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The Jeju revolts part threeLeaders of Jeju rebellion stand trial in Seoul
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승인 2009.10.05  12:45:32
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American, William Sands, left, was instrumental in ending the conflict that engulfed Jeju in the late nineteenth century. Photo courtesy Robert Neff

Editor’s recap:
In 1897, nearly 6,000 Jeju islanders rebelled against heavy taxes imposed on them by the Korean government. When reports of the rebellion reached Seoul, an American- William Franklin Sands, was ordered to go to Jeju and quash the rebellion. Many bloody battles later, Sands ended the rebellion and captured the rebel leaders. Part three tells the story of their trial.

Accompanied by 250 Korean soldiers, the new governor of Jeju’s arrival on the island signified the end of the rebellion. Over the next couple of days, William Franklin Sands– an American advisor to the Korean government- accepted the surrender of thousands of rebels who had not fled the island. Sands was amazed by the variety of their weapons and clothing: “Some were dressed in leather cloaks with hairy dog-skin hats like the coon-skin caps of American pioneer riflemen, the tail of dog dangling over the shoulders.”

Their weapons were just as exotic and archaic. Some men were armed with traditional bows and iron-tipped arrows, many had spears, flails, and weapons constructed from household and farming implements. There were also firearms, but most of these were the old Korean matchlocks and not very effective.

There was also, according to Sands, a “museum collection of small bronze hand cannon[s] of great age.” Some of the smaller cannons were of Chinese design and could be transported from site to site on a man’s back. The larger cannons had to be propped up on walls or piles of stones; these fired slugs, stones and scrap metal, but had a limited range.

Sands realized it would be impossible to arrest and prosecute all of the rebels so he chose 13 of the primary leaders and placed them aboard the steamship for transport to Seoul. Prior to leaving Jeju, Sands advised the new governor to not inflict any reprisals upon the remaining rebels and not to levy any additional taxes upon Jeju residents until he heard from Seoul. The governor agreed. It was a short-lived promise. Soon after Sands left, Japanese newspapers reported that Christians were taking revenge upon the rebels and that a Japanese warship, the Saiyen, had been sent to protect the Japanese living on the island.

Upon returning to Seoul, the rebel leaders were handed over to the Korean government and Sands gave his report to Emperor Gojong. He was convinced of Japanese involvement in the revolt and was very vocal with his beliefs. He felt that “the Japanese smugglers had buttressed their own trade by fostering anti-European feelings” and had encouraged the islanders to rebel. Documents, written in Japanese and promising Japanese aid and assistance, were seized from the rebel leaders and the captured Japanese rifles and shotguns added weight to his accusations. Horace Allen, the American minister to Korea, did not believe the Japanese government was involved. He could not conceive of Japan supporting an uncontrollable movement that “would work harm to all.”

A court was convened to try the rebels fairly; using Western ideas of justice and administered by Korean judges. Ironically, Sands offered to sit with the Korean judges as an observer, to ensure that the rebels were given a proper defense and that the court would not be subjected to pressure from foreign influences. The French legation also sent a representative to monitor the court.

The trial naturally generated a lot of attention in Seoul, especially among the Japanese residents. When news of the revolt first reached Seoul and Sands was originally sent to the island with Korean soldiers, a Japanese reporter from the Seoul-based Hanseong newspaper had asked to accompany them. Sands refused and earned the ire of the Japanese press. During the trial, the Japanese journalists were determined to be present and, accompanied by soshi (armed ruffians), forced their way into the judges’ chambers. Their sudden appearance and weapons terrified the Korean policemen and judges and they refused to observe the “ordinary decencies” of court. Sands promptly “threw them out personally and vigorously.”

Intimidation by foreigners was not the only obstruction to a fair trial. Allegedly, both the accused and the witnesses brazenly lied throughout the trial. In exasperation the judges, after conferring with Sands, ordered a “slight return to primitive methods.” A saw-buck and paddles were brought into the court room and immediately had their desired effect- fear. The witnesses and accused were convinced that they would be beaten until they testified with the ‘truth’ that the court wanted to hear. They readily agreed to re-testify and the trial was completed. The accused were found guilty. Later, Sands surprisingly claimed that “it was the last trial on the Western model as well as the first.”

The incident would prove costly. It incited not only anti-Catholic sentiment in Japanese newspapers, but also in Korean English publications that were mainly controlled by Protestants. This led to a greater animosity between Catholics and Protestants throughout Korea and a spread of anti-Christian sentiment amongst Koreans.

Korea was also required to pay France an indemnity for damage done to the Catholic mission on Jeju. This further enflamed the anti-French sentiment amongst the Korean people who were already angered with French attempts to secure concessions and gold mines through political intrigue and loans.

However, there were some positive results of the rebellion. First, the Korean government established a garrison of soldiers on the island; which permitted more foreigners to visit and explore the island. It also meant that Sands gained the appreciation and gratitude of not only the Korean government, but also the French government. The French government later presented him with a medal for his role in quelling the rebellion.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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