▲ The wreck of the French bark Alice near the Columbia River in 1909. Photo from Wayne Bonnett, “A Seafaring Heritage.”
In the 1880s, the seas of the Far East were filled with small ships; many owned and commanded by Westerners. These Western captains, occasionally accompanied by their wives, braved fierce storm- and pirate-infested seas in an effort to make their fortunes. Some succeeded but many failed. One such failure was Captain Watt and the Mary.
Very little is known of Captain Watt except that in late June of 1881, while in Nagasaki, Japan, he and his wife bought the 240-ton schooner Mary. The Mary had a crew of 10 Chinese sailors and an Englishman, W. T. Guy, who served as first mate. For the next couple of months they plied the waters around northern China, Japan and up to the Russian port of Vladivostok transporting goods and passengers.
On Sept. 18, 1881, they left Chefoo, China, bound for Vladivostok with 60 tons of general goods, and 23 Chinese passengers. The weather was good when they departed. A light breeze propelled them slowly across the Yellow Sea and on the morning of the 23rd they sighted Jeju Island. As the Mary sailed through the strait separating Jeju from the Korean mainland, the winds began to shift and grow stronger and the sea became turbulent. By nightfall the wind had become a malevolent storm of darkness and driving rain.
At 3 a.m. Captain Watt ordered the sails to be brought in and the anchor dropped, but it was too late. The Mary firmly grounded itself upon a submerged shoal and, unable to free itself, was battered by the pounding waves. There was nothing for them to do but huddle in the cabin and try to weather out the storm.
By the light of day they discovered that they were only about 55 meters from shore, but because of the violent sea, it was impossible to lower a boat. Guy swam to shore with a rope in hopes of using it to ferry the passengers and rest of the crew to safety but the rope slipped and was lost. Before another attempt could be made the Mary began to break apart.
Some of the crew and passengers were washed overboard into the maelstrom, including Captain Watt and his wife, and were never seen again. But fortune smiled upon most of the Chinese who had sought refuge on the jib boom for as the ship broke apart they were propelled towards shore. As the survivors made their way to shore a group of Koreans appeared and began to assist them.
According to Guy: “There were then several Coreans on the beach, and one of them took off a mat that he was wearing and gave it to me to keep the rain off. We waited and saw the last of the vessel, and then the Coreans took us to a house close by and gave us some congee made of crushed wheat, made a fire for us, and sent a messenger to a village some distance off to inform the mandarin. In the afternoon the mandarin came and took us to the village. Here they gave us a house and some food. We slept there that night, and next morning after breakfast we went down to the wreck, where we found that the vessel was entirely broken up. In the meanwhile the Coreans had picked up all the bodies and put them out of the water. The Mandarin ordered some of his men to dig holes in the ground and we buried them - 16 in number.”
Unfortunately the location of these graves has been lost with the passage of time. The survivors spent one more night in the village and then, the following morning, after breakfast, were conveyed to Jeju’s capital. At the capital they were taken before the governor who demanded to know where they were from and why they had come to Jeju. The Chinese managed to convey in Chinese writing to the governor that they were on their way to Vladivostok and had been forced ashore by the storm. They further declared that Guy was an Englishman and that all Englishmen were bad.
“It was not only at this place that they said this, but at every other place we went to they made it their special business to run all Europeans down to the lowest, and praise themselves,” Guy recorded.
After their audience with the governor they were given a feast and quarters in a small house where they waited for instructions from Seoul. Finally, after 71 days, word arrived that they were to be repatriated to China.
It was perhaps this final leg of his journey that was the hardest for Guy. Several times they were transported by small junks for various lengths of time. The longest was for 44 days in which Guy said they were “cold, wet, and very often hungry.”
After an ordeal of nearly seven months he arrived in Shanghai, China, on April 30, 1882. Like many shipwreck victims repatriated from Korea through China, he praised the Koreans for treating him with “the greatest kindness” and denounced the Chinese for their mistreatment.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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