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
In my previous post, I looked at visits to Korea by westerners, such as Hamel in the 1650s, La Perouse in 1787, Broughton in 1797, and especially Hall in 1816.
The British Embassy in Korea's website describes another voyage to Korea:
In 1832 the British East India Company sent a ship, the 'Lord Amherst', along the northern shores of China in search of new markets. Not only did this ship visit Korea, but it also had on board the Rev. Charles (or Karl) Gutzlaff, who distributed some bibles.Charles Gutzlaff wrote the 1834 book Journal of three voyages along the coast of China in 1831, 1832, & 1833, with notices of Siam, Corea, and the Loo-Choo islands (which can be found here), which describes the time the Lord Amherst spent on Korea's west coast between July 17 and August 11, 1832. Gutzlaff was, indeed, out to civilize the barbarians, and had a very low opinion of them - a far cry from the attitudes of the captains of the Alceste and Lyra in 1816.
Though this was indeed, but the outskirts of the kingdom, we cannot think the interior is as thickly inhabited as the maritime provinces of China. Their state of barbarism, cherished by the odious system of exclusion, which has no where, by a maritime nation, been carried farther than at Corea, does not admit of a numerous and flourishing population; nor do we think there are any large cities to be found.He has a solution however: bring over the Chinese to colonize the place!
Several domestic broils, which seem to have been fomented by Chinese policy, together with the variety of tribes inhabiting the country, seem to have kept this kingdom in barbarism, from which it did not emerge; while their neighbours, the Chinese as well as the Japanese, made rapid advances in civilzation.[...] Nothing is more ridiculous than to see the people so tenacious of ancient and useless forms, rather than desirous to keep pace with the march of improvement.
Full allowance, however, should be made for the uncivilized state of the country. Instead of allowing the Chinese to come over from Shang-tung to cultivate a large quantity of waste but arable land, they choose to live on salt fish rather than to have intercourse with foreigners. As long as this system of exclusion of which they boast continues, they must always remain in the lowest rank of nations.As can be seen, he manages to make broad assumptions about Korea in general based on the lifestyles he sees on a few islands on the west coast. Thus according to his experiences on sparsely populated islands, Korea "does not admit of a numerous and flourishing population; nor do we think there are any large cities to be found." Koreans also "choose to live on salt fish rather than to have intercourse with foreigners." As difficult as it is, I'll refrain from commenting on the "intercourse with foreigners" remark, as popular as that topic is in the Korean media these days (nor will I mention the eventual result Korea's initial "intercourse with foreigners" had, on a national level). Gutzlaff's primary concern, however, was not trade, but the spread of Christianity:
According to all accounts which we could collect, there are at present no Europeans at the capital, and Christianity is unknown even by name. We do not know how far we may credit the detailed accounts of persecutions which the Corean Christians endured, and endured with heroic firmness. If so many thousands as is said had been executed on account of their belief, Christianity would live in the recollection of the natives, at least as a proscribed creed; but we could discover no trace of it.Gutzlaff refers to the pogrom against Christians which, according to this site, had occurred around 1800, 16 years after the first Korean Christian, who had been baptized in Beijing, came back to Korea to prosetylize, and 6 years after a Chinese priest came to Korea; this priest was executed in 1801. The year before Gutzlaff's visit, in 1831, a second Chinese priest had snuck into Korea once again, but it wouldn't be until 1836 that the first western missionaries, two French Catholics, would come to Korea (of course, being Protestant, Gutzlaff had little time for 'popery').
As with the crews of the Lyra and Alceste, the islanders Gutzlaff encountered had a tendency to both repel and engage them:
They thought to be able, by persuasion, to keep us on the beach; but how great was their astonishment to see us hastening up the hill! When we turned in the direction of their dwellings they made a firm stand and would by no means permit us to proceed. What suggested this precaution of not allowing us to look at their miserable clay hovels we could not find out; however, we desisted from the attempt to intrude.They eventually anchored at a harbour called "Gankeang", which was apparently near Seoul.
[On] July 18 [we] started for a village which we saw yesterday from a hill. As soon as we stepped ashore, some persons took the trouble to conduct us to their village.[...] Several natives made the sign of beheading when we offered some trifles for their acceptance; others secretly pocketed some buttons, and one received a book, and immediately returned it, exclaiming "pulga," which we interpreted to mean fire, or burn it! There was very little chance of giving books in a direct way.
At every place where we afterwards met with Coreans alone, we found them [...] good-humoured and obliging. Thus we ought to ascribe the hostile feelings shown towards strangers, to the iron rules which the government inculcates. We cannot think that those signs of decapitation, made by the people on shore, were merely for pretence, but begin to believe, from the universal adoption of this gesture, that government would punish every transgressor with death, who dared to cultivate friendship with strangers.
Ascending the hills of nearby islands, one, which is densely populated and well cultivated, has a fort built upon a peak. [...] We finally ascertained that the large projecting point was an island, and separated from the main land only by a stream which disembogues into the sea. Had we gone in a north-east direction, we should very probably have arrived at the capital; for all the boats with the great mandarins came from that direction.He gave gifts and bibles to the 'mandarins' to take to the king, but, while they insisted they had been conveyed to Seoul, they were in fact never sent, and after days of waiting the officials finally came clean about this, prompting him to leave. Going south, they eventually passed by Quelpart island, before heading for the Ryukyu islands, much as the Alceste and Lyra had 16 years earlier.
Another British ship, the HMS Samarang, would visit Quelpart Island (Jeju-do) and several islands off South Korea's southern coast in the summer of 1845. This voyage produced three different books, all published in 1848:
Captain Sir Edward Belcher's 1848 book Narrative of the voyage of H. M. S. Samarang: during the years 1843-46 (which can be read here);
Midshipman Frank Marryat’s book Borneo and the Indian Archipelago (which can be read here);
And scientist and surgeon Arthur Adams' book Notes from a Journal of Research into the Natural History of the Countries visited during the Voyage of the HMS Samarang, Under the Command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, (which can be read here).
Belcher, who had taken part in the first Opium War, and had surveyed Hong Kong in 1841, had guided the Samarang on a surveying expedition from Indonesia and the Philippines north to the Ryukyu islands, Korea, and Japan between 1843 and 1846. On Okinawa, Adams makes clear (as does Belcher later) that he's well acquainted with former expeditions, making references to La Perouse and Gutzlaff's writing, as well as commenting on Okinawa's scenery, writing that "these gardens and temples, occupied by the officers and crew of the Alceste, are rendered doubly interesting by the graphic and pleasing accounts of Hall and M'Leod."
Between June 25 and July 15, 1845, Belcher surveyed Quelpart Island (Jeju-do), telling his hosts that
my Queen had sent me to visit foreign countries, in order to correct the charts by which our vessels might navigate in safety, and that it was important we should obtain a knowledge of the hidden dangers surrounding their island, in order that none should be wrecked upon its shores.When the locals tried to stop his boats from landing, he took action that set the tone for much of the Samarang's visit to Quelpart:
I thought it better to put the matter beyond further doubt; directing the men, therefore, to pull in, I leaped on shore, with a musket, followed by my crew, with their arms, and took possession of the mound. They instantly perceived that we were not to be trifled with, and a better understanding was soon established between us.
Adams, the scientist, described the physical aspects of the island which sound familiar even today:
Quelpart may be said to be an oval iron-bound island, covered with innumerable conical mountains, topped in many instances by extinct volcanic craters, and an bowing down before one vast and towering giant, whose foot is planted in the centre of the island, and whose head is lost in clouds. The whole surface, including the plains and vallies between the hills and even that of the mountain-flanks, is carefully, richly, and most beautifully cultivated and covered with a pleasing verdant vegetation, laid ont in fields divided by neat walls made of piled-up stones.Marryat, the midshipman, noticed other aspects of the island:
It is composed of innumerable hills in every variety of form, such as cones, saddles and tables. Most of these hills have forts built on their summits. From these, lights were displayed every evening, and it was astonishing the rapidity with which these signals were answered. I have seen the whole coast illuminated in less than five minutes, each hill appearing like a little volcano, suddenly bursting out.Belcher also wrote that
By day, this was effected by smoke, which was very cleverly, as well as prettily performed, by throwing wet chopped straw, and sometimes paddy husks into the fire, producing instantaneously a dense white column, afterwards used, in imitation, by ourselves for surveying signals.Marryat continued:
Innumerable forts and batteries are built along the coast [...] We found as we coasted along that all the forts are manned, the people being armed with matchlocks, spears, and arrows. On several occasions they fired their matchlocks, and the salute was returned by the six-pounders in the barges, which never failed of putting them to flight.
Despite these testy relations, they managed to have several meetings with local magistrates, and were able to secure provisions and permission to survey the coast. Adams described, during one of these meetings, punishment meted out to a civilian who had annoyed the Korean soldiers keeping watch:
When a man becomes troublesome or offends in any way, he is brought before the chief Mandarins, who first abuse him, and then order him to be seized and thrown down, when he receives a certain number of severe blows with a flat baton (formed like an oar and about six feet long), on the bare hams. Many carry about them severe traces of this bastinado practice in the forms of scars and ulcers.Belcher further described the beating, saying of the baton that they
brought it down flat over the back part of the hams, a little above the knee joint, with a force apparently sufficient to break the limb, but for the flexibility of the instrument. I interceded to prevent the repetition of such torture, but at least a dozen of these terrific blows were inificted before my wishes could be explained and acted upon. It appeared to me to be a most severe punishment, yet the instant the culprit was released he nimbly tucked up his garments and fled, possibly accustomed to this mode of castigation.Later, when they landed near Jeju city, the captain was invited to meet the local magistrate within the city. Marryat wrote:
This the captain, who suspected treachery, refused, and as we were going near to our boats, some of the natives laid violent hands upon our men, but having received from them a few specimens of our method of boxing, they soon quitted their hold. The Chinese interpreter was now missing; our men in consequence procured their arms, and landing, a strict search was made for him. He was found some little distance on land, having been enticed away by one of the chiefs, who was plying him with sam-schoo. On his way to return they forcibly detained him, and were in the act of conveying him away, when the appearance of the armed party from the boat surprised them, and they hastened to convey their own persons out of reach of our bayonets. It was not, however, our intention, or our policy, to commence hostilities, only to show them that we would not be trifled with.Keeping this behaviour by the locals in mind, when Belcher accepted the invitation to meet the magistrate in Jeju city, he made careful preparations:
Selecting a party, including marines and blue jackets, of thirty men, under arms, as a guard, and accompanied by about six officers, we landed at the beach, in front of the city, where several thousand people, including troops, with their banners, were drawn up to receive us.Delayed by evasive officials, made to march further and further from shore, and surrounded by Korean soldiers, Belcher began to get antsy:
[I] had taken into consideration the position of the town, as under the point blank range of the guns of the `Samarang'. The boats also armed with four field-pieces, and congreve-rockets, were at the beach, within sixty yards of the walls, with thousands to fall under a few discharges; and last, not least, the handful of picked men under my immediate command; I could not imagine, therefore, that these people could be such idiots as to provoke hostilities.Upon being told to disarm before entering the city gate, set in an alcove in the city walls, which left his men hemmed in and surrounded by Korean soldiers and thousands of citizens, Belcher turned back to the ship, and
gently captured a stray General, and gave him to understand that the safety of his head depended very much upon his piloting us safe; these arrangements completed, we advanced very leisurely along the western walls, until we reached the beach.Marryat's description of this kidnapping gives a better explanation of what "the safety of his head" meant:
[We] forcibly detain[ed] one of the mandarins upon the pretence that he must show us the way back, with the threat, that upon the slightest molestation on the part of his countrymen, we would blow his brains out, we commenced our march back to the beach, our two musicians playing with great energy, "Go to the devil and shake yourselves," which tune, struck up upon their own suggestion, was the occasion of great laughter among our party. At last we reached the beach without opposition, and the mandarin, who was terribly alarmed, was released.
Marryat made clear that things had not gone so well on the coast, however:
We then got into the boats and returned on board, where we heard that the cutter's crew had been compelled to kill or wound some of the natives, who had come down in a body and attacked one of the men with firebrands. The cutter was at anchor a short distance from the shore; on the natives approaching they seized their muskets, but did not fire until their shipmate was in danger of his life. Two of the natives had fallen and had been carried off by their comrades.After this incident, Belcher reproached the Koreans for their 'dishonourable' behaviour, saying that had any Korean magistrate come aboard his ship, they would have been treated well, armed escort or not. Leaving Jeju proper, they explored numerous islands just south of Jeju, naming several of them in the meantime, such as Barrow and Barlow islands (which can be seen on this map), and described Hallasan as "the highest peak of the island, which, from our computations, from various stations, reaches the height of 6,544 feet. This was named Mount Auckland." On one island, they met a well educated man who impressed Belcher greatly upon discussing some of the local plants:
He produced specimens of the Strychnos or St. Ignatius bean, which he informed me he had obtained from China, through Korea, and that he knew that it was brought to China by an European vessel. I endeavoured to ascertain how he had obtained this fact, and taxed him with having visited China himself. This he denied, but admitted having been at one of the chief cities of Korea, visited by the junks from China as well as Japan. He was unwilling, or fearful, to afford me any information respecting this latter place, but he most distinctly combatted any idea of their being either dependent or subject to any control but that of Korea. I despatched a messenger to the ship for some of the beans of the Strychnos, which had been presented to me by the Padres of Batan, and begged him to accept them, in the hope of obtaining further information, but the approach of evening, and the presence of others, who seemed to act as spies, put an end to our conference.
As interesting as Belcher's possible doubt as to Korea's exclusive control over Quelpart is, his observation of the Koreans' intereraction with his Chinese interpreter reveals how little people on Quelpart knew of the outside world:
They seemed to be very much surprised at the facility with which our Chinese interpreter expressed himself in the court dialect of China, and particularly at his assisting us, probably termed here, as in China, barbarians. They were so far, or pretended to be, ignorant of our transactions with the Celestial Empire, that they doubted the assertion of the interpreter, that England did not pay tribute to China; and when informed of their submission and payment of six millions of dollars, as ransom at Canton, and further discomfiture, and payment of twenty-four millions, at Nankin, they termed him a very bad man, to tell such untruths of his country.As interesting as their experiences on Quelpart are, the Samarang's crew soon begins exploring islands north of Quelpart, leading to discoveries which would have geopolitical importance 40 years later:
On the 15th we took a temporary leave of our friends at Quelpart, and steered a northerly course on our now bona fide voyage of discovery, into the Korean Archipelago. We had, indeed, charts of this region, but they were as much use as one of the Antarctic Regions, would be to show where icebergs might be looked for.While Marryat assures his readers that "[i]t would be tedious to detail our surveying operations", Belcher thankfully takes the time to tell of the discoveries they made north of Quelpart:
[We] proceeded to the examination of this new group [of islands]. It was found to be composed of three islands, two large and one small, deeply indented and forming a most complete harbour within, as well as a very snug bay without. The ship was anchored in the outer bay, and the day following devoted to the survey of the island. The natives, which occupied four distinct and exclusive villages were civil, and conducted one of my assistants to the summit of the highest peak. The necessity for expedition did not afford us time to observe more of these people than that their occupation seemed to be solely fishing, and that they had a tolerable fleet of well-found substantial boats. There did not appear to be any military persons amongst them, the elder of the village, generally well marked by age and silver hair, appearing as the sole authority; they were all clad in home-spun grass cloth, but of very poor material. In compliment to the Secretary of the Admiralty, the harbour formed by this group received the name of Port Hamilton.Belcher drew a map of this small island group, which would be seized by Britain in 1885 and held for three years:
It can also be seen north of Jeju Island on this map:
Naturalist that he is, Adams makes an interesting observation:
Among the Islands of the Korean Archipelago the children use the dried spiral eggs of a species of Skate, or some other cartilaginous fish, as rattles, having first introduced a few small pebbles to assist in making a noise.Belcher spoke of his attempts to trade with the inhabitants of these islands:
As nature seemed to offer but very scanty means of subsistence on land, beyond the artificial collections of earth, forming the gardens to their little stone-built cabins, their resources if not obtained from places inland, were from the sea; but from the specimens of nets and boats which we noticed, they were very far behind other nations in this pursuit. English hooks of various sizes, knives, scissors, and needles, were offered to them, but either from fear of their superiors, or ignorance of their true value, they were declined. On one or two occasions they produced their Sake, in compliment, and I returned it by sweet wine, which they appeared to esteem, but most carefully brought back the bottle, supposing it to be of value. They were surprised to observe it thrown into the sea, and on recovery it was soon conveyed as a treasure to the Chief, or his nearest friend.
Adams noted that
They are, however, very good-humoured, and seem to enjoy anything like a joke exceedingly. All appear to be passionately fond of spirituous liquors, nor can I say much for their morality of conduct. They are great smokers, carrying continually in their hands a long-stemmed pipe, with a diminutive brass bowl, which they fill and empty at brief intervals.Becher makes an interesting comment by saying that "[t]he people themselves appear to be composed of several races", amd then provides a catalogue of differences between the 'superior class', military chiefs, officers, soldiers, fishermen, and labourers, thinking these differences related to race. Of their character, Belcher continues:
In all their transactions with us, I noticed an irresolution, a fluctuation between violent opposition to our landing in the first instance, and after this act had been consummated, an equal disposition to friendship, clouded by the fear of displeasure from some unseen source.Belcher then reflected on his visit to Korea:
I cannot take leave of the Korean Islands without recording some notice of the change, which appears to have taken place, in the laws and habits of the people, since the visit of the `Alceste' in 1816; unless the author of that voyage misconceived their feelings and motives, in resisting any desire to land or communicate. The intercourse that subsisted between the Koreans and ourselves, aided by a competent Chinese interpreter, was of the most courteous description; accompanied by an avowal on my part, that I did not wish to enter their towns, and coupled with an assurance that my duties would confine me to the coast-line, or to such eminences only as they consented to my having access. One other point, noticed by us, does not coincide with the observations in the `Voyage of the `Alceste'. We found the Chinese written characters understood everywhere by the heads of villages, military Chiefs, and civilians, and frequently when a boat landed, the Officer has been shown a paper in that character, which, when brought to the interpreter, appeared simply to enquire, "what is your business?"The content of the rest of his description of his visit to Quelpart, as well as Marryat's account, paint a far harsher picture of Quelpart's denizens. The crew of the Samarang, of course, were not the only foreigners to feel that the people of Quelpart were possibly violently opposed to foreigners landing there. Robert Neff's description (part 1; part 2) of the 1888 visit to Quelpart by Charles Chaille-Long, the Secretary of the American Legation in Seoul, makes clear that that visit was also fraught with the potential for violence.
Events prior to the Samarang's visit prompted a visit by the French in 1847. As previously mentioned, according to this site, in 1836 two French priests snuck into Korea, but their work was interupted three years later:
In 1839, the Korean King got wind of the covert activities and ordered the extermination of the Catholic Church in Korea once for all. Consequently, over two hundred Catholics, including the French bishop, two French priests, and numerous Korean church leaders, were executed.This article continues:
On Aug. 10, 1846, two French warships, the Gloire and Victorieuse, that were sent to survey the Korean coast and to await Korea’s response to the murders of the French missionaries in 1839, ran aground off the coast of Cholla Province. The ships were completely destroyed but the crews were unmolested by the Korean population. They were eventually rescued after a small boat they had sent for arrived in Shanghai and dispatched help.Perhaps worth noting, as William Speer did in this 1872 article (helpfully subtitled by kimsoft), was the 'divine providence' at work in the wrecking of these two ships (Speer, as a protestant, was no fan of French 'popery') as
the French vessels of war, La Victoriense and La Gloire [...] had just been engaged in the bombardment of the principal port of Cochin-China, the burning of many native vessels, and the slaughter of thirteen hundred of the helpless people.Robert Neff also described the plight of a French whaler which was shipwrecked in Jeollanam-do in 1851 (part 1; part 2), as well as the attempt by Russia to set up a naval base on Tsushima in 1861, which got a rather unhappy response from the British. Keep in mind that this was only a year after the Russians had managed to acquire Vladivostok in the aftermath of the Second Opium War. It is likely that Russian exploration of Korea's east coast in this time period resulted in the Russian names seen on this map (Cape Kozakoff, Port Lazareff, etc) - whether it was the 1846 voyage of the Gloire and Victorieuse, or voyages by other French ships, which resulted in French names on the same map on Korea's west coast (Imperatrice Gulf), I'm not certain.
Numerous well known events occurred between 1866 and 1871 in which westerners landed on Korea's shores, and which mostly involved military confrontations.
In 1866 another pogrom against Korean Christians occurred, and 7 French missionaries were arrested and executed, along with hundreds of Korean Christians. A French priest escaped to China and let the French there know what was happening in Korea; the French decided to punish this. A French reconnaissance and surveying mission arrived on Sept. 20, 1866 and stayed for a week, sailing as far up the Han river as Yanghwajin (near Hapjeong station in Seoul today). Before returning to China, they were told of the sinking of the US merchant ship General Sherman near Pyongyang, which had occurred earlier that month. Between October 13 and November 18, 1866 the French invaded Ganghwa Island, but failed in their attempt to force Korea to open.
In May 1867, Ernst Oppert, with the aid of a French priest, attempted to steal the Taewongun's father's corpse in order to to press the Korean government to open up to foreign trade and cease persecuting Christians. He failed, but later wrote a book about his adventure, which was reviewed in the September 1880 issue of the New Englander and Yale review.
In 1871, an American expedition carrying US minister to Beijing, Frederick Low, hoped to establish trade and diplomatic relations with Korea and discover the fate of the General Sherman. On board was photographer Felice Beato, who took the photo above as the arrived off Ganghwa-do, likely making it the first photo taken in Korea (numerous photos of the campaign can be found here) Instead of trade relations, the US ships were eventually fired on as a result of a misunderstanding. The resulting conflict is well documented at the Shinmiyangyo website, where the text below comes from.
Speaking of meeting low-level Korean officials on board his ship, on May 31, 1871, admiral John Rodgers noted that
Their object appeared to be to learn all they could of our purposes and intentions, without committing themselves by the direct expression of assent or dissent to what was said to them; but their manner of non-objection conveyed the impression of actual compliance with our wishes. They were assured of our non-aggressive disposition, and were distinctly told that only to resent assault should we resort to arms. They were informed that we wished to take soundings of their waters, and to make surveys of the shores. To this they made no objection. We expressed the hope that no molestation would be offered to our parties in landing or passing up the river, and requested that word be sent to their people that they might preserve the friendly relations which were desired. It was further stated that twenty-four hours would be given to make this announcement to people along the river, before any movement was made. To all this they made no reply which could indicate dissent. So, believing that we might continue our surveys while further diplomatic negotiations were pending, an expedition was sent to examine and survey the Salee River, which empties into this bay, and leads into the River Seoul, which passes near the city of Seoul, the capital and residence of the Sovereign.As Thomas Duvernay notes here, "The simple, but very serious miscommunication was that the Americans took the Koreans’ silence for compliance, while it was actually disagreement. "
Speaking of the "short but decisive campaign against the Corean barbarians", Harpers Weekly (on September 9, 1871), continued the story (though report what was described above somewhat differently):
The fleet arrived off the mouth of Salt River about the last of May. Communication was at once opened with the authorities, who readily gave the fleet permission to make a survey of the river. The survey was undertaken on the 1st of June, and was proceeding quietly until the boats reached a bend in the river, where an attack was made upon them from an ambuscade. The attack was repulsed with great promptitude and gallantry, and the enemy was driven from his guns and position. The Corean government having failed to apologize for this treacherous attack, an expedition was dispatched on the 10th of June to bring the enemy to his senses and to terms.
The battle left some 350 Korean soldiers and 3 American soldiers dead, and some 200 Koreans taken prisoner. When the US side tried to use the prisoners to bargain with the Korean government, they were told to keep such cowardly soldiers. In the end, the US would lose diplomatically, despite winning militarily, as it was unsuccessful in trying to force the Korean government to open diplomatic or trade relations.
Four years later, in 1875, the HMS Audacious, flagship of Britain's China squadron, would make another visit to the islands that Edward Belcher visited in 1845 and named Port Hamilton. An account of that visit has already been posted here.
A conclusion looking at the bigger picture painted by the details of these travel accounts will be posted later.