A port in Jeju circa 1890. Photo courtesy“Korea 100 Years Ago in Photographs”by Kim Won-mo and Cheong Song-kil
On September 27, in the middle of a powerful storm, Chaillé-Long’s expedition arrived at Jeju Island’s northern port, Pelto. An incredulous crowd of islanders gathered at the city’s walls and dock to see who had challenged the furies of nature. Their astonishment turned into anger when it became apparent that the ship was Japanese and even more insulting, had a Westerner aboard.
The islanders were “insulting and defiant,” as they declared that no foreigner could land in Jeju and insinuated violence if he tried. The American was convinced that their threats were not idle and that if he did try to land the crowd would make good on their threats and undoubtedly, cut short his career. Turning to his interpreter, Kim, who was “weakening badly,” Chaillé-Long ordered him in a stern voice to “stand up and show your Corean dress to these people; tell them to hold their tongues, we do not care to land until the mandarin so orders. Send your chief to us.”
Chaillé-Long’s audaciousness had an immediate effect. A man immediately came forward and took their passports and rushed away – apparently to deliver them to the governor. He was followed by a portion of the crowd, but the majority remained and continued to stare angrily at the white foreigner. According to Chaillé-Long they jostled one another along the city’s walls and dock trying to get a better glimpse of him and occasionally he could hear them mutter amongst themselves about the calamities Jeju would surely experience as the result of his impious visit. “The situation was novel, but it was not new,” he declared referring to his travels in Africa where, while riding a horse, he was mistaken for a centaur.
While he waited he studied the port. Pelto, known by Western cartographers at the time as North City – for want of a better name, was a walled-city with an estimated population of 3,000 people living in houses built from black stone with thatched roofs. “[T]he town has an air of solidity which gives it the appearance of having been a fortified place,” he wrote and he envisioned that it was from here that the Mongol fleet had preyed upon commerce in the surrounding sea. Chaillé-Long was still convinced that he was following in the footprints of the great Kublai Khan.
As the sun began to set it became clear to Chaillé-Long that there would be no audience this evening with the governor. Although the islanders appeared calmer, he was still concerned about the possibility of being attacked in the darkness. The storm had abated, but there was still a strong wind from the north that would make it difficult for them to sail out in an emergency. As a precaution, the Bravo Maru anchored a short distance from shore and the expedition, all armed with daggers, literally went to sleep on their oars, ready to start rowing if the need arose.
The night passed relatively quietly except for one incident that Chaillé-Long described as “calculated to make us somewhat nervous as to its real intention.” A small Korean boat had suddenly appeared at two in the morning and a request was made for Kim to go ashore. Chaillé-Long refused to send him.
The following day at noon, there was a great commotion on shore. The blare of trumpets, the “discordant notes” of Korean reed instruments and a bagpipe (Chaillé-Long was convinced that the Scottish bagpipe had its origin in Korea) were mixed in with the strange cries of servants and chair bearers signaled the arrival of high Korean officials. A tent was erected and two standards with orange and red banners adorned with “strange painted devices” were planted before its entrance. Word was then sent for Chaillé-Long and his interpreter to come ashore and present themselves to the Korean magistrate.
Wearing the uniform he wore while in service in the Sudan, he and Kim, who was dressed in his finest clothing, made their way ashore and were promptly surrounded by a mob of curious Koreans. Chaillé-Long later wrote that although his uniform was somewhat worn, it “was still elegant and attractive [and] the gold lace and rich braid struck a chord in the fancy of the people who crowded” around him to get a better look. Those who got too close were beaten back by Korean policemen armed with conjangs (wooden paddles) “which in Chae-Ju, as in Corea, inspires the public with some respect…”
Perhaps at this point he felt like he was experiencing deja-vu. He had worn this same uniform in 1874 when he visited Uganda and had an audience with King Matusa – a regent infamous for his cruelty. More than ten thousand Ugandans had gathered to witness the event – an event that King Matusa honored with human sacrifices. The king commanded a group of his warriors to rush into the crowd and lasso all of those within reach, then, with clubs beat out the brains of their victims’ right in front of Chaillé-Long.
It must have been with a great deal of apprehension that Chaillé-Long made his way to the tent. Would his audience with the Korean official of this forbidden island be honored with friendship or violence?
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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