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Part Five In search of the Narwal
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승인 2010.07.31  19:56:58
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▲ Photo courtesy 'Old Days of Korea Through Pictures (1),' by Hae Sol-ja

After leaving Jeju Island, the lorcha set course for a small island group off the coast of Korea where it was believed the shipwrecked survivors of the French Narwal were held. The weather once again turned foul and throughout the following day the lorcha sailed from island to island seeking safe anchorage from the fury of the wind. The foremast was soon ripped away by the howling northern wind and the main-sail was torn to shreds.

Several members of the party suggested that they sail back to Shanghai and organize another rescue expedition but Louis Charles Nicholas Maximillian de Montigny, the French consul, would not hear of it. He commanded them to return to their work and cease grumbling and then reminded them that they had come to rescue fellow Westerners.

He added that if they should return to Shanghai without the whalers they would all “never hear the end of it.”

Fortunately, the storm soon abated and the next day the lorcha was able to limp from island to island searching for the shipwrecked whalers. Finally, after stopping at a small Korean village and asking directions, they arrived at the island where the whalers were being held.

A Korean official greeted them and took Montigny and his party to a small village where the whalers were being kept. Montigny and his men were surprised when they discovered that some of the islanders could speak a smattering of French. Apparently the French whalers decided to capitalize upon their uniqueness. Korean sight-seers who came to gaze at the foreigners were charged a small amount of tobacco to satisfy their curiosity. The whalers also earned tobacco and food by teaching French. James MacDonald explained, “Some of the villagers also took lessons in the French language in which they succeeded much better than Chinamen could have done; and it was diverting to observe them exhibiting their proficiency, to us, as they pointing upwards would exclaim ‘Le soleil,’ and looking down cry, La terre.’ The R’s and L’s, which puzzle the Chinese of the South, are too common sounds in Corean to be difficult to them.”

Finally the whalers were brought before Montigny. Even though the men had been well treated by the Koreans, they had clearly suffered to some degree.

“A month in Corea had certainly not refined their appearance, and the meager and broken-down looks of some of them bespoke little satisfaction with their diet of rice and aromatic fish thrice a day, varied by the addition of a small portion of beef every seventh day.”

They had been confined to two small huts surrounded by a court yard. If the whalers left their confines, the Koreans who had been designated to watch them were “bastinadoed without mercy.” Even though the French-men chafed at being confined, they refrained from leaving the courtyard so as to spare their minders from the savage punishment.

Montigny was outraged when he saw that each shipwrecked survivor had been “marked like animals in a herd” by being required to wear wooden tags about their neck – each with an identity number. These wooden tags were myung-pae, and were a form of identification that Koreans were required to have at all times.

For nearly three day the expedition and the rescued whalers remained on the island learning as much about the Koreans as they could. The Korean officials they spoke with apparently knew much of the recent affairs going on in China – including the continued problems between the Western Powers and the Chinese government – but were reluctant to talk about them. They were, however, willing to talk about their own government.

“The newly ascended King whose designation is Jih-ho [Sun-fire] is said to have sprung from a very humble position in society; he who is now a King, being actually said to have been once a beggar!”

The king they were referring to was Chol-jung. He was born on Kangwha Island in 1831 and was relatively poor and uneducated – unable to even read. When the previous king, Hong-jong, died heirless, Chol-jung was selected as the new king. It has been speculated that his nomination was because of his illiteracy which would allow him to be controlled by the powerful Andong Kim clan.

Just before sunrise on the morning of May 4, the expedition, including the shipwrecked sailors, set sail for Shanghai. Unbeknown to the Korean officials, there were two other men aboard.

“We brought away two Corean Christians, recognized to be such by their making the sign of the cross to us on our first visit to their village. These were poor illiterate fellows, unversed in Chinese, and consequently incapable of communicating their ideas to us. Their Christianity did not in my eyes suffice to excuse them for their ignorance and stupidity. On the second day of our return voyage, when out of sight of land, they became seasick and begged us by signs to lower one of the boats and convey them back!”

Apparently the boat was never lowered. On the morning of May 7, 1851, the lorcha, “a genuine Tower of Babel … with individuals of more than ten nations,” sailed into Shanghai harbor. Montigny and his expedition had succeeded.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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