After reports of a rebellion on Jeju Island reached the Korean government, William Franklin Sands, an American working as an advisor to the Korean government, was ordered to put down the revolt before the French could use it as a pretext to occupy the island.
Sands had often been chosen by the Korean government for difficult tasks. In this case, he chose a unit of 100 Korean soldiers from Kang-wha Island which he augmented with several Japanese-trained officers from the Korean military cadet school. He was less than pleased with his soldiers and described them as “tatterdemalions”, “ragamuffin,” and “the nearest troops [he] could find who were not quite useless.” However, they were armed with fairly modern weapons; carrying Berdan and Gras rifles from the 1870 Franco-Prussian war which had been sold to Korea by the French.
The soldiers were quickly loaded aboard the Korean government steamer, Han Sung; they then sailed speedily to Jeju Island in hope of beating the French. They failed. The French warships had arrived first and found the rebels in complete control.
Upon their arrival the French warships had sounded several blasts of their horns in warning before the rebels withdrew far enough for marines to be landed. As soon as the marines landed the two French missionaries rushed out to meet them, and the missionaries, as well as many Korean Christians, were taken aboard the French warships.
The Han Sung arrived shortly after the French landing took place and Sands immediately notified the French that he was assuming control of the operations against the rebels on behalf of the Korean government. The French readily accepted his authority, but admitted they did not like “to leave a white man in such a mess,” and asked if he was sufficiently armed “even against his own men?” Sands also had doubts of his own troops’ loyalty and later commented that his weakness was “treachery within, rather than the rebel numbers.”
The French assured Sands that their warships would remain off the coast and provide him with shore bombardment if needed. They also equipped him with rockets, flares, and pennants to signal with in case he was in trouble and needed immediate help.
Sands quickly landed his troops under the watchful eyes of the rebels who held positions in the hills surrounding Jeju City; which he quickly occupied.
When Sands and his troops arrived in Jeju City they were unprepared for the scene that greeted them. The city gates hung wide open and the narrow streets were littered with the rotting corpses of horribly mutilated bodies. The rebels had indiscriminately murdered the young as well as the old, and left their bodies exposed to the heat of the sun.
Sands, realizing his men were badly outnumbered, positioned them along the walls one by one so that their number appeared greater than it actually was. Throughout the rest of the day and that night, the rebels, from their concealed positions in the hills surrounding the city, occasionally fired small cannons known as jingals but most of their shots fell short of the walls.
However, it wasn’t the cannons that worried Sands – it was the Japanese snipers. He was convinced that amongst the rebels there were at least a couple of Japanese snipers armed with the newest Japanese military issued Murata rifles. The rebels had seemed hesitant and uncertain until a Japanese warship arrived at which point they seemed to have grown more confident as if they expected the Japanese to intervene on their side. Sands was to be proven right, as the Japanese snipers would often take shots at him but, as he later claimed, “fortunately the average Japanese boatman is no better with foreign shooting weapons than the Koreans.”
Cannon and sniper fire was unnerving Sands’ troops and he was told by one of his Japanese-trained lieutenants that the soldiers were talking amongst themselves of commandeering the Han Sung and leaving their officers, and Sands, at the mercy of the rebels. Sands decided to send his steamship away for reinforcements and by doing so deprived his men of a way off the island. They would be forced to work together or die together.
It was through deception that Sands eventually got most of the rebels to surrender. He purposely lost fabricated documents, knowing that the rebels would find them, which declared that a large number of troops were on their way to the island. These documents also claimed that unless the rebels surrendered prior to the arrival of the reinforcements, they would be shown no mercy and all would be executed.
With the continued presence of the French warships, the failure of the Japanese to intervene, and the fake documents promising leniency, most of the rebels either surrendered or turned-in their leaders. Those that did not turn themselves in either fled in Japanese fishing and smuggling boats or were soon arrested when a reinforcement of 250 Korean soldiers arrived. The rebellion had ended.
The next installment will examine the aftermath of the rebellion.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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