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The Samarang's misadventures in Jeju
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승인 2011.08.14  04:28:29
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▲ Narrative of the voyage of H.M.S. Samarang during the years 1843 - 46, circa 1848.Courtesy Robert Neff Collection

The H.M.S. Samarang’s voyage along Jeju’s coast was filled with encounters – most of them negative. There was a great deal of mistrust between the British sailors and their involuntary Korean hosts.

In many places, the British surveyors were harassed by crowds, sometimes curious but often hostile. They were prone to knocking down the surveying stakes and on several occasions threatened violence.
Belcher, in his accounts, does not elaborate very much on these incidents except to note that as the Samarang was sailing along the coast a Korean battery fired upon the ship’s gig (a small boat). Giving the islanders the benefit of the doubt, Belcher considered it a clumsy salute, but when a second shot soon followed there were no further questions as to the battery’s intent. Belcher was induced “to return the compliment” – shot for shot – and that “put an end to their amusement.”

But not all of these encounters were negative. Captain Belcher invited a young magistrate aboard the Samarang so that he could look around and see what a British warship looked like. The Korean official was very impressed with the sheep, goats, and fowl that were kept aboard the ship as provisions. He was equally impressed with the comforts the British crew enjoyed in regards to their housing. It would be remiss of me not to note that the British alcohol and other Western delicacies were also very well received by the official.

The Koreans reciprocated by inviting Belcher to shore, where he met with a senior official who questioned him as to why the Samarang had come to Jeju. Belcher explained that he had been sent by his queen “to visit foreign countries, in order to correct the charts” so as to prevent shipwrecks. The Korean official was impressed and invited Belcher to go to Jeju City to meet the island’s senior official. He also promised to provide bulls and vegetables for his crew.

But from this point on, things took a turn for the worse. Frank Marryat, a midshipman, describes if not exaggerates, in detail, some of the crew’s less-than-courteous encounters that followed.

When the Samarang first approached Jeju City, it found thousands of people on the beach awaiting its arrival. One of the Samarang’s barges, manned by 20 men, was sent to the beach to accept two bulls that had been earlier promised.

As soon as they landed they were promptly invited to go and meet with Korean officials. But, vastly outnumbered, the men refused to leave the vicinity of their boat, explaining that they still needed to do some surveying at another point further down the beach before nightfall. When they got back into their barge and attempted to sail along the coast they found themselves surrounded by a large group of Korean boats which had been fastened together with ropes, that refused to let them pass. It was only after the British boarded the ships and threatened the crews with their cutlasses were they able to continue on their way.

Then, once they arrived at their surveying point, they found that the crowd had followed them and again, gifts were offered in the form of refreshments at a spot a short distance from the beach. The British refused and, after conducting their survey, tried to get back to their boats, but the Koreans “laid violent hands upon” them and the British were forced to give them “a few specimens of [the British] method of boxing.”

It was at this point that they discovered their Chinese interpreter, Asang, had been lured away with the promise of alcohol. They quickly organized a rescue mission and returned him to the boat.

The following day, the Samarang anchored in front of Jeju City. In light of the recent events, Captain Belcher took the precaution of having all his ship’s cannons loaded with “round and grape” and pointed directly at the city walls. He then landed with an escort of 30 handpicked marines armed with muskets, bayonets, and cutlasses and were preceded by a drummer and fiddler.

Belcher described the Korean honor guard as lining the main road to the city with “spears on our left, and forty-eight matchlocks, with lighted matches, on our right.” When the British tried to march through the gate they were stopped by Korean officials who informed Belcher that it was against their laws to allow such a large force of men within their walls. In turn, Belcher informed them that he had been invited and would not proceed without his men. At an impasse, Belcher ordered his men back to the beach and to ensure his men’s safety had a Korean officer kidnapped and held as hostage.

At the beach Belcher had a message sent to the Korean magistrates in which he chided them for the incident at the gate and declared that he was “ashamed of their conduct” and felt they were no longer “entitled to respect.” A note was returned in which the Koreans offered an apology and a further invitation to enter the city as Belcher wished, but he declined and instead offered his own invitation for the Korean officials to visit the Samarang where they would truly be treated as guests. The Koreans declined.

It was after his return to the ship that Belcher learned of another incident involving a survey party. The islanders had tried to force one of the British crewmen off a cliff. When a warning shot from a musket failed to dissuade the islanders it was followed by a cannonball and a volley of musket fire which resulted in several Koreans being wounded – if not killed.

Shortly after leaving Jeju City, the Samarang anchored near a small island to conduct some surveys and obtain water and other supplies. After Captain Belcher and a group of men went ashore they were approached by a small group of Korean officials. The Koreans brought with them gifts of fans, alcohol, writing paper, sweetmeats and, surprisingly, a portrait of the Korean king. One of the Korean officials was taken aboard the Samarang, but Belcher remained on shore to supervise the final surveys. After the Korean official had returned from his visit of the ship, Belcher gave him a world map; a number of seeds including melon, cucumber, orange, pumpkin, plum and lettuce; and promised to return.

Shortly afterwards the Samarang left Korea. The three primary accounts of the Samarang’s voyage (Belcher’s and two of his crewmembers’) have helped to create the impression that Korea, especially Jeju Island, was hostile to foreigners. This reputation would later contribute to Korea unwillingly being opened to the West.

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