and Art, Sent from Japan by Rutherford Alcock (1862)
  • The Capital of the Tycoon: a Narrative of a Three Years' Residence in Japan (1863)
  • Correspondence with Sir Rutherford Alcock Respecting Missionaries at Hankow, and State of Affairs at Various Ports in China (1869)
  • Despatch from Sir Rutherford Alcock Respecting a Supplementary Convention to the Treaty of Tien-Tsin, Signed by Him on October 23, 1869 by China (1870)
  • Chinese Statesmen and State Papers (1871)
  • Art and Art Industries in Japan (1878)
  • Handbook of British North Borneo: Compiled from Reports Received from Governor Treacher and from other Officers in the British North Borneo Company's Service by Colonial and Indian Exhibition (1886)

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Englishman in China during the Victorian era : as illustrated in the career of Sir Rutherford Alcock"
  2. ^ The first British Ambassador to Japan was appointed in 1905. Before 1905, the senior British diplomat had different titles: (a) Consul-General and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, which is a rank just below Ambassador.
  3. ^ Perrin, Noel. (1979). Giving Up the Gun, p. 90
  4. ^ WorldCat Identities: Alcock, Rutherford Sir 1809-1897


  • Cortazzi, Hugh 1994, 'Sir Rutherford Alcock, the first British minister to Japan 1859-1864: a reassessment', Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan (4th series) 9: pp. 1–42.
  • Michie, Alexander. The Englishman in China During the Victorian Era: As Illustrated in the Career of Sir Rutherford Alcock. 2 vols. Edinburgh, London: W. Blackwood & sons, 1900.
  • Hugh Cortazzi. (2004). British Envoys in Japan 1859-1972. Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental. ISBN 9781901903515; OCLC 249167170
  • Perrin, Noel (1979). Giving up the gun. Boston: David R. Godine. ISBN 0-87923-773-2.
  • Denney, John. Respect and Consideration: Britain in Japan 1853 - 1868 and beyond. Radiance Press (2011). ISBN 978-0-9568798-0-6

  • UK in Japan, Chronology of Heads of Mission

External links


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.