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In search of the Narwal - Part Three
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승인 2010.06.25  16:17:57
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▲ " Photo courtesy Terry Bennett, "Korea Caught in Time

Louis Charles Nicholas Maximillian de Montigny, the French consul at Shanghai, and his party returned to the lorcha following their meeting with Gen. Lee, a Jeju Island official. Montigny was satisfied with his efforts and confident that he and his expedition would eventually find and rescue the crew of the French whaling ship – the Narwal.

Like Montigny, most of the men were exhausted, and promptly went to sleep – the only exception being the night watchman. It was this “negligent” watchman that nearly cost them their lives. A sudden and violent gale from the east, accompanied by a cold and cutting rain, hit the unprepared lorcha. The howling winds were so severe that the ship, despite being anchored, was driven towards certain destruction upon a nearby island’s rocky shore.

The crew, most of them partially dressed, stumbled to the deck and a second anchor was dropped but was rendered useless by the increasing wind.

James MacDonald, a Shanghai-based English merchant and a student of mythology, wrote: “We were driving fast down upon Eden Island, and although the night was black as Erebus we could already discern the white foam lashing the shores of the island which we were rapidly approaching.”

Their only hope was to cut themselves free from their anchors and attempt to sail away from the approaching rocks. But in the darkness and confusion of the storm, the ax could not be found. Many of the men resigned themselves to their impending fate, including the consul.

He told MacDonald in a firm voice, “We will go on shore and the only circumstances I regret is that I should been the means of bringing you into danger; as for us [the French crew and members of the consulate], we did our duty in coming to relieve our country-men and must take the risk.”

But MacDonald was determined to live. To the lorcha’s Portuguese captain, “whose neglect had nigh ruined our expedition,” he issued sharp orders that went against the convention of the sailors but were obeyed in desperate hope. It was luck, rather than nautical skill, that saved them. Just as it seemed that the ship would be driven ashore, the storm abated.

“The crowing of the cock that morning was welcome music to us, for it heralded the approach of dawn. By daylight the gale had died away – the larks rose from the grassy bank on the back of the bluff, chanting their notes over our heads – never before did I heartily wish to be out of hearing of them, for it made me shudder to look round at the rocks … [It was] a night never to be forgotten by us who escaped its dangers.”

The crew lost no time and began preparations to sail away in hopes of finding a safer anchorage but the whims of Mother Nature are fickle. Just as they started to sail away the wind died and they were forced to remain at their precarious anchorage.

As a precaution, additional anchors were dropped and the two cannons were removed from their mounts and placed in the hold to act as ballast. A message was also sent to Lee, the chief Korean magistrate, to visit the ship the following morning.

MacDonald and some of the men spent the rest of the day in a sampan (small boat) surveying the precipitous bluff of the nearby island. They were enthralled by the numerous lofty caverns that perforated the cliff and provided shelter for myriads of seabirds.

“These were very tame and many flew around us making much noise being disturbed by our unusual appearance, or perhaps in their own way demanding satisfaction for the loss of certain of their kindred, whose career had been shortened by powder and lead on the previous day.”

Again, at dusk, the wind began to blow – this time from the west – accompanied with a driving rain.

“That night was an anxious one for our party and few on board went to sleep. Below, the creaking and groaning of the bulkheads with the horrid beating and rocking noise of the helm banished all peace: above, the wind and rain howled and beat hard, while the swelling seas would now and again curl their white crests as we rose upon them, and rolling past spend their fury on the rocks … the violence and rapidity with which we plunged and rolled exceeded anything I ever before experienced.”

Once again, the storm was short-lived and by morning the wind faded leaving only a tempestuous sea. Sometime in the late morning, Lee and several Korean officials approached in a large Korean boat but, because of the dangerous state of the sea, were forbidden to come alongside. Instead, the lorcha’s sampan was sent to them and the visiting Korean dignitaries had to be literally “bundled on board” and transported to the lorcha.

It was a visit the Koreans would soon regret.

Eribus (Erebus), whose name means darkness of shadow, was the son of the god Chaos. According to some legends, Erebus was the part of Hades in which the newly-dead had to pass.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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