▲ Punishment at the mines, circa 1910. Photo courtesy Robert Neff collection
Louis Charles Nicholas Maximillian de Montigny, the French Consul at Shanghai, had had enough. He and his expedition had sailed from Shanghai to Jeju Island in search of the missing crew of the French whaler Narwal and the only Korean official they had met refused to meet them or come out of his fortress. If he wouldn’t come out then Montigny would go in.
In the pouring rain, Montigny and his men approached the fortress’s gate and verified it was locked. James MacDonald described the stronghold’s walls as being made from rough stone and nearly 20 feet tall with numerous embrasures in the parapet, a projecting bastion at each of the four corners and a covered gateway. “It was nearly 200 yards in length and about 900 yards in breadth,” he declared, “and to judge from its decayed appearance was probably built during the war with Japan about 150 years ago, and neglected since that time.”
The Chinese sailors in the group, “each armed with a pair of double short swords, put on a fierce look, as if in expectation of a desperate sortie from the garrison,” stood in front of the gate while a French sailor scaled the wall and opened it from within.
The sight that greeted them was one that provided amusement and relief. The interior was not filled with angry Korean soldiers but was empty with the exception of a small field of rice, several small huts, two ponies and, of course, the Great-Frontier-Protecting-General who was bristling at the audacity of the Westerners in breaching his sanctuary.
The general was a man of middle stature with an olive complexion. His features were somewhat sharp but interesting, especially his eyes which resembled the Japanese more than the Chinese and were very piercing. He looked very intelligent.
He wore a fine loose short of grass cloth, trousers, stockings, and a pair of leather boots of very neat workmanship – the upper part made out of black velvet. His official tunic was a loose tunic trimmed with scarlet silk and “confined by a broad sash of blue at the waist.”
A rusty sword hung at his side. Complimenting this was a delicate hat “composed of black silk and hair” and adorned with peacock feathers.
According to MacDonald, the general, despite being furious at the intrusion, “put on a good face on the matter, and received us courteously in the only place he seemed to possess adapted for public occasions. It was a small square cottage, open to the west which direction it fronted, and partly at the sides, being covered with a good thatch roof, which was supported by four substantial wood pillars about eight feet high, the base resting on stone pedestals, and have a plank floor and tolerably clean.”
The general, who informed them his name was Lee, provided mats for his uninvited guests. Again, written Chinese was used to communicate.
While Lee and the Westerners con-versed, a large number of Koreans from the village gathered about the hall to watch. As more of them gathered, they became noisier and noisier until their chatter annoyed the general and he, in a loud voice, commanded the noisiest onlooker to be seized.
The hapless spectator, “making not resistance by word or action, quietly submitted to be thrown on the ground with his face downwards, his clothes were then drawn down bare from the waist to the knees, and the instrument of flagellation was [then] applied to the hams of his legs…”
MacDonald wrote that a club resembling a flat paddle was used and that it was a “cruel and severe punishment, tearing the flesh, and making the blood spurt after a few strokes [were] given.”
Montigny was appalled at the savageness of the “contemptible” punishment and was convinced that the general had ordered it administered in front of him and his party in an attempt to intimidate or awe them. Montigny was unimpressed. He informed the general that he considered it an insult to have people punished in front of him in such manner. The punishment promptly ceased.
Montigny’s sternness and behavior “had the designed effect of reducing the boisterous manner with which [Lee] at first attempted to repel [them], into the most deferential attention.” Food was brought including boiled rice, dried fish, slices of beef, vegetables, seaweed and a species of sea slug, accompanied by samshoo. It is interesting to note the absence of liquor.
Despite Montigny’s repeated requests, the general would offer very little information about Korea. He acknowledged that his country was “Tchaou-sin” (Joseon) but for some reason he informed them that Quelpart Island (Jeju), which he called “Tsee-chow”, was some 100 miles to their east. He also denied knowledge of any recent shipwreck in the region.
Montigny was convinced that the only way to ascertain their exact location would be to return the following morning with the nautical charts to remedy the confusion. Thanking the general for his hospitality, the shore party returned to their boat.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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