▲ The Korean coast circa 1900. Photo courtesy Robert Neff Collection
On July 6, 1863, the 381-ton British bark, Barracouta, commanded by Captain Kemp, departed Hakodate, Japan for Shanghai, China with a cargo of lumber and seaweed. In addition to the crew, the ship had on board Captain Kemp’s family including his wife, his adult daughter and their younger children and a Chinese passenger.
A review of the shipping records for Japan and China fails to mention the Liverpool-based Barracouta, so it may be safe to assume that it and its English crew had not been in the Far East very long. The voyage from Hakodate to Shanghai would have normally taken them less than three weeks, but Kemp had not considered typhoon season and the treacherous currents around Jeju – it was nearly a fatal mistake.
For most of the journey the weather had been good, but on the morning of July 19 off the coast of Jeju the ship encountered a violent gale that grew stronger and stronger as the hours passed. The driving rain and heavy seas played havoc on the ship, and by that evening the sails were ripped to pieces, and the ship was helplessly driven northward by the wind and currents.
It was at 3:20 a.m. that the ship struck a submerged rock and rapidly began to fill with water near the southwestern coast of Jeju. The pumps were manned, but after only a few minutes it was apparent to all that the ship was lost. A lifeboat was lowered, and the captain’s wife and children were lowered into it before they were joined by most of the crew – the only exception being the ship’s carpenter, who had turned and went back below deck. Ordering the boat to be rowed to a safe distance from the doomed ship, Kemp called out for the carpenter to jump into the sea so that they could pick him up, but the carpenter didn’t answer. There was nothing else to do but to abandon him to his fate.
It was only after a desperate 30 minutes of bailing and rowing that the shipwrecked survivors were able to reach shore, at which point they realized the carpenter was not the only one missing – the Chinese passenger was nowhere to be seen.
A village was discovered not too far from the beach, and part of the crew made their way to it seeking assistance. They were soon followed by the captain and his family, who discovered that the Koreans would not let them enter the village. Fortunately, the storm had broken, and they were taken to a spot between the village and the beach where they were provided with food and straw mats to sit on.
Just before daybreak they were taken back to their landing site, where they were surrounded by a large band of Koreans who forced them to sit down. They were miserable; the storm had long since broken, and the scorching sun beat down upon them unmercifully.
It was nearly three in the afternoon when a flurry of flags and music announced the arrival of a Korean official. Dressed in fine white clothing and wearing a “Chinese mandarin hat,” he took possession of a small tent that had been erected on his behalf. His finery contrasted greatly with that of his subordinates, who were “poorly clad … tattooed in a black streak on the inside of the ankle and lower part of the leg [and] many of the people appeared affected with a kind of leprosy.” Captain Kemp was convinced that they were prisoners and that Jeju Island was “a convict station of the Coreans.”
It was often reported in these early shipwreck accounts that the Koreans, for the most part, were honest and did not condone theft – this encounter was no different. The Korean official, after a short rest, commanded that several men be brought before him and summarily punished. This “was carried out by laying them on their stomachs on the ground stripping down their trousers, and bastinadoing their hinder parts with a wooden paddle.” Apparently the men had stolen the boat’s rowlocks and a bucket.
This was not the last beatings they would witness. According to Kemp, the official “seemed to rule, if not with a rod of iron, with a wooden paddle” and any offenses, no matter how small, were quickly dealt with. “In one instance a man sent with a message did not run fast enough, and being called back, a few strokes of the paddle quickened his pace considerably after a second start.”
It wasn’t until the evening that Kemp and some of the men were brought before the Korean magistrate. The magistrate attempted to communicate with them using Chinese characters, but none of the Englishmen, all of them relatively new to the Far East, were able to read or write Chinese. The magistrate, somewhat disappointed, gave them some food while he and some of the villagers went to examine the life boat.
While the magistrate’s attention was on the boat, some of the Englishmen managed to climb a small hill and locate the site of the shipwreck. The ship had sunk in shallow water – only the royal mastheads were visible. However, on a nearby small island they noticed a small flag flying and were convinced that it had been set up by the carpenter and Chinese passenger. Rushing down to their boat, they tried to put out to sea in an effort to rescue their companion, but the Koreans refused to let them leave. Instead, a group of Koreans were sent to the island and brought back the only survivor – the carpenter. The carpenter related that when the crew began to abandon the ship he suddenly remembered that the Chinese passenger was still asleep. In a desperate attempt to save him, he went back to the man’s quarters and roused him. As the ship sank they managed to cling to a capsized boat but the effort was too much for the passenger, and he was swept away – never to be seen again.
Now that they were all together, the Korean magistrate commanded them to be taken to a small tent that had been set up for them. Here, they were given some rice mixed with other grains and a small amount of pork which, according to Kemp, was highly prized by the Koreans.
Despite being exhausted from the tribulations of the day, they passed a restless night guarded by a large number of Koreans and awaited the dawn of a new day and the possibility of a rescue.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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