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William Kinninmond Burton


1856 - 1899

Engineer and amateur photographer. Born in Edinburgh, the eldest son of John Hill Burton, Historiographer Royal for Scotland (1809-81), Burton entered an engineering apprenticeship at the Rosebank Ironworks in the city. He moved to London in 1879 and accepted the Chair in Engineering at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1887, serving in that capacity until 1896. He specialised in sanitary engineering and the provision of public water supplies, designing the Tokyo waterworks and advising several other Japanese cities in this regard. He also worked in Taiwan 1896-99.

Burton formed a strong friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle, who he met at Liberton Bank House, the home of his aunt Mary Burton (1819 - 1909). With Conan Doyle, he shared an enthusiasm for photography and Burton joined the Edinburgh Photographic Society in 1880, publishing his ABC of Modern Photography in 1882. Burton helped form the Photographic Society of Japan in 1890. His photographs provide an important record of the Japanese earthquake of 1891. He also published photographs of Japanese volcanoes and wrestling in Japan.

He died in Tokyo and has a substantial tombstone at the Aoyama Cemetery. A memorial was unveiled on Craighouse campus of Edinburgh Napier University in 2006, the 150th anniversary of his birth.


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