John Milne, British seismologist and geologist, and his wife, Tone c.1900 Image 10302524 - ©Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library (1/5)
John and Tone Milne on Verandah, c.1895-1913. © Carisbrooke Castle Museum (2/5)
John and Tone Milne with guests, c.1900-1913. © Carisbrooke Castle Museum (3/5)
John and Tone Milne in the laboratory, c.1900-1913. © Carisbrooke Castle Museum (4/5)
Herbert Spencer, British philosopher and sociologist (1820-1903) (5/5)
In 1885, the geologist John Milne – best known as the inventor of the seismograph – returned to his native Britain with his Japanese wife, Tone, who he met during his twenty year residence in her home country.
In response to a job offer by the Japanese government, Milne moved to Japan in his mid-twenties where he made pioneering discoveries in the study of earthquakes and became one of very few foreigners to receive the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun award. He married Tone Horikawa, also a geologist, at Reinanzaka Church in Tokyo in 1881 – the couple would marry again almost fifteen years later at the British Consulate in Japan in order to formalise their marriage under British law; Tone subsequently became a naturalised British subject. Tone came from a devoutly Buddhist family (her father was Jokei Horikawa, abbot of the Buddhist temple of Ganjo-ji in Hakodate) and, as Milne was a Christian, they met with some adverse reactions to their marriage.
In 1875 Milne had been appointed professor of geology and mining at the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo but due to the growing patriotic sentiment in Japan towards the end of the 19th century, he was increasingly kept at a distance. There were also rising concerns in Japan at this time regarding the intermarriage of Japanese with foreigners. In 1892, Kentaro Kaneko, the Japanese statesman, had consulted the renowned British philosopher Herbert Spencer on this issue, noting that it was ‘now very much agitated among our scholars and politicians’. Spencer, who saw racial mixing as invariably having a ‘bad result’, advised that such marriages should be ‘positively forbidden’.
After their home, along with Milne’s laboratory and books, were destroyed in a devastating fire in 1895, the couple decided to relocate to John’s native Britain. Accompanied by an assistant, Shinobu Hirota, they settled at Shide Hill House on the Isle of Wight, where they renovated a barn into a seismological laboratory. The couple had no children but, in addition to Hirota, they also shared Shilde Hill House with John’s step-father as well Herbert Turner, a professor of astronomy. Their home also attracted scientists and researchers from around the world for the rest of Milne’s life.
After Milne’s death from Bright’s Disease in 1913, Tone found it hard to be without any other Japanese speakers, but she stayed on in the UK for six more years before returning to Japan, where she died in 1925.
Surprisingly little known in Britain today, Milne is still venerated in Japan as the founding father of seismology.
To your remaining question, respecting the inter-marriage of foreigners and Japanese, which you say is “now very much agitated among our scholars and politicians,” and which you say is “one of the most difficult problems,” my reply is that, as rationally answered, there is no difficulty at all. It should be positively forbidden.