Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Alien Visitors upon Chosun's Shores

The 'Alien Visitors upon Chosun's Shores' series:

Alien Visitors upon Chosun's Shores Part I
Alien Visitors upon Chosun's Shores Part II
An Account of the Arrival of the Audacious
Thoughts on the Observations of Conquest-Enabling Explorers

Korean Fishing Boat, May, 1871, by Felice Beato
Likely the first photo taken in Korea

Throughout the Chosun dynasty, as European sailors explored more and more of Asia, a number of descriptions of the Korean coastline began to appear, and on maps the Korean penninsula began to morph from a vague Island to the west of Japan into the geographically correct penninsula that adorns the 'one nation' flag used at joint North and South Korean sporting events today. It was very rare for westerners to make contact with Korean people, however, though a number of accounts do exist. The reason for this post is that a good many of them exist online. I found the full account (from 1875) which lies at the bottom of this post (or this post's 2nd part, rather) first, and through references made in that account, managed to find all of the others.

Henny Savenije points out that the first foreigner to land on Korean shores "was a man to which Korean sources refer to as "Pingni" or "Mari," who landed together with some Chinese on Cheju-do in spring of 1582. He was immediately deported to China."

As noted in The Imjin War, by Samuel Hawley, the first European commonly thought to visit Korea was Father Gregorio de Cespedes, a Spanish Jesuit who had spent 16 years in Japan, on December 27, 1593. His visit, during the Imjin War, came at the request of Konishi Yukinaga, one of several Christian daimyo, and one of Hideyoshi's most trusted commanders. At the time, the Japanese troops were holed up in a series of forts near Pusan awaiting the outcome of peace negotiations; Cespedes, whose only contact with Koreans was with those being sent back to Japan as slaves, wrote:

The cold in Korea is very severe and without any comparison with that of Japan. All day long my limbs are half benumbed, and in the morning I can hardly move to say mass, but... I am cheerful and don't mind my work and the cold.
He left Korea in April of 1594, perhaps having aided in coverting hundreds of Korean prisoners.

The most famous account of Korea during this time period is of course by Hendrick Hamel, the Dutch sailor shipwrecked with his fellow crewmembers on the coast of Quelpaert Island (Jeju-do) on August 16, 1653, and who escaped and made his way to Nagasaki in September of 1666. For an full translation of his account of his experiences there, along with maps and a great deal more, you need only look at Henny Savenije's website. As much has been written about him, and as his experience was different in that he was not a momentary visitor, but instead lived there for many years, I'll move on to other accounts. It is worth mentioning, however, that Hamel was simply the first European to escape from Korea and tell his tale. Soon after arriving in Korea he met another westerner:
Our people asked him for his name, from what country he came and how he had come there. He answered thus: "My name is Jan Janse Weltevree from De Rijp. I came in 1626 with the ship Hollandia from the fatherland and in 1626, while going to Iapan with the jaght Ouwerkerck, due to the unfavorable wind, we stranded at the coast of Coree. We needed water and we went with the boat ashore, where three of us we captured by the inhabitants. [...] He told us further that he had asked the king and other high administrators to be sent to Iapan. This, however was him forbidden all the time.

He said that if we were birds, we could fly to there. They don't send foreigners from this country. They will provide you with a living and for clothes and in this way you will have to end your life in this country. He tried to comfort us in this way. Even if we came in front of the king, we couldn't expect anything else, so that our joy of having found an interpreter, almost changed into sadness. It was remarkable that this man, of 57 or 58 years old, almost had forgotten his mother tongue, so that we hardly could understand him and had learned it again within a month.

Worth mentioning quickly is that when two of Hamel’s shipmates tried to steal a boat and escape to Japan soon after the shipwreck, they were soon punished:

He had them untied and had each given 25 blows on the bare buttocks with a stick which is about one fathom long and a finger thick at the bottom and round on the top. As a result they had to stay in bed for about a month, additionally we were not allowed to go out and were strictly guarded day and night.

Also interesting is the fact that their requests to be allowed to return home were "always refused with the argument that Korea never let foreigners leave, because one doesn't want Korea to be known to foreign countries." Of course, Hamel's account became well known to people (especially naval officers) throughout Europe, being published in English in 1704, and in French in 1715).

The next brief account of Korea comes from Jean-François de Galoup, Comte de La Pérouse, who commanded a French expedition to the Pacific between 1785 and 1788 (which ended when his ships disappeared near Australia). Sailing north from the Philippines, towards Hokkaido and Sakhalin [map here], he saw Quelpaert Island (Jeju-do) on May 21, 1787, and drew this map. He wrote
Unfortunately the island belongs to a people to whom all intercourse with strangers is prohibited, and who retain in slavery all who have the misfortune to be wrecked on their shores. Some of the Dutch sailors of the 'Sparrow-hawk,' after a captivity of eighteen years, during which they had received severe bastinadoes [punishment or beatings], found means to steal away a bark [boat] and get to Japan, whence they reached Batavia, and at length Amsterdam.[...] This story, of which we had an account before us was not of a nature to encourage us to send a boat ashore.[...]It is probable we occasioned some alarm on the coast of Korea, for in the afternoon we perceived fires lighted on all the points.
On May 27 the astronomer Dagelet sighted Ulleung-do, after whom the island was named (a map can be found here). As the inhabitants ran away at the sight of the foreign ships, La Pérouse wrote:
I endeavored to approach it but it was exactly in the wind's eye; fortunately it changed during the night and at daybreak I sailed to examine this island, I was very desirous of finding an anchorage to persuade these people by means of gifts that we were not their enemies, but fairly strong currents were bearing us away from the land.
Ten years later, between October 14 and 21, 1797, William Robert Broughton, captain of the Providence, anchored at a
harbour... called Tshosan, or Chosan, by the inhabitants. It is situated in the S. E. part of the coast of Corea, in the latitude of 35° 2' N., and 129° 7' E. longitude.
Despite him likely mistaking the name of the kingdom for the name of the harbour, the precise location he gives makes it clear he was in Pusan's harbour. Broughton had helped George Vancouver explore the west coast of North America, and in 1796 he set out to explore the area around Japan. After a second visit to Japan in the summer of 1797, he set out to explore the coast of Korea. Henny Savenije's site provides an account of his stay in Pusan from the log book Broughton published in 1804, titled "A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean". As can be seen from this map, Broughton had the strait between Pusan and Tsushima, as well as the bay north of Wonsan, named after him:

From Isabella Bishop's Korea and Her Neighbours, 1898

Anchoring a half mile from shore, near Pusan, they were soon "surrounded by boats full of men, women, and children, whose curiosity had brought them off to see the strange vessel." They were visited by officials wearing robes and "hats, serving as umbrellas, [which] were three feet in diameter."
We had no boats off till after breakfast, when two came full of visitors, dressed in a superior style to any we had yet seen. In each were some soldiers carrying small spears, that were as staffs to their colours, which were a blue sattin field, with their arms in yellow characters. The hats of the Soldiers were decorated with peacock's feathers. They made me a present of salt fish, rice, and sea-weed (fucus Sacharinus).

After many inquiries respecting us, we plainly saw they were extremely anxious for our departure, which I explained to them was impossible, as we were much in want of wood, water, and refreshments. They immediately offered to send us any quantity of the former, but I could not persuade them to send any of the cattle we pointed out to them, grazing on the shore. As money appeared of no value, and we had no other means to induce them, we were under the necessity of bearing with the disappointment, of seeing daily what we could not procure.

On our return on board in the evening we found the vessel crowded with visitors, nor could we get rid of them till dark, and even with great difficulty, using almost violence to induce them to go into their boats. At last they went on shore... [T]he assemblage of people [on shore] was so great as to materially affect our operations, notwithstanding the military were so stationed as to keep off the crowd, which they did at times most effectually, by exercising upon their persons large bamboo sticks.
Soon after arriving, Broughton described the harbour:
The harbour, we perceived, extended some distance to the westward of the rocks we had noticed in coming in, and also to the N. E. and S. W. of them, terminating in small bays that afforded shelter from all winds. Many villages were scattered round the harbour; and in the N. W. part we observed a large town, encircled with stone walls, and battlements upon them. Several junks were laying in a bason near it, protected by a pier. Another mole or bason appeared to the S. W. of the other, near some white houses of a superior construction, enclosed by a thick wood.
After a brief 'cruise' to explore a little of the surrounding area
They talked about our excursion in the boat yesterday, which they disapproved of, and explained that if we landed at the white houses up the harbour we should be very ill treated, if not put to death; and begged us not to go away in the boat any more. Soon after they landed; and, as if they still suspected our intentions, they immediately sent off four boats, having a soldier with their colours in each. I would not suffer them to come along-side, and they remained at anchor as guard-boats upon our bows and quarter. Towards the evening they left us to ourselves.
The next day, after secretly taking a boat out to sketch the harbour, Broughton notes that "our absence had thrown the village into great confusion: boats were dispatched in every direction after us, but we had escaped them all."

Beyond the accounts of the Korean authorities doing everything they could to keep an eye on the British and stop them from landing, it's also interesting that Broughton notes the existence of "white houses of a superior construction" to the southwest of the main town, and that the Korean authorities told them that "if we landed at the white houses up the harbour we should be very ill treated, if not put to death." One wonders if the houses he's describing are these ones:

1783 drawing of the Choryang waegwan

This was the Choryang waegwan, the walled-off Japanese trading and diplomatic post built in 1678 (replacing an earlier station). Jan Boonstra's site provides lots of information about it (like the photo above), including information about the harsh penalties that awaited Koreans who climbed the walls or made unauthorized contact with the Japanese. The 1872 map below shows it's location; the circular town near the center is Dongnae, below it is Pusan, and to the left of Yeong-do (the island) is the waegwan.

Back to Broughton's story:
Soon after, we received a visit from one of our principal friends, who seemed particularly pleased at our preparations for sailing. I presented him with a telescope and a pistol, the only articles he seemed desirous of possessing; and we parted with mutual satisfaction. We soon after got under way, and made sail out of the harbour, to the great joy of our Corean friends, who were assembled in great numbers on the adjacent hills observing our departure. We felt ourselves much obliged by their supplies of wood and water, without expecting any thing in return.

It appears by their behaviour they are by no means desirous of cultivating any intercourse whatever with strangers. They seemed to look upon us with great indifference, which I suppose was owing to the insignificancy of our vessel; or perhaps, their not comprehending what nation we belonged to, or what our pursuits were, made them solicitous for our departure, probably from a suspicion of our being pirates; or some other reason we could not divine.
Savenije's site also provides a translation of the Korean account of this encounter (the first between British and Koreans), which has some fascinating information about the communication (or lack thereof) between the two parties:
They neither knew nor understood any Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian. We provided them with brushes to write and their writing resembled like mountains covered with clouds. Though pictures were drawn, we still could not understand.[...] We could not understand their language and pronunciation at all, but we could realise only a four syllabled word Nang-ga-sa-gee which referred to the island of Nagasaki in Japan.
"[L]ike mountains covered with clouds" - I love that. I'd love to see their reaction to my handwriting. At any rate, it would be almost twenty years before a British ship visited Korea again, this time a year after Napoleon's defeat. On February 9, 1816 the forty-six gun frigate Alceste, captained by Murray Maxwell, and the small gun brig Lyra, captained by Basil Hall, departed England for the East, having on board Lord Amherst, Ambassador Extraordinary from the British King to the Emperor of China, and a diplomatic entourage including secretaries, naturalists, surgeons, Marines, and an artist. Amherst's mission was intended to improve British relations with China (which didn't go so well). After their arrival on the coast near Beijing that summer, they decided to explore the Yellow Sea and its environs, leading them to explore and chart the west coast of Korea, 'Sulphur Island' (Iwo Jima), and the Loo-choo Islands (Ryukyu Islands, and Okinawa).

Frontspiece to Basil Hall's book.

This voyage, besides leading to a shipwreck off Borneo on the return home, and a visit with Napoleon on St. Helena, also led to the publication of two books:

Basil Hall's A Voyage of Discovery to the Western Coast of Corea and the Great Loo-Choo Island in the Japan Sea, 1818, which can be viewed here (download the plug-in); and

John M'Leod (a surgeon, on the Alceste)'s Voyage of His Majesty's Ship Alceste, along the Coast of Corea, to the Island of Lewchew; with an Account of Her Subsequent Shipwreck, 1818, which can be viewed here (as a pdf or html).

Basil Hall's book spends 57 pages on the trip to Korea, while M'Leods book spends only 20 pages on Korea (as well, Hall spends 28 pages describing his meetings with a Korean 'chief', while M'Leod spends only 9 pages on the same topic). Needless to say, I think Hall is the more engaging writer, which is why everything below is from Hall's book unless otherwise stated.

The voyage's encounter with Korea took place between September 1 and 10, 1816, and was both intriguing and somewhat dangerous for those undertaking it:
Of this coast we had no charts possessing the slightest pretensions of accuracy, … Only a few islands are noticed on any map… These inaccuracies in the charts naturally gave a very high degree of interest to this part of the voyage; yet the navigation being at all times uncertain, and often dangerous, considerable anxiety necessarily mingled itself with the satisfaction produced by so new and splendid a scene.
Arriving at the first islands they see along Korea’s coast, they have their first encounter with the inhabitants:
At first they expressed some surprise on examining our clothes, but afterwards took very little interest in any thing belonging to us. Their chief anxiety was to get rid of us as soon as possible. This they expressed in a manner to obvious to be mistaken; for, on our wishing to enter the village, they first made motions for us to go the other way; and when we persevered, they took us rudely by the arms and pushed us off.

They refused dollars when offered as a present, and, indeed, appeared to set no value upon anything we shewed them, except wine glasses; but even these they were unwilling to receive. One of the head men appeared particularly pleased with a glass, which, after a good deal of persuasion, he accepted, but in about five minutes after, he, and another man to whom a tumbler had been given, came back and insisted upon returning the presents; […] leaving us with only one man, who, as soon as all the rest were out of sight, accepted one of the glasses with much eagerness.

Islanders of the Sir James Hall Group (from M'Leod's book)

One man expressed the general wish for our departure, by holding up a piece of paper like a sail, and then blowing on it in the direction of the wind, at the same time pointing to the ships, thereby denoting that the wind was fair, and that we had only to set sail and leave the island.

Captain Maxwell named these islands Sir James Hall’s Group, in compliment to the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. They lie in longitude 124 46’E. and latitude 37 50’ N.
These islands are in fact Baengnyeongdo, the most western point of South Korea (and just off the coast of the Ongjin penninsula in North Korea); they're marked as Sir James Hall’s Group on the 1898 map above. Also, Hall is being a little coy when he fails to mention that Sir James Hall is also his father!

On another island further south, they meet more islanders unwilling to let them land:
They drew their fans across their own throats, and sometimes across ours, as if to signify that our going on would lead to heads being cut off; but whether they or we were to be the sufferers was not apparent. It was suggested by one of our party that they dreaded being called to account by their own chiefs for permitting us to land.

On a watch being shewn, they disregarded everything else, and entreated to be allowed to examine it closely. It was evidently the first they had seen, and some of them while watching the second hand, looked as if they thought it alive.

[…] We walked back to the boats, to the great joy of the natives, who encouraged us by all means to hasten our departure. They took our hands and helped us over the slippery stones on the beach; and, on perceiving one of the boats aground, several of them stript and jumped into the water to push her off.
It may well be that their desire to see the foreigners leave may have led them to act with enough passion for Hall to declare, "They have a singular custom of speaking with a loud tone, amounting almost to a shout."

At one point, upon approaching a large bay on the mainland, they are approached by a local “chief” surrounded by several boats full of people, who then board one of the British ships for a meeting, where they find they are unable to communicate. The official eventually leaves, but the British realize he then wishes them to come onto his boat. When it is realized he has nothing to serve them, they give him a bottle of their own wine.
He was nowise discomposed at being obliged to entertain his company at their own expense; on the contrary, he carried off the whole affair with so much cheerfulness and ease, as to make us suspect sometimes that he saw and enjoyed the oddity of the scene and circumstances as fully as we did ourselves.[…]We left the chief in good humour, and returned on board… we had no sooner left him than he …call[ed] the other boats around him, gave orders for inflicting the discipline of the bamboo upon the unfortunate culprit, who had been ordered into confinement during the conference.[…] During the infliction of this punishment, a profound silence was observed by all the party, except five or six persons immediately about the delinquent, whose cries they accompanied by a sort of song or yell at each blow of the bamboo. This speedy execution of justice was, no doubt, intended to impress us with high notions of Corean discipline.
A Korean chief (from M'Leod's book)

Interesting in Hall’s account is of the formality necessary in meetings with Korean officials, and of the guessing that went on, on both sides, to discern what should be done. Speaking of “The surprise of these people on discovering our inability to read their papers”, Hall notes that
The case, we may imagine, had never occurred to them before … At first they appeared to doubt the fact of our ignorance, and shewed some symptoms of impatience; but this opinion did not last long, and they remained completely puzzled, looking at each other with an odd expression of surprise.
He also notes that the translated paper read: “Persons, of what land-of what nation (are you)? On account of what business do you come hither? In the ship are there any literary men who thoroughly understand, and can explain what is written?” This is slightly different than the translation given in M’Leod’s book: “I don’t know who ye are ; what business have ye here?" (I'm a little lost as to what evoking a Scottish dialect is supposed to mean regarding his opinion of the chief, especially when both captains, and likely he himself, are Scottish).

As they are able to try to adapt themselves to the wishes of their hosts, their hosts are also capable of doing the same, as Hall comments after watching the chief refuse chopsticks and eat a British breakfast with a knife and fork:
The politeness and ease with which he accommodated himself to the habits if people so different from himself were truly admirable; and when it is considered, that hitherto, in all probability, he was ignorant even of our existence, his propriety of manners should seem to point, not only to high rank in society, but to imply also a degree of civilization in that society, not confirmed by other circumstances.
His opinion changes somewhat when he sees the chief's reaction to an attempt by the captains and officers to land on shore:
[A]s we approached the shore, his anxiety increased, and he frequently drew his hand across his neck, as if to sew that he would lose his head if we persisted.[…] we had no notion of ant such apprehension being well grounded; and, in short time, landed at the distance of half a mile from the village.

The Chief [upon landing] began crying violently, and turning towards the village walked away, leaning his head on the shoulder of one of his people. As he went along, he not only sobbed and wept, but every now and then bellowed aloud. We had been nowise prepared for such a scene, and were extremely sorry for having pushed matters to this extremity. […] We could not satisfy ourselves whether he was sincere, or merely acting in order to prevail on us to retire.
Corean chief and his secretary,
Drawn by William Havell (official artist to Lord Amherst's

expedition to China), from a sketch by Captain Hall

After returning to the ship and leaving, Hall wrote
We quitted this bay without much regret. The old Chief, indeed, with his flowing beard, and pompous array, and engaging manners, had made a strong impression upon us all; but his pitiable and childish distress, whatever might have been the cause, took away from the respect with which we were otherwise disposed to regard him.
Speaking of how the ‘treatment of strangers is regulated’, he wrote
The promptitude with which we were met at this place, where, perhaps, no ship ever was before, seem to imply an extraordinary degree of vigilance and jealousy on the part of the government.
M’leod reflects on the encounter with the chief:
It was pretty evident, however, that he was acting from orders which he dared not trifle with, rather than from any inhospitable feeling in his own nature; for in this respect there was a manly frankness in the behaviour of all the Coreans we saw, and not what could be considered an inclination to be rude.

We saw enough however, to convince us that the sovereign of this country governs with most absolute sway; and that, occasionally, he makes very free with the heads of his subjects. The allusion to this danger could not have been so constant and uniform, in places so remote from each other, without some strong reason.
One has to admit, compared to later visitors, Hall doesn't really threaten violence in order to get his way. When the chief starts crying, they eventually leave. The only time weapons are fired are as a display for Koreans (which is usually asked for). One instance where the British started to lose their cool was when, upon reaching an island where all the women and children had fled at their approach, they explored the island with some local men accompanying them. As they approached the likely hiding spot of the women and children, the men tried to stop them, which led to a confrontation which had the most unlikely of resolutions:
I turned round and exclaimed “Patience Sir!” he drew back… and a moment after called out himself, “Patience Sir!” The others hearing this caught the words too, and nothing was heard for some time amongst them but “Patience Sir,” pronounced in every instance with perfect propriety. They seemed surprised themselves on discovering powers of imitation hitherto in all probability unexercised. This incident brought us better acquainted, and we remained on the top of the hill teaching them English words till it was dark.
Thus we have Hall describing, on September 8, 1816, what was likely the first English lesson to take place in Korea. It was likely partly out of that conversation that the page below, which translates several Korean words into English, was written:

And now for an intermission; we'll return to the voyages of the Lord Amherst, in 1832, and the Samarang, in 1845, shortly (as well as perhaps summarizing the 1875 visit to Port Hamilton by the Audacious found in my last post).


Stefan Ewing said...

Wow, this is a very long and interesting-looking article which I fully intend to read...in the meantime, one trivial detail which caught my attention:

I looked at Hall's list of Korean words, and what jumped out at me was "Good...Hota [sic]." I didn't know that the modern "basic form" (기본형) of verbs and adjectives (ending in -다) dated as far back as the early 19th century...somehow I fancied it might have been a product of the promotion of mass Hangeul literacy in the late 19th/early 20th century (and presumably the creation of the first modern Koprean dictionaries, though I don't know much of the history of Korean lexicography except for Choe Se-jin's efforts several centuries previous).

matt said...

I hadn't thought of that, though it does make me wonder about the description of the islanders' 'perfect' pronunciation. I tend to figure one reason so many of my students intone english words incorrectly is due to the way Hangeul structures written Korean. I wonder if one reason likely illiterate islanders were able to pronounce English words so well would be due to the fact that they were illiterate and therefore Hangeul didn't have a grip on their concept of pronunciation. Which then raises questions of how Korean (or any language, for that matter) was spoken before literacy became widespread.

Anonymous said...

A very good site - really enjoyed your articles on the earlier Westerners/Aliens - You really went to a lot of work in making it and it was very well researched. Excellent - one of the best sites I have seen.

My book that is supposed to be published some day soon (publisher is slower at publishing it than I was at writing it) goes into a lot of detail of the early Italians, British, Americans and Germans that visited Korea prior to its opening. I think that you will like it.

Robert Neff


matt said...

Thanks for the kind words Robert. I obviously made references to your Korea Times articles more than once, and enjoyed them a lot. I look forward to the book!

Stefan Ewing said...


Interesting observations, regarding the deleterious effect literacy might have on some aspects of speech. Perhaps it's somewhat like memory, which is supposed to be stronger in oral societies, since people there are not in the habit of writing things down for posterity.

Geoffwah said...

Bless you. Seriously. This is...this is just what I've needed. So much of Korean history is wrapped in bravura, dipped in honey and rolled in a crunchy coating of nationalistic bravado that it's sometimes hard to take.

Seeing Korea through (probably) the first western eyes...it gives a bit of balance. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this all out. I realize it was a while ago. Still great.

matt said...

Thanks! It was fun researching and writing it. If you liked these posts, I'd recommend reading Korea Through Western Eyes, by Robert Neff (who left a comment above). There are lots of interesting stories about Korea (and the foreigners who lived there) in the two decades after it opened to the west.

Sublunari said...

Excellent, wonderful, thank you.