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François Léonce Verny, (December 2, 1837 - May 2, 1908) was a Frenchmarker officer and naval engineer who directed the construction of the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in Japanmarker, as well as many related modern infrastructure projects from 1865 to 1876, thus helping jump-start Japan's modernization.

Early life

Léonce Verny was born in Pont d'Aubenas, Ardèchemarker, central Francemarker. He studied at Lyonmarker and then went on to the prestigious École Polytechniquemarker. He entered the Institute for Applied Maritime Science at Cherbourgmarker in 1858, where he became a Naval Engineer. He worked for the French state in the arsenals of Brestmarker and Toulonmarker.

China mission

Verny was sent to Ningbomarker and Shanghai in Chinamarker from 1862-1864, to supervise the construction of four gunboats for the Chinese Navy, as well as a new shipyard. During that time, he was also French Vice-Consul in Ningbo.

Career in Japan

Japan had started a modernization effort in 1853 and the Tokugawa government decided to build a modern naval shipyard and arsenal in collaboration with the French government. Verny was persuaded to go to Japan by his distance relative, French ambassador Leon Roches in September 1865, who negotiated the substantial annual salary of $10,000 dollars. He stayed on after the Meiji Restoration overthrew the Tokugawa government, continuing to work for the new Meiji government for a total of 12 years, returning home to France on March 13, 1876.

Yokosuka arsenal

Verny was appointed chief administrator and constructor of the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in 1865. Yokosuka was chosen because it was a well protected inlet, in close proximity to Yokohama and Tokyomarker. The same year, he briefly returned to France to purchase all necessary machinery and recruit French naval experts from Brestmarker, Toulonmarker, and Cherbourgmarker (45 families in all) to help organize the construction of the arsenal. During the months in France, Verny also helped in the negotiations for the First French Military Mission to Japan, consisting of military advisors under Jules Brunet to help train and re-equip the Tokugawa army from 1867, and to assist it in the Boshin War against the Satcho Alliance.

In Yokosuka, Verny trained 65 Japanese technicians and hired 2500 workers. The construction of the shipyard itself was only the central point of a major infrastructure development project, which encompassed foundries, brick kilns, gunpowder and weapons factories, an aqueduct and hydraulic power facilities, modern buildings and technical schools to train Japanese technicians were established. In addition to the construction of the Yokosuka Arsenal, Verny also built lighthouses in the Tokyo area (some of which still exist, such as the Jōgashima Lighthousemarker and the Kannonzaki Lighthouses), and the building of the shipyard at Nagasaki.

The Yokosuka Naval Arsenal completed its first warship, the Yokosuka-maru in November 1866, but the planned two repair yards, three shipyards and iron works were not completed by the time of the Meiji restoration. Initial fears that the pro-Bakufu French engineers would be replaced by British engineers were soon proven groundless, and Yokosuka continued to employ on French engineers until 1878.

Construction of the Yokosuka arsenal c.1870.

Verny experienced numerous problems during his tenure in Japan, as the expectations of the Japanese government and military were very high, but funding was very limited, and Verny had to create much of the necessary infrastructure from scratch. When visited by the French construction director of the Chinese Fuzhoumarker Arsenal in 1871, Verny noted that the Chinese budget was three times larger than his.

Verny returned to France in 1876, when the Japanese were able to take full control of the operations.

Later life

Upon his return to France, Verny continued to work for the French state for six months, when he finally left active service.

He became director of one of the largest mining companies in France (Compagnie des houllières de Firminy) until 1895.

Verny died on May 2, 1908, in his home in Pont d'Aubenas.


Yokosuka became one of the main arsenals of the Imperial Japanese Navy into the 20th century, in which were built battleships such as Yamashiro, and aircraft carriers such as Hiryu and Shokaku.
Verny Park, in Yokosuka.
Léonce Verny is remembered in Japan as a symbol of modernization and of friendship with France. A park has been built in his name ("Verny Park") on the seafront atYokosuka, with a bronze bust of Verny, and a small museum.

The dry docks built by Verny are still intact and are currently used by the US Navy as part of the United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka.

See also


  1. Sims, Richard. (1998). French Policy Towards the Bakufu and Meiji Japan 1854-95: A Case of Misjudgement and Missed Opportunities, p. 246.
  2. Elman, Benjamin A. (2006). On Their Own Terms: Science in China, 1550-1900, p. 370.
  3. Giguel, Prosper et al. (1985). A Journal of the Chinese Civil War, 1864, p. 150.
  4. Elman, p. 373.


  • Elman, Benjamin A. (2006). A Cultural History of Modern Science in China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10-ISBN 0-674-02306-4; 13-ISBN 978-0-674-02306-2; OCLC 64427571
  • Giquel, Prosper. (1985). A Journal of the Chinese Civil War, 1864 (trans., Steven A Leibo). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 10-ISBN 0-824-80985-8/13-ISBN 978-0-824-80985-0; OCLC 11090990
  • Polak, Christian. (2001). Soie et lumières: L'âge d'or des échanges franco-japonais (des origines aux années 1950). Tokyo: Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie Française du Japon, Hachette Fujin Gahōsha (アシェット婦人画報社).
  • __________. (2002). 絹と光: 知られざる日仏交流100年の歴史 (江戶時代-1950年代) Kinu to hikariō: shirarezaru Nichi-Futsu kōryū 100-nen no rekishi (Edo jidai-1950-nendai). Tokyo: Ashetto Fujin Gahōsha, 2002. 10-ISBN 4-573-06210-6; 13-ISBN 978-4-573-06210-8; OCLC 50875162
  • Sims, Richard. (1998). French Policy Towards the Bakufu and Meiji Japan 1854-1894: A Case of Misjudgement and Missed Opportunities. London: RoutledgeCurzon. 10-ISBN 1-873410-61-1/13-ISBN 9781873410615; OCLC 39086176

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