[Update: I mixed up Robert Lee Dunn's biography
with that of Robert Steed Dunn. This has been corrected, and what I wrote about the latter has been moved to the bottom of the post.]
Back in December 2006, I wrote about the occupation of Korea
after the Battle of Chemulpo (Incheon) at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War
(1904-05). It had been my intention to write about some of the foreign correspondents who covered the war, and now I'm finally getting around to it. This will be the first of several posts looking at, primarily, the adventures and observations of the only three foreign correspondents to get to Korea before the war broke out (and before the Japanese prevented any others from going to Korea): Jack London, Robert Dunn, and Frederick McKenzie.
Prologue: The Japanese Invasion of Korea
Part 1: From Japan to Korea
Part 2: In Seoul and Chemulpo
Part 3: Along the coast of Korea
Part 4: R. L. Dunn: Jack London Knows Not Fear
Some photos of Koreans taken by Jack London in 1904
Jack London's photos all online
Richard Rutt on Jack London's Korea-related fiction
R. L. Dunn: Making presidents by photography
After it became apparent that war between Japan and Russia was inevitable, the first war correspondents to leave the United States
for Japan were those who sailed from San Francisco on the steamship Siberia
on January 7, 1904. Among those on board this ship was writer Frederick Palmer and photographers James H. Hare and Robert L. Dunn, who were all working for Collier's Weekly, Captain Lionel James, writing for the London Times, and Jack London, who was writing for the San Francisco Examiner.
Robert L. Dunn, second from left, Jack London, center,
Frederick Palmer, third from right.
, who turned 28 during the trip to Japan, is probably the best known of these correspondents. He had worked in factories from the age of 13, and by 17 he had been an oyster pirate and had sailed on a sealing ship which had stopped in the Bonin Islands
and Yokohama. Upon his return, he became a tramp and traveled across the U.S. and Canada. He then finished high school and briefly attended the University of California before a lack of funds forced him to quit. In 1897 he sailed north to take part in the Klondike gold rush, where he suffered from scurvy and lost several teeth. Upon his return he started writing short stories. His first attempt at war journalism was during the Boer War, but it ended by the time he arrived in England; he instead spent several weeks living in the slums of London's east end, which led to the book, "People of the Abyss
." This book was published in 1903, as was his most famous book, "Call of the Wild."
As he wrote on January 7, 1904, "Sail today for Yokohama. Am going for Hearst. Could have gone for Harper's, Collier's, and N. Y. Herald—but Hearst made the best offer." London wrote many letters home to his future wife, and so we know that he quickly came down with a flu. On January 13 the Siberia
stopped in Honolulu, and departed the next day. As he described things the on the 15th,
Am still miserable with my Grippe, but getting better. Had a swim in the surf at Waikiki. Took in the concert at the Hawaiian Hotel, and had a general nice time. The war correspondents, the 'Vultures,' are a jolly crowd. We are bunched up at the Captain's table, now that the passenger list has been reduced by the lot who left at Honolulu. In fact, the trip to Honolulu had three bridal couples which sat at the upper end of the table. This is a funny letter - the correspondents are cutting up all around me; and just now I am being joshed good and plenty.
His next letter, dated January 20, was not as cheerful, as he sprained, and nearly broke, one of his ankles:
Now I have two weak ankles. I fear me I am getting old. Both my knees have been smashed, and now both my ankles. It might be worse, however. What bothers me just now is that I don't know just how bad this last ankle is. Absolute rest, in a rigid bandage, has been the treatment, so not even the surgeon will know till I try to walk on it.
There was a good side to the accident, however:
The smashed ankle is the misfortune; the fortune . . . is the crowd of friends I seem to have collected. From six o'clock in the morning till eleven at night, there was never a moment that my stateroom did not have at least one visitor. As a rule there were three or four, and very often twice as many. I had thought, when the accident happened, that I should have plenty of time for reading; but I was not left alone long enough to read a line.
The next day, he described himself as “Quite the cripple, hobbling around on a pair of crutches,” and on the 24th wrote that he was “walking (very slowly, and limpingly, and carefully) without crutches.” The ship landed at Yokohama on January 25.
Already in Japan was another correspondent, 34 year-old Frederick Arthur McKenzie, a Canadian working for the London Daily Mail, who had sailed to Japan from Australia. McKenzie was born in Quebec in 1869 (he described himself as "Scots-Canadian) and by 1893 was living in London, England, and working for the Pall Mall Gazette
, before joining the staff of the recently established London Daily Mail
in 1896 - the same year he published a book about how different countries had dealt with temperance and prohibition, titled Sober by Act of Parliament
. In 1900 he covered the Boer War, contributing an article to a book published that year; in 1901 he published an article about the "the worst street in london
," and in 1902 published The American Invaders
as a "lurid expose[...] about the American economic onslaught and its baleful consequences."
McKenzie in October, 1904
In his 1905 book From Tokyo to Tiflis: Uncensored Letters from the War
, he described his passage to Japan:
Only a few days before I had been traveling in a Japanese ship. As we were some days out at sea we had no means of knowing whether war had broken out or not. In case of war we knew there was at least the possibility of our being intercepted by a Russian cruiser. “If we do meet with a Russian ship,” the captain told me, “we must escape or go down. If I talked of lowering the flag, the very coolies in the engine-room would kill me. You don’t surrender a Japanese ship.”
He also described the situation of the press in Japan at the time:
The press was already under strict censorship, and was compelled to deal in generalities. Freedom of speech was severely limited, for Japan, despite its attempts to pose as a country with representative government, is almost as much a bureaucracy as Russia. The twenty-odd daily papers in Tokyo were subject to rigid discipline. Even the correspondents of the foreign press to the police quarters at Yokohama and warned in the most solemn manner of the penalties they would incur should they disseminate information which the authorities wished kept back. English newspapers were as much restricted as were the native. In olden times the Anglo-Japanese journal had absolute freedom of expression. With the abolition of extra-territoriality, it came under the same rule as they purely Japanese papers.
After being in Japan for a week or two, McKenzie headed for Korea:
I found myself at Moji, the Gibraltar of Japan. Whether you arrive by land or sea, the place gives an immediate impression of culminating majesty. Great hills tower up in every direction and behind them lie snow-clad mountain peaks proudly topping them. Here and there you spy openings on the rocky shore, artfully concealed natural harbours. A well-protected channel takes you into the bay of Shimonoseki itself, and here, after a short journey, you come on the twin towns, Moji and Shimonoseki, on either side of the bay.
It was from there, one presumes, that McKenzie caught a ship bound for Busan. During the last days of January, he arrived in Korea, which he noted was “now in transformation, transformation proceeding so rapidly that those who knew the land even three or four years ago can scarce credit the change.” He noted that Busan, where he first landed, was “probably bound to be, within a generation, one of the great ports of Eastern Asia.”
Today Fusan consists mainly of a neat and clean Japanese settlement, with a Korean town across the hill forming a somewhat startling contrast, and on the heights a few American missionary houses. […] Fusan was busy at that moment pushing on the great railway to Seoul, which was intended to play so large a part in the Japanese domination of the peninsula. [...]
Now the magistrate was carried through the narrow roadways in state on his palanquin by human bearers. Now the child slave, borne to the ground by a heavy burden, passed along. The shops displayed nothing but the meanest goods, for this is the land of small manufactures. The people, curious yet good natured, crowded around me. [...]
I did not remain in Fusan many hours. Now that war was practically certain I knew that the first fighting must come around Chemulpo and Seoul, and that was my destination. A few days later, in the closing hours of January, 1904, we made our way slowly on the Santo Maru up through the floating ice of Chemulpo harbour and landed at that port. Chemulpo harbour was full of men-of-war, all assembled ostensibly to protect foreigners from a feared native uprising at the Korean capital.
I gazed with particular interest at the Russian cruiser, the Variag, and at her little consort, the Korietz. Few of us thought that, within a few days, both would be trapped and sunk.
The Korietz and the Variag, February 8, 1904
Here was a pleasurable surprise. A well-laid broad gauge railway was ready to take us to Seoul. The cars were comfortable, spacious, well-cushioned, and steam-heated, brought direct from America. The freight trucks standing on the sidings were bigger and better than any I know on the English railways. The track was smooth, and I made the journey from the little port of Chemulpo to the capital of Korea in greater comfort than one travels as a rule from London to Dover.
Meanwhile, by this time back in Japan, Colliers photographer Robert Dunn had been dispatched to Chemulpo, leaving soon after the Siberia
reached Yokohama (though he was originally, according to this article
, assigned to the Japanese Fleet). Dunn, who was 29 at the time, was born on October 15, 1874 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Robert Lee Dunn in Seoul, February 1904
He became a photographer and correspondent for Harper’s and Collier’s Weekly, covering Theodore Roosevelt
when he was Governor of New York, President McKinley
's visit to San Francisco in May 1901, and Prince Henry of Prussia
's visit to the U.S. in 1902. He also photographed Theodore Roosevelt taking the oath of office after the assassination of President McKinley in Buffalo in September 1901:
As Frederick McKenzie wrote of him,
Dunn is American every inch. A Tennessee man, trained in New York, he will do anything, bear anything, go anywhere, to get a beat. He is capable of asking a General to delay a bombardment until the light grows better for picture taking.
The qualities that McKenzie describes are what helped make Dunn one of the only three correspondents to slip out of the Japanese military's grasp and sneak into Korea before the war started, and would serve him well on the arduous journey ahead.
As for London, according to this site
When Siberia docked in Yokohama, London made the rounds of the bars he had visited 10 years earlier when he was a seaman on a sealing vessel. After fulfilling his vow of imbibing a drink at each of his old watering holes, he joined his fellow correspondents in Tokyo. [...]
Among the most distinguished of the correspondents was Richard Harding Davis. The polished, aristocratic Davis was the walking image of the 19th-century gentleman, lending an air of class and style to the grim business of war reporting. In contrast to London, who reflected the rugged experiences of seaman, laborer and vagabond, Davis was comfortable socializing with admirals, generals and statesmen. Despite their very different backgrounds, however, a strong friendship developed between the two Americans that would prove to be very helpful to London in the coming weeks.
He didn’t remain in Tokyo long. Noting that Dunn had left, on January 28 he took a rather unheated train to Kobe, hoping to catch a ship bound for Korea. As the next ship wouldn't depart until February 3, he decided to head for Nagasaki, “twenty-two hours' ride on the train and no sleeping car.” Failing to find a ship to Korea in Nagasaki, he “made an all-day ride back from Nagasaki to Moji to catch a steamer” on February 1, buying a ticket that morning for an afternoon departure.
Before continuing with London’s tale, it might be worth noting how McKenzie had described Moji:
It was hard to realize that around here was one of the most strongly fortified spots on earth. Every trace of the gigantic naval and military preparations proceeding in the neighbourhood was as carefully covered as possible.
As London wrote in the article, “How Jack London got in and out of Jail in Japan,”
Having bought my ticket at the Osaka Schosen Kaisha office, I tucked it into my pocket and stepped out the door. Came four coolies carrying a bale of cotton. Snap went my camera. Five little boys at play—snap again. A line of coolies carrying coal—and again snap, and last snap. For a middle-aged Japanese man, in European clothes and great perturbation, fluttered his hands prohibitively before my camera. Having performed this function, he promptly disappeared.
“Ah, it is not allowed,” I thought, and, calling my rickshawman, I strolled along the street.
His path led him to the middle-aged man – and a police station.
Great excitement ensued. Captains, Lieutenants, and ordinary policemen all talked at once and ran hither and thither. I had run into a hive of blue uniforms, brass buttons, and cutlasses. The populace clustered like flies at doors and windows to gape at the “Russian spy.” At first it was all very ludicrous – “Capital to while away some of the time ere my steamer departs,” was my judgement; but when I was taken to an upper room and the hours began to slip by, I decided that it was serious.
Though this photo was taken in Korea, it may suffice to illustrate the scene:
I explained that I was going to Chemulpo. “In a moment,” said the interpreter. I showed my ticket, my passport, my card, my credentials; and always and invariably came the answer, “In a moment.” Also the interpreter stated that he was very sorry. He stated this many times. He made special trips upstairs to tell me that he was very sorry.
They scrutinized his movements in Japan:
“Why did you go to Kobe?”
“To go to Chemulpo,” was my answer. And in this fashion I explained my presence in the various cities of Japan. I made manifest that my only reason for existence was to go to Chemulpo; but their conclusion from my week’s wandering was that I had no fixed place of abode. I began to shy. The last time my state of existence had been so designated it had been followed by a thirty-day imprisonment in a vagrant’s cell! Chemulpo suddenly grew dim and distant, and began to fade beyond the horizon of my mind. [...]
“What is your rank?” was the initial question of the next stage of examination.
“Traveling to Chemulpo,” I said was my business; and when they looked puzzled I meekly added that I was only a correspondent. [...]
And then they threshed through the details of the three exposures, up and down, back and forth, and crossways, till I wished that the coal coolies, cotton coolies, and small boys had never been born. I have dreamed about them ever since, and I know I shall dream about them until I die. [...]
Now concerning my family, were my sisters older than I or younger? The change in the line of questioning was refreshing, even though it was perplexing. But ascertained truth is safer than metaphysics, and I answered blithely. Had I a pension from the government? A salary? Had I a medal of service? Of merit? Was it an American camera? Was it instantaneous? Was it mine?
The three photos on the film were developed, and he was told he could pack his trunks, but was soon back at the police station. As he wrote in a letter two days later,
Of course, I missed steamer. Very sorry. Carted me down country Monday night to town of Kokura. Examined me again. Committed. Tried Tuesday. Found guilty. Fined five yen, and camera confiscated. [...] All of which was eminently distasteful to me, but I managed to extract a grain of satisfaction from the fact that they quite forgot to mulct me of the five yen. There is trouble brewing for somebody because of those five yen.
London quickly wired Richard Harding Davis, who was still in Tokyo, and requested his aid in retrieving his camera from the Japanese. Davis contacted his old friend Lloyd Griscom, the U.S. minister to Japan. Griscom met directly with the foreign minister, Baron Komura, and requested the return of London's camera. As this site
[Komura] explained to Minister Griscom that the camera was "a weapon involved in a crime" and thus became the property of the state. London had been convicted of espionage and his "weapon"—the Kodak folding camera—was thus forfeit.
Griscom, apparently a man of nimble wit, recorded in his memoirs that he asked, "Does this apply to every crime?" The legal counselor to the Japanese Foreign Minister intoned, "Yes, to every crime of every description."
"If I can name a crime to which it does not apply, will you release the camera?" Griscom asked. Baron Komura, the Foreign Minister agreed.
"What about rape?"
According to Griscom, Komura's "Oriental stolidity dissolved in a shout of laughter," and Jack London got his camera back.
London explained what happened next in a letter written on February 9:
I was to sail Monday, Feb. 8th, on the Keigo Maru for Chemulpo. Saturday, Feb. 6th, returning in the afternoon from Kokura (where my camera had been returned to me)—returning to Shimonoseki, I learned the Keigo Maru had been taken off its run by the Jap Government. Learned also that many Jap warships had passed the straits bound out, and that soldiers had been called from their homes to join their regiments in the middle of the night.
And I made a dash right away. Caught, just as it was getting under way, a small steamer for Fusan. Had to take a third class passage—and it was a native steamer—no white man's chow (food) even first class, and I had to sleep on deck. Dashing aboard in steam launch, got one trunk overboard but saved it. Got wet myself, and my rugs and baggage, crossing the Japan Sea. At Fusan, caught a little 120-ton steamer loaded with Koreans and Japs, and deck load piled to the sky, for Chemulpo. Made Mokpo with a list to starboard of fully thirty degrees. It would take a couple of hundred of such steamers to make a Siberia. But this morning all passengers and freight were fired ashore, willy nilly, for Jap. Government had taken the steamer to use. We had traveled the preceding night convoyed by two torpedo boats.
Dunn and McKenzie were now in Chemulpo and Seoul, and London was stranded in Mokpo. The reason for the torpedo boat escort, and he and his fellow passengers' ejection at Mokpo, was because the day before Japanese ships had forced the Russian ships to seek shelter in Chemulpo harbor, while another Japanese squadron had carried out a sneak attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur at midnight. The Russo-Japanese War had begun.
[Continue to Part 2
[Below is what I had written about Robert Dunn before discovering that I had written about the wrong person. The description below is of Robert Steed Dunn.]
Dunn, who was 27 at the time, was born in Rhode Island, and attended Harvard. Like London, Dunn went to the Yukon and Alaska during the gold rush, as he describes in this 1902 article
in Outing Magazine. Referring to his college friend Jack, he wrote:
In June, 1898, while in college, we heard that the last herd of bison roamed the Arctic Basin of North America; that it was a country full of gold; that a thousand Argonauts were dying off and going mad up there on the way from the Hudson’s Bay slope to the Yukon. We left college. By November we had covered 1500 miles of the Mackenzie River Valley. We hadn’t found any gold or bison – had shot only seven bears and a lynx – but we had crossed the Rocky Mountains up underneath the Arctic Circle by a trail which men said all who had taken had died upon […] That sort of thing changes a man queerly. After we reached civilization we wanted to go right back north again. We didn’t care for gold or game now. We simply wanted to travel in the North, beyond all horizons, among unexplored mountains. Our friends couldn’t understand it – and we didn’t altogether either. But we had to suffer civilization for two years. In 1900, we were free again, and got out our maps of the north. […] Simply, the whole region inspired us; it was our country, God’s country, no matter what the scurvied gold-seekers said.
Robert Steed Dunn in 1903
As the article above details, in 1900 they returned to Alaska and confirmed that Mount Wrangell was a volcano and that Mount Tillman did not exist, writing "One thing is certain, we have wiped at 16,600-foot mountain from the position where it has been accepted to lie for fifteen years." Upon his return from the Klondike Dunn became a journalist. He was a correspondent for the Commercial Advertiser
under Lincoln Steffens
, and was assigned to accompany the relief expedition of the USS Dixie to Martinique after the devastating Mount Pelée
eruption - the deadliest of the twentieth century - in May 1902, where he gave this description of the village of Morne Rouge
It’s huts were roofless, its villas wrecked, its tropic gardens mashed to earth ; Morne Rouge was crusted gray with ash and mold ; it was a corpses’ town ; it seemed wrong to meet live beings there.
In the summer of 1903, he returned to Alaska again to accompany Frederick Cook
in his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to climb Mount McKinley. Dunn wrote five articles for Outing Magazine
(published between January and May, 1904) about the trip, which, unlike every other exploration narrative to that point, detailed all the squabbling and arguments that took place between the members of the expedition. When fellow explorer 'Hiram' threw a punch at Dunn, "In ten seconds he was lying on his face, chewing silt and gravel [...]" Later that day, he wrote:
Here in camp we’re holding a post-mortem of the day. The Doctor and Hiram seem tuckered out, and are asleep in the sun with their mouths open; not beautiful sights, with Alaskan crops of whiskers. Miller is cooking green wild currants. They use up lots of sugar, which I don’t care for, and I take a sadistic delight in seeing our sugar hogs—we won’t mention names—suffer from its lack. Jack observes that Hiram has been washing gravel out of his hair.
As the photo above should demonstrate, Dunn's experiences in Alaska prepared him for the rigors of travel during a northern Korean winter.