HUNDREDS of Japanese visitors attended Brookwood Cemetery on Tuesday to watch Japan’s ambassador to the UK unveil a monument in honour of Professor Alexander Williamson and his wife.
The tribute marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival in London (from western Japan) of five members of the Choshu clan in 1863, who risked their lives to study secretly in Britain.
Upon their arrival Professor William-son enrolled them at University College London, and even welcomed three of them into his home.
Two years later, 19 members of the Satsuma clan joined the Choshu clan as students under Williamson.
The morphing of these clans led to the overthrow of the ruling Shogunate, and the students went on to hold important offices in the new Meiji regime, which ushered in the modernisation of Japan.
The country’s Ambassador to the UK, Keiichi Hayashi, read out a letter of thanks from the Japanese Prime Minister.
It read: “Williamson cared for one who was ill, in his own home until his death, showing the unconditional love and strong wish for friendship that he possessed.”
Professor Williamson accepted and registered most of them as students in his chemistry department.
At the time, UCL was the only university in England that did not discriminate on the grounds of religion, race, social status or political opinion, but remained open to all.
Williamson embodied this educational ideal, as Mr Hayashi told the News & Mail at the ceremony: “All of his students became, in some way, leaders of the new Japan – honourable men educated in England.”
UCL educated the first Prime Minister of Japan, the minister for state foreign affairs, the minister for education and the first head of Tokyo University. William-son’s altruism built the foundations of a healthy Anglo-Japanese relationship.