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Last updated: March 19, 2013
Accounts of Korea published in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries

The earliest mentions of Korea are almost always found in books about China. The list of such books is huge, a major online resource, Bibliotheca Sinica, lists over 3,000 titles with links to online texts / facsimiles.

Much of great interest can be found in the Blog of Professor Cheong Sung-Hwa, especially the pages beginning with Accounts on Korea by Jesuit Missionaries in China during the First Half of the 17th Century

There is an extensive treatment of the early cartographers in a published paper by Henny Savenije.

All the books referred to in these pages are listed in an online bibliography.

The first Europeans to sail beyond India as far as the countries of North East Asia were the Portuguese. If we are to believe his written account, Fernão Mendes Pinto  (1509 – 1583) was probably the first European ever to reach Japan. Some time before 1540, during adventurous journeys, Pinto and two companions boarded a Chinese pirate junk, which was cast by a storm onto the Japanese island of Tanegashima, just south of Kyushu; a few years later, in 1542 or 1543, they returned to Japan and gained the favor of a feudal lord, to whom they claim to have given the first European firearm to have entered Japan, the Portuguese arquebus. The weapon was to have a major impact on the Japanese civil wars as well as the ensuing invasion of Joseon Korea. In 1549, he describes how the Catholic missionary Francis Xavier went to Japan, with other Jesuits. Pinto met him in Japan later and describes his activities, which he supported. The extraordinary story of this strange beginning was written down in or soon after 1569, after his return home, but was only published in 1614, years after Pinto’s death in 1583, with the title Peregrinaçam de Fernam Mendez Pinto, after many other travel books had already created a market. A complete French translation Les voyages advantureux de Fernand Mendez Pinto was published in 1628, reprinted in 1645 (click here for a clearer 19th-century edition). (Click here for the French text of some chapters describing the activities of (Saint) Francis Xavier in Japan).
 The adventures Pinto related are so many and so hair-raising that he has always been suspected of embroidering reality but the book deserves to be read for what it is, the record of the memories of a man who had been in places that no European had ever seen before and who had no reason to falsify what he saw. [
A modern English translation of the complete Portuguese text was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1992: The Travels of Mendes Pinto, Edited and translated by Rebecca D. Catz.]

A very much abbreviated English version, that lacks almost all the mentions of Francis Xavier and the Jesuits, appeared in the mid-17th century: The voyages and adventures, of Fernand Mendez Pinto, a Portugal: during his travels for the space of one and twenty years in the kingdons of Ethiopia, China, Tartaria, Cauchinchina, Calaminham, Siam, Pegu, Japan and a great part of the East-Indiaes.  With a Relation and Description of most of the Places thereof; their Religion, Laws, Riches, Customs, and Government in time of Peace and War. Where he five times suffered Shipwrack, was sixteen times sold, and thirteen times made a Slave. Written Originally by himself in the Portugal Tongue, and Dedicated to the Majesty of Philip King of Spain. Done into English by H C. [Henry Cogan] Gent. London, Printed by F. Macock, for Henry Cripps, and Lodowick Lloyd , and are to be sold at their shop in Popes head Alley neer Lumbar Street. 1653 see Internet Archive version or National Library of Portugal). Click here for the text of two extracts from this version, the first about the introduction of the arquebus.

In the years that followed, Portugal and Spain competed for the right to preach and trade in the Far East, counting on the Pope to make the final decision. By 1600 Spain had also acquired trading and mission rights in Japan, but the Dutch and English were not far behind. The Portuguese and Spanish viewed them as pirates and treated the crew of any ships they captured with great harshness. The Jesuits in Japan sent back reports and letters regularly. These were then published and translated and they contain the first references in passing to Korea, especially once the Imjin invasion began.

Because of the deep conflicts and rivalries, religious, commercial and military, between the Catholic nations of Spain and Portugal and the Protestant lands including England and the Netherlands, the development of knowledge about and then contacts with the Far East in England mainly came thanks to two remarkable Dutchmen.
Dirck Gerritsz Pomp (also known simply as Dirck Gerritsz or Dirck China) (1544–1608), was born in the town of Enkhuizen, then went to Lisbon in 1555, to learn Portuguese and train as a merchant. In 1568 Dirk established himself as a merchant in Goa. He sailed to China and Japan at least twice, arriving in Japan on July 31, 1585 for his second visit there, on the Santa Cruz (which belonged to the German bankers the Fuggers and Welsers). He returned to Goa on the same ship, on his way back to the Netherlands. In Goa Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563-1611) boarded the ship, having learned that the Archbishop had died during a journey back to Portugal. He seems to have learned in detail about Gerritsz’s journey to Japan during the long voyage back to Europe (it forms the 36th chapter of Part 3 of his Itinerario after having first been published in 1595 in his Reys-gheschrift). It may well be that the information about Korea in the Itinerario (see below) also came from Gerritsz. While Jan Huyghen was obliged to remain in the Azores for two years dealing with business involving a lost or damaged cargo of pepper, Gerritsz returned to Enkhuizen in April 1590. He composed an account of trade with China which was published in 1592 in Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer‘s Thresoor der Zeevaert (‘Treasure of navigation’). In the summer of 1598 he joined a five ship Dutch expedition under admiral Jacques Mahu that was to either buy spices in the East Indies or head for China and Japan to load up with silver and silks etc. Mahu died during the voyage and Pomp received command of the Blijde Boodschap.  Another of the five ships was the Liefde (see below). Short of supplies, the Blijde Boodschapentered the port of Valparaíso in November 1599 and was captured by the Spanish. Five years later, in 1604, Pomp was freed. He went aboard a ship belonging to the Dutch East-India Company in 1606 and disappeared from history, presumably dying during the voyage home.
Jan Huyghen van Linschoten 
also seems to have originated from the town of Enkhuizen, certainly he returned there after his time in Asia. The honorific title ‘van Linschoten’ is one he seems to have given himself in Goa, to improve his social standing. He had no connection with Linschoten and it is not known why he chose it. He left the Netherlands in 1580 to join his half-brothers in Seville. After spending some time in Portugal, one of his half-brothers got him a position as secretary to the newly appointed Archbishop of Goa, João Vicente da Fonseca. He and the Archbishop left Portugal on April 8, 1583. He spent about five years in Goa as Secretary to the Archbishop and during that time he avidly collected information, and made copies of many secret maps and roteiros / portolans (navigation charts) and acquired other sensitive commercial information. Learning that the Archbishop had died in 1587, during a journey back to Portugal, he managed to leave Goa late in 1588 on the Santa Cruz where he found Dirck Gerritsz working as ‘constable.’ They arrived in the Azores on July 24, 1589, and he was obliged to spend the next two years there, negotiating with the local customs officials over a cargo of pepper that had been rescued from a wrecked ship from the fleet. During this time he composed his main works, the Reys-gheschrift and the Itinerario. Arriving back home early in September 1592, the Amsterdam publisher Cornelis Claes first published the Reys-gheschrift, in 1595; the text was then included in the larger volume published in 1596 under the title Itinerario: Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naar Oost ofte Portugaels Indien … 1579-1592. In this volume, which was soon translated into a variety of languages, Linschoten shared the commercially sensitive information he had had access to in Goa, thereby giving Dutch (and other) merchants information on Portuguese sea-routes to the Far East. It includes a short description of Korea, the first ever published (See this link also for more about the Reys-gheschrift and the Itinerario.). In June 1594, Linschoten sailed in the first expedition headed by Dutch cartographer Willem Barentsz, hoping to discover a route to China passing to the North of Siberia (north-east passage). He was also on the second expedition in 1595 but did not join the disastrous third, in 1596-7 when the crew had to spend the winter camping on the ice and Barentsz died. He and others published descriptions of these expeditions.

It was only in 1600 that a Dutch ship first reached Japan, initiating a commercial relationship that was to last throughout the centuries of Japan’s isolation. The story of this ship, the Liefde, shows the enormous danger of travel at this time. One of the fleet under admiral Jacques Mahu that originally consisted of five ships, it arrived alone in Japan. One ship failed to pass the Straits of Magellan, one was captured by the Spanish (see above), one sank in a Pacific Ocean typhoon, and one was ‘eliminated’ by the Portuguese in Indonesia. In April 1600, after more than nineteen months at sea, the Liefde with a crew of about twenty sick and dying men (out of an initial crew of about 100) arrived at the island of Kyūshū, Japan. They made landfall on 19 April off Bungo (present-day Usuki). Among the survivors were the Liefde‘s captain, Jacob Quaeckernaeck, and treasurer, Melchior van Santvoort, as well as the pilot, the Englishman William Adams (1564 – 1620, see my own page). They soon met Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo of Edo and future Shogun, who took a strong liking to Adams, especially. As a result, Adams became a very influential samurai, settled permanently in Japan, and helped open trade with England while the Dutch sailors, with Adams’ help, obtained permission to set up trade between Japan and the Dutch East India Company. This broke the Portuguese monopoly and the rights granted to the Dutch in 1609 were the basis for the lasting Dutch presence in Nagasaki. Adams maintained contact with England, where he had left his wife and children, and his letters to England are remarkable documents.

The earliest explorers of China and Japan helped cartographers to provide in commercially produced maps the first visual images of Korea, which nobody could visit or describe. The Portuguese were mainly responsible for the idea that Korea was an island, though not all maps follow that error. The texts about Korea in Hakluyt’s Navigations begin by stressing that it was “esteemed at the first an iland, but since found to adjoyne with the maine not many dayes journey from Paqui (Beijing) the metropolitan citie of China.”

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Diogo Homem (1521–1576) was a Portuguese cartographer who worked in London and Venice. His 1554 map Lopo Homen Mapa Mundi shows Korea as a peninsula-shaped collection of islands. It is perhaps the first European map to represent Korea although it does not name it.

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Petrus Plancius Orbis Terrarum Typus De Integro Multis In Locis Emmendatus, auctore Petro Plancio Amsterdam, 1594. Ioannes a Duetecum iunior fecit. This was based on a map by the Portuguese cartographer Luís Teixeira, who was not quite sure if Korea was an island or not but the map shows Corea lightly joined to the continent. 

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Joao Teixeira was the son of Luis Teixeira; his chart of the North Pacific c. 1630 still clearly shows Korea as a peninsula. Taboas geraes de toda a navegação, divididas e emendadas por Dom Ieronimo de Attayde com todos os portos principaes das conquistas de Portugal delineadas por Ioão Teixeira cosmographo de Sua Magestade, anno de 1630

Joannes Baptista Vrients Orbis terrae compendiosa descriptio. . .  Published in:  Antwerp, 1596  This is a large double hemisphere world map, based on Plancius’ 1594 map, first published apart then included in the first edition of Linschoten’s Itinerario published by Cornelis Claesz. The map is a close copy of Plancius’ separately published world map of 1594 (above) and shows Corea attached by a kind of stalk to the continent. (click here for another fine version)

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Hendrick Florent van Langren (fl.1574-1604) provided a map of the Far East for Linschoten’s Itinerario and it gives a very different image of Island Corea (upper left), perhaps directly inspired by Linschoten’s account. 

Soon after this, B. Langenes, Japan.  Middelburg, 1598, offers a simplified version of Teixeira’s map with Korea labeled “Corea Ins”.

Ortelius, A.   Japoniae insulae descriptio.  Antwerp, 1598 is said to be the first printed map of Japan to appear in an atlas. This map calls Korea an “island” (Insula) although actually the far north of Korea is not defined in this or the previous map, as if avoiding the question of its definition as an island but in this map it is named Corea Insula. (click here for a zoomable version)

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Two maps attributed to Jodocus Hondius from early in the 17th century show Korea as an island, like many others of the time. (Left): from Jodocus Hondius’ Atlas Minor 1608;

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Ditto, 1630.

One of the earliest published mentions (1596) of Korea is due to Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611) and a separate page contains transcriptions of the English versions (1598) of his texts.

Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616) was an avid collector of Spanish and Portuguese maritime materials and, using Ramusio’s Navigationi et Viaggi (Volume 1Volume 2, Volume 3) as a model, he published the first edition of his Principal Navigations in 1589. This single volume book mainly dealt with English navigational records. In 1589, Hakluyt sponsored Robert Park’s translation and publication of Mendoza’s HistoriaThe history of the great and mighty kingdom of China and the situation thereof. Subsequently in 1595, Hakluyt first introduced Linschoten‘s Voyages to English publishers and supported William Phillip’s English translation of the work from the Dutch original. This particular work provided the English public with the first detailed information on Korea. In 1601, Hakluyt himself translated Antonio Galvao‘s The Discoveries of the World. In 1598, Hakluyt published the first volume of the second edition of The Principal Navigations. Volume 2 followed in 1599, and volume 3 in 1600. A complete modern edition was published in Glasgow in 1904 in 12 volumes, the descriptions of Korea are in Volume 11 of this edition. Online images of Vols 1-2 in Library of Congress ; Vol 3 in Library of Congress
[Text by Cheong Sung-Hwa] “The Jesuit missionaries in Japan were the first to provide Europe with information on Korea. Since the mid 16th century, Luis Frois, and other Jesuit missionaries stationed in Japan, regularly included information on Korea in their correspondences back home. These letters were subsequently collected and included in Richard Hakluyt‘s The Principall Navigations between 1598 and 1600 and in Luis de Guzman’s Historia de las Missiones in 1601. At a time when materials on Korea were few and far between, these collection of letters served as an encyclopedia of sort on the region for interested European intellectuals of the time. However, in 1614, the Jesuit missionaries in Japan were expelled and Catholic missionary work was outlawed. This effectively closed that window on Korea for the Europeans. Click here for a separate page devoted to Hakluyt’s predecessors, sources and texts.

“Arguably the one person most instrumental in introducing China to Europe in the first half of the 17th century was the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (October 6, 1552 – May 11, 1610)  . . . . Ricci personally authored De Christiana Expeditione apud Sinas specifically to introduce Chinese history and culture to Europeans. Ricci’s work effectively superceded Juan Gonzales de Mendoza‘s Historia de las cosas más notables, ritos y costumbres del gran reyno de la China (the English version published in 1588 under the title The history of the great and mighty kingdom of China and the situation thereof) as the authoritative book on China during the first half of the 17th century. Albeit to a lesser degree, Ricci’s work also served as an introduction to Korea as well.
           From 1608, Superior General of the Society of Jesus Claudio Aquaviva commissioned Ricci to author De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate Jesu (About Christian expeditions to China undertaken by the Society of Jesus), ostensibly to muster financial as well as human resource support in Europe for the mission in China. By the time of his death in Beijing in May 11, 1610, Ricci had all but completed the draft of the work. Immediately following Ricci’s death, his successor Nicholas Longobardi (1565-1655) succeeded in detaching the Chinese mission from the auspices of the Japanese mission and in getting Ricci’s manuscripts published in Europe to rally support for the Chinese mission. To this end, he dispatched to Europe Nicolas Trigault (1577-1628), particularly astute in Latin. In Feb. 9, 1613, Trigualt left Macao, arriving in Rome in October of the following year. Apparently Trigualt made good use of the lengthy transit time, for by the time he arrived in Rome, he had transformed Ricci’s crude script in Italian to a more refined Latin translation. The Latin version of Ricci’s manuscript was finally published in Amsterdam in 1615. After that, numerous translations of the 645 page De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate Jesu appeared throughout Europe, solidifying its status as the authoritative book on China during the first half of the 17th century. The French edition was reprinted in Lyon in 1616, 1617, and 1618; the German edition came out in Augsburg in 1615 and 1617; the Spanish edition was published in 1631; and the Italian edition was published in Naples in 1622. Most notably, British writer Samuel Purchas, one of the harshest critics of the Jesuits at the time, translated into English portions of Ricci’s book and included it in his own sea voyage books published in London in 1625.  This was  Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes. Contayning a history of the world, in sea voyages, & lande-trauells, by Englishmen and others … Some left written by Mr. Hakluyt at his death, more since added, his also perused, & perfected. All examined, abreuiated, illustrates w[i]th notes, enlarged w[i]th discourses, adorned w[i]th pictures, and expressed in mapps. In fower parts, each containing fiue bookes. [Compiled] by Samvel Pvrchas. London, Imprinted for H. Fetherston, 1625. (The accounts of China are in Volume 3)

[Text by Cheong Sung-Hwa]  “The history of the Imjin War in Korea was made known to Europe by Alvaro Semedo, in his  Imperio de la China.  Born in Portugal in 1585, Semedo joined the Jesuit Order in 1602. From his arrival in China in 1613 to his death in 1658, Semedo spent some 45 years engaged in missionary work there.  In 1625, Semedo travelled to Xi’an where he was able to personally peruse and later introduce to the West the recently discovered Nestorian Stele. In 1636, the Chinese Jesuit Order dispatched Semedo to Rome. Semedo was tasked with the recruitment of new Jesuit missionaries to China, procurement of funding for the mission, and most significantly, the publication of books on China. Semedo left Macao in 1637, arriving in Goa in 1637, and finally reaching Lisbon in 1640. During the long journey Semedo was able to pen the first draft of a personal account of conditions in China, later published under the title Imperio de la China. At the time Semedo embarked on his journey back to Europe, the invasion of the Manchu was in full swing, and Semedo was able to carry back valuable information on the political turmoil engulfing China at the time. The book was soon recognized as the primary source on China for Europeans. Semedo’s book was published in tabloid size totalling 362 pages, and was divided into two sections. The first section, comprising approximately two thirds of the total length of the book, was composed of 31 chapters. It is devoted to introducing a variety of facets of Chinese history and culture, such as its geography, customs, language, education, literature, science, state recruitment examination system for high level officials, military weapons, form of government, prison system, court system, etc. The second section, presented in 13 chapters, delineates the history of the Jesuit mission in China, since it humble beginnings under Xavier. In Semedo’s Imperio de la China, reference to Korea is limited to four topics: the Imjin Japanese Invasion of Korea, Chinese civil strife during the transitionary period between the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, Korea’s paying of tribute to China, and the introduction of ginseng.”

Among early accounts of Korea published in Europe, the first significant one seems to be that by Martino Martini, 1614-1661 in the Novus Atlas Sinensis of 1655. Martini had mentioned Korea several times in his accounts of the Manchu conquest of Ming China but without providing extensive information : Latin: De bello Tartarico historiain quâ, quo pacto Tartari hac nostrâ aetate Sinicum imperium invaserint, ac ferè totum occuparint, narratur, eorumque mores breviter describuntur. Antwerp. Ex officina Plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti, 1654   French: Histoire de la gverre des Tartares, contre la Chine. Contenant les revolvtions estranges qui sont arriuées dans ce grand royaume, depuis quarante ans. Paris, I. Henavlt, 1654. English:  Bellum Tartaricum, or The conquest of the great and most renowned empire of Chinaby the invasion of the Tartars, who in these last seven years, have wholy subdued that vast empire. Together with a map of the provinces, and chief cities of the countries, for the better understanding of the story. London, : Printed for John Crook, and are to be sold at his shop at the sign of the Ship in St. Paul’s Church-yard., 1654. (Bibliography)  The following year,1655, the English text of Martini’s Bellum Tartaricum was republished in a volume that began with Alvaro Semedo (1585-1658, see above) The history of that great and renowned monarchy of ChinaWherein all the particular provinces are accurately described: as also the dispositions, manners, learning, lawes, militia, government, and religion of the people. Together with the traffick and commodities of that countrey (1655). (see Cheong Sung-Hwa). Martini’s text of the Bellum Tartaricum  begins on page 251; he does not give an extended account of Korea in this work. The maps in this volume were those first published in 1625 by Samuel Purchas in his Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes.

Martini’s De bello Tartarico historia was followed by his Novus Atlas Sinensis, which was published as part (Volume 6) of Joan Blaeu‘s Atlas Maior (Amsterdam 1655). It contained maps of China in general and all the provinces as well as a map of Korea and Japan. The Latin texts describing these lands, and the final account of the Tartar wars is not available online or in English.  For a summary of Martini’s mentions of Korea see Cheong Sung-Hwa’s pages  and here is an English version of the account of Korean culturetc by Martini from the Atlas (1655)Blaeu China Veteribus Sinarum Regio. also showed Corea as an island in 1638, the 1655 map shows many corrections due to Martini. 

Juan de Palafox y Mendoza was a Spanish aristocrat who was Bishop of Puebla de los Ángeles in Mexico. He was able to receive regular dispatches from Macao and Manila on the China situation up to the end of 1647, which later served as the basis for his Historia de la conquista de la China por el tartaro / escrita por … Juan de Palafox y Mendoça, siendo obispo de la Puebla de los Angeles y virrey de la Nueva-España y a su muerte obispo de Osma (En Paris : acosta de Antonio Bertier …, 1670) (History of the Conquest of China by the Tartars). See Cheong Sung-hwa’s summary. He says: “Mendoza’s Historia is comprised of 32 chapters, and the third chapter is devoted to the Manchu invasion of Korea. Mendoza’s account seems to augment Martini’s own account of the incident. Martini fails to mention the ‘Humiliation at Samjeondo,’ was well as the Crown Prince Sohyeon’s captivity in Beijing. In contrast, Mendoza’s is the first instance in which the ‘Humilitation at Samjeondo’ is mentioned in a book published during the first half of the 17th century”. (Published in English (but not available online outside the EETO): The history of the conquest of China by the Tartars. London, 1676 )

Johan Nieuhof (see Wikipedia: born Uelsen, 22 July 1618 – Madagascar, 8 October 1672) was a Dutch traveler who wrote about his journeys to Brazil, China and India. The most famous of these was a trip of 2,400 km from Canton to Peking in 1655-1657, which enabled him to become an authoritative Western writer on China. At his homecoming in 1658, he had entrusted his notes and annotations to his brother Hendrik, whom Johan thanked when finally (in 1665) Hendrik produced an ample study of China, with many images, text and explanation of the latest events. Hendrik dedicated the work to Hendrik Spiegel and Cornelis Jan Witsen (Nicolaes Witsen’s father), administrators of the East and West India Companies respectively. The Dutch version :  Het Gezandtschap der Neêrlandtsche Oost-Indische Compagnie, aan den grooten Tartarischen Cham, den tegenwoordigen Keizer van China  (1st edition: Amsterdam : Jacob van Meurs, 1665)   Translations into French (1665), German (1666), Latin (1668) were also published, each going into at least two editions. The English version was first published in 1669: Nieuhof, Johannes, 1618-1672 : An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham, emperor of China: delivered by their excellencies Peter de Goyer and Jacob de Keyzer, at his imperial city of Peking wherein the cities, towns, villages, ports, rivers, &c. in their passages from Canton to Peking are ingeniously described by John Nieuhoff; also an epistle of Father John Adams, their antagonist, concerning the whole negotiation; with an appendix of several remarks taken out of Father Athanasius Kircher; Englished and set forth with their several sculptures by John Ogilby Esq; His Majety’s Cosmographer, Geographick Printer, and Master of the Revels in the Kingdom of Ireland, The second edition, London, printed by the Author in his house in White-Friers, M.DC. LXXIII.  (1673)  (the first edition was: London : Printed by J. Macock for the author, 1669). There is also online a set of pages with the original Dutch and a modern English translation of the original Dutch text about Korea by Henny Savenije.

There is a single page in Nieuhof devoted to a description of Corea (the 1673 English version is available hereand it is remarkably (suspiciously) similar to the account given by Martini.

In 1669, Arnoldus Montanus (Arnoldus Van Bergen  c.1625 – 1683) published in Dutch a monumental account of Japan based on accounts by various Dutch traders, Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische maatschappy in ‘t Vereenigde Nederland, aen de kaisaren van Japan, vervaetende wonderlijke voorvallen op de togt der Nederlandtsche gesanten : beschryving van de dorpen, sterkten, steden, landschappen, tempels, gods-diensten, dragten, gebouwen, dieren, gewasschen, bergen, fonteinen, vereeuwde en nieuwe oorlogs-daaden der Japanders,Amsterdam: Jacob Meurs. This book included passages about Korea. English and  Frencheditions followed:  Atlas Japannensis : being remarkable addresses by way of embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Emperor of Japan : containing a description of their several territories, cities, temples, and fortresses, their religions, laws, and customs, their prodigious wealth, and gorgeous habits, the nature of their soil, plants, beasts, hills, rivers, and fountains with the character of the ancient and modern Japanners / collected out of their several writings and journals by Arnoldus Montanus ; english’d and adorn’d with above a hundred several sculptures by John Ogilby, London : Printed by Tho. Johnson for the author, and are to be had at his house in White Fryers, 1670. The description of Corea begins on page 183. Ambassades mémorables de la Compagnie des Indes Orientales des Provinces Unies vers les empereurs du Japon, Jacob de Meurs, 1689;  the French edition mentions Korea from page 139;

The first extended account of Korea based on personal experience is that by Hamel.

Hendrick Hamel was one of the crew members of the Sperwer. Shipwrecked, he lived in Korea 1653-1666. After escaping he wrote an account of his adventures and a description of Korea that has survived in manuscript. It was published in 1668 in Rotterdam with the title; Journal van de Ongeluckige Voyage van ‘t Jacht de Sperwer (The journal of the unfortunate voyage of the jaght the Sperwer). This was soon translated into French and published as : Relation du noufrage d’un vaiseau hollandois sur la Coste de l’Isle de Quelparts. Avec la Description de Royaume de Corée. Traduit de Flamande, par Monsieur Minutoli. A Paris, chez Thomas Jolly, au Palis, dans la Salle des Merciers, au coin de la Gallerie des prissonniers, la Palme & aux Armes d’Hollande. (1670). This was translated into English by John Churchill and published in 1704 as part (starting page 607) of the 4th volume of his A Collection of voyages and travels with the title An Account of the Shipwreck of a Dutch Vessel on the Isle of Quelpaert  (this links to the Archive version of a microfiched 1732 edition. Click here for the 1704 edition) : some now first printed from original manuscripts, others now first published in English : in six volumes with a general preface giving an account of the progress of navigation from its first beginning.  A modern English translation made from the original manuscript is available from the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, Seoul.

In 1705 Nicolaas Witsen published a second edition of his Noord en Oost Tartarye, ofte bondig ontwerp van eenige dier landen en volken, welke voormaels bekent zijn geweest (2 volumes, Amsterdam: Halma 1705) which included an account of Korea by one of Hamel’s companions, the surgeon Mattheus Eibokken of Enckhuijsen (= Enkhuizen), and a list of Korean words provided by Eibokken with their Dutch equivalent, the first such list published in the West. The book was little read however, and was never translated, so that the word list was only noticed and commented on in recent years. Witsen’s book also contains other information about Korea, starting on page 46 of Volume One, and this includes (page 48-49) a Dutch description of a Korean embassy to Japan in 1636-7 (see English translation). From page 50 he quotes a description of Korea from the description of Japan by Arnoldus Montanus (see above).

Last updated March 19, 2013

Accounts of Korea published in Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries

Early in the 18th century the Jesuits working in China produced rather fuller accounts and better maps of Korea

A much fuller description of Korea was published in French by Fr. Jean Baptiste du Halde on the basis of an account composed by Fr. Jean-Baptiste Regisin Volume 4 (from p.529) of his great Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique, et physique de l’empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie chinoise, enrichie des cartes générales et particulieres de ces pays, de la carte générale et des cartes particulieres du Thibet, & de la Corée; & ornée d’un grand nombre de figures & de vignettes gravées en tailledouce (1736)  which is followed by an abbreviated history of Korea (from page 538) translated from Chinese sources. This was translated into English as: The general history of China. Containing a geographical, historical, chronological, political and physical description of the empire of China, Chinese-Tartary, Corea, and Thibet. Including an exact and particular account of their customs, manners, ceremonies, religion, arts and sciences .. Done from the French of P. Du Halde. Volume 4, second edition corrected. London: John Watts. 1739The account of Korea is divided between a general description and a brief history from Chinese sources.  Click here for a page devoted to Father Jean-Baptiste Régis which includes a link to a PDF text file of the account of Korea (based on his records) found in du Halde’s work.

Then the available information became encyclopedic

The accounts of Hamel (in Churchill’s translation) and Du Halde / Régis were both republished in: A new general collection of voyages and travels; consisting of the most esteemed relations, which have been hitherto published in any language; comprehending everything remarkable in its kind, in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.  by John Green (fl. 1730-1753) — Compiler,  and Thomas Astley — Author / Publisher. Vol 4 (Description of China, of Korea, eastern Tartary and Tibet. Travels through Tartary, Tibet, and Bukharia, to and from China, 1246-1698.) 1747  (Fr Regis’ / Du Halde text from p319 of Vol 4 until 329, followed by Churchill’s Hamel text until page 347)

The volume contains 2 maps of Korea based on that printed in Du Halde / Régis but with Quelpart added on the basis of Hamel’s report (on page 12 of the New York Public Library images).
Image ID: 1261742 A map of Quan-tong or Lea-tonge; Province and the Kingdom of Kau-li or Corea. (1745-1747)
Image ID: 1261751 A map of Kitay or Empire of the Kin, adapted to the history of Jenghiz Khan. (1745-1747)

Next appeared in France :  Histoire moderne des Chinois, des Japonais, des Indiens, etc. Paris, 1754-1778, 30 vol. in-12, the 12 first volumes by Francois Marie de Marsy the rest by Adrien Richer. The early volumes were soon published in English : The History of China, Upon the plan of Mr. Rollin’s Antient history translated from the French Printed for J. and P. Knapton in Ludgate-Street. 1755. This volume contains (beginning on page 349 as Chapter 3 of its Sixth Part) an extensive account of Korea in which some initial pages derive from Du Halde but most is taken from Hamel.

A composite account of Korea derived mainly from Du Halde was included in the encyclopedic, multi-volume compilation:  The Modern Part of an Universal History, From the Earliest Account of Time, Compiled from Original Writers – Vol. VIII – The History of China. S. Richardson, London, 1759. (Wikipedia says: Contributors included George Sale, George Psalmanazar, Archibald Bower, George Shelvocke, John Campbell and John Swinton.) A separate page contains the text of this volume’s account of Korea

The entire Universal History was then translated into French and published as: Histoire Universelle, Depuis Le Commencement Du Monde Jusqu’A Présent: Composée en Anglois par une Société de Gens de Lettres : Nouvellement Traduite En François Par Une Société De Gens De Lettres. Histoire Moderne ; 14 : contenant la suite de l’histoire de la Chine, celle de la Corée, et partie de celle du Japon, Paris: Moutard, 1783 (the section on Korea begins on page 387)

At about the same time, the French dramatist Jean-François de La Harpe composed a multi-volume encyclopedia Abrégé de l’histoire générale des voyages which was re-edited and in part re-written in the 19th century. In the original 1780 edition, the account of Korea begins on page 343.  In the 1820 edition, the account of Korea begins on page 76. This work was made by condensing and combining a variety of previously published accounts, unifying the style. The account of Korea (the same in both editions, in French) includes a few details quoted from Regis but is essentially a summary of Hamel’s account.

The age of the great scientific explorers that began late in the 18th century brought new discoveries.

On May 22-23, 1787, the remarkable French naval officer and explorer, Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse (1741-1788), sailed past Jeju Island without landing on it, the first westerner to see it since the time of Hamel. This was during his journey from Manila, via Taiwan and Japan, to eastern Russia.  From there he sailed to Australia and it was after leaving there that his ships disappeared. The site of the shipwreck etc has been identified as reefs off the island of Vanikoro, which is part of the Santa Cruz group of islands. He sent back to France reports, logs, records from Petropavlovsk on the Russian Kamchatka peninsula  and from Australia, allowing an account of his journeys to be published in France some 10 years later: Voyage de La Pérouse autour du Monde. Rédigé par M. L. A. Milet-Mureau, Général de Brigade dans le Corps du Génie, Directeur des Fortifications, Ex -Constituant, Membre de plusieurs Sociétés littéraires de Paris. Paris, Imprimerie de la République. An 5 (1797). This was in four volumes plus an atlas: Volume 1;  Volume 2 which contains the account of their journey past Quelpaert and Korea starting on p384 of Volume 2 continued in the opening chapter of Volume 3;  (PDF file of an abbreviated French text hereVolume 4Atlas with plates, charts etc. Translations were soon made into Dutch, German, Italian and English. The first English edition was published in 1798, a second (corrected?) edition in 1799: here the account of Korea is found in Volume 2: A voyage round the world in the years 1785, 1786, 1787 and 1788, by J. F. G. de la Pérouse published conformably to the Decree of the National Assembly on the 22d April 1791, and edited by M. L. A. Milet-Mureau, Brigadier General in the Corps of Engineers, Director of Fortifications, Ex-Constitutent, and member of several literary societies at Paris. In Three Volumes. Translated from the French.  London : Printed for J. Johnson, St. Paul’s Church Yard. Volume 1 of 1st editionVol 2 of the Second EditionVolume 3 of 1st editionVolume 3 of 2nd edition. The English edition also included an Atlas: Charts And Plates To La Perouse’s Voyage. His journey between Korea and Japan etc can be traced in great detail on a map published in the atlas. The account by Lapérouse of his journey past Koreafrom page 351 of Volume 2 is a delightful one. He was responsible for naming Ulleung-do island ‘Dagelet‘ after an astronomer on his ship who first spotted it.

Quelpart was surveyed in greater detail in 1797 by William Robert Broughton (a voyage published in 1804 as A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean London: T. Cadell and Ms. Daviss. 1804).  HIs laconic account is mainly a summary of the ship’s log, with little vivid detail about Korea. The account of the few days his ship spent in Busan harbor in Chapter 7 leads him to conclude: “It will be observed how little opportunity we had to make any remarks upon the customs and manners of these people, from their avoiding as much as possible any intercourse with us.” What he did not realize was that a report of his visit was sent to Seoul, telling the other side of the story. Henny Savenije has a page summarizing Broughton’s career and including links to the original entry in the Joseon Annals as well as a translation of the text, which echoes the frustration felt by Broughton on not being able to communicate.

In February 1816, Lord Amherst set off from London for China on an embassy. There were 2 ships, H.M.S. Alceste commanded by Captain Maxwell and H.M. Brig Lyra commanded by Captain Basil Hall. Lord Amherst hoped to meet the Emperor of China to complain about problems the East India Company was having in Canton. Since he was determined not to perform any “Kowtow” he never saw the Emperor and gave up the plan. Instead, from the end of August 1816, Amherst traveled extensively throughout China and did not depart until January of 1817. He dispatched H.M.S. Alceste and H.M Brig Lyra on surveying expeditions commanded by Captain Maxwell to Korea and Okinawa (Loochoo) in late August of 1816. This done, they returned to China and set off on the return journey to England early in 1817 but the Alceste struck a rock and sank near Java. Nobody died in the wreck, and they all returned to England in August 1817, after paying a visit to Napoleon on Saint Helena on the way (they travelled by way of the Strait of Magellan). This embassy produced no less than 4 books (click here for more details and a list of the books). The longest description of their exploration of the southern islands of mainland Korea is that found in Chapter Two of a revised edition of the book by Basil Hall (1788-1844), Voyage to Loo-Choo, and other places in the eastern seas (1826). It is very vivid and often highly entertaining. (Click here to read the account as originally published in 1818.) The officers struggled in vain to communicate with the local officials in the absence of any interpreter, while the ordinary sailors and the ordinary Koreans easily understood each other without having a common language. The British had with them a Chinese man who could speak his own dialect of Chinese but had not learned to read or write the characters! The most important result of this expedition was a corrected chart of the west coast of Korea, and the discovery that maps based on that provided by Father Régis were not at all accurate. They then sailed on to Loo-Choo, the form by which the Ryukyu Islands were then known in the West (Okinawa, the name of the largest island, now being commonly but wrongly used for the whole chain). There they received an extremely warm welcome which stood in stark contrast to that found in Corea. They spent some 6 weeks studying the islands, and one member of the expedition even learned elements of the language (Published as an appendix to Basil Hall’s volume) while their survey of the Corean coastal islands lasted only a week.

From 1823 until 1830, the remarkable German physician, ethnologist and natural historian Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold (1796 – 1866) lived in Japan, in the Dutch enclave at Nagasaki. During this time he was able to meet and interview shipwrecked Koreans and developed an interest in their language and culture. After returning to Germany in 1830, he began to publish his observations as Nippon: Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japan und dessen Neben- und Schutzländern Jezo mit den südlichen Kurilen, Sachalin, Korea und den Liu-Kiu-Inseln. This publication took many years, from 1832 until 1882, with a new edition prepared by his sons appearing in 1897, and although the observations about Korea are found in the final part VII, it seems that they date from much earlier. No online text of the original editions seems to exist, but the 2-volume edition prepared by his sons can be viewed online: Volume OneVolume Two. The texts about Korea begin on page 305 of Volume Two. An English translation and commentary of important parts of these by Frits Vos  and Boudewijn Walraven provides easy access to the texts and includes many of the plates from the original edition with drawings of Korean people, boats and objects. Moreover, Siebold (almost at the same time as Julius Heinrich Klaproth (1783–1835)) compiled one of the earliest Korean word lists, as well as a chart of the Hangul alphabet.

The Protestant missionary usually known as Charles Gutzlaff was born in Pomerania (Germany) as Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff (1803 – 1851). Arriving in Java in 1826, he learned Chinese then worked for a time as a missionary in Siam before moving on to Macao and Hong Kong, where he later (1840s) prepared a Chinese translation of the Bible. His method of evangelization relied much on the distribution of pamphlets and tracts written in Chinese which had been prepared by another missionary to China, Robert Morrison. In 1831, during a slow journey from Siam to China, he visited many ports, where he attracted visits by many people by his medical skills, and to them he tried to communicate also the Christian gospel. In 1832 he was invited to be part of an expedition on the Lord Amherst, a ship of the British East India Company, that was eager to find a place ot establish a ‘counter’ where they could conduct trading relations with Corea, Japan, the Loo-Choo Islands (Okinawa). He was to serve as interpreter and surgeon. They spent a few days among poverty-stricken islands off the Corean coast, where he and his companions distributed tracts and copies of Morrison’s translation of the Bible, and planted what might have been Korea’s first potatoes. On his return to China he wrote an account of these two journeys, which was published in New York as Journal of Two Voyages Along the Coast of ChinaIn 1831 and 1832 : with Notices of Siam, Corea and the Loo-Choo Islands. New York: John P. Haven. 1833. His third voyage, during the fall of 1832 and spring of 1833, was along the northern Chinese coast aboard the Sylph, an opium smuggling ship. After this he published a revised version of the book, including the material from this third voyage: Journal of Three Voyages Along the Coast of China, In 1831, 1832 and 1833 : with Notices of Siam, Corea and the Loo-Choo Islands. London: Frederick Westley and A. H. Davis, Stationers’ Hall Court. 1834. A second edition of the book appeared the same year (also available in Google Books). The description of their visit to some islands on the Corean coastforms Chapter 6 of the Second Voyage in all editions. They were fortunate in having an interpreter, but it made no difference to the Korean refusal to welcome them. Yet Gutzlaff sensed that many of the people they met really wanted to communicate with them and dared look forward to a day when Korea would be evangelized.

Sir Edward Belcher explored Jeju Island and the seas around the south of Korea in 1845 as part of a much larger expedition and published the results in “Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Samarang” [links to volume 1; click here for volume 2]  London : Reeve, Benham, and Reeve, 1848. Belcher relates their visit to Quelpart at length in Vol. 1 pages 324 – 358, relating how they were invited to land and talk with local magistrates during their stay, but could sense that they were not in fact welcome.  See also Arthur Adams (1820-1878)’s fine account of the natural history of Quelpart  in  Vol 2 pages 444 – 466. Adams was a natural historian and artist with a love of poetry, his account is marked by a warmth of feeling as well as quotations from Spenser’s Faerie Queene. He also wrote A manual of natural history, for the use of travellers. Also serving on the Samarang as a midshipman was Frank Marryat (1826 – 1855), son of Captain Frederick Marryat, a naval officer and popular novelist. Frank was something of an artist and in 1848 he published a volume of drawings made during the journey: Borneo and the Indian Archipelago, Drawings of Costume and Scenery, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, Paternoster-Row. 1848.. . The publisher wanted an accompanying narrative, so he used his own and other shipmates’ diaries for that. His account of the visit to Jeju can be compared with that by Belcher.

From page 533 of Volume 2 of Belcher, there is a section titled “A Brief Vocabulary of Languages” authored mainly by Ernest Adams. This is mainly a table of corresponding words in English, Spanish, Malay and 6 Philippino languages, to which have been added Chinese, Japanese and Korean. On page 534, Belcher indicates that the Japanese and Korean words are taken from “publications by Medhurst, 1830, and Philo Sinensis, 1835, at Batavia.” He could hardly have been expected to know that “Philo Sinensis” was a nom-de-plume used by the scholarly missionary  Walter Henry Medhurst (1796 – 1857). The 2 books referred to are his An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English vocabulary (this links to the Internet Archive source, it is also available from Play.Google) (Batavia, 1830) and the much rarer Translation of a Comparative Vocabulary of the Chinese, Corean and Japanese Languages: to which is Added the Thousand Character Classic in Chinese and Corean, the whole accompanied by copious indexes, of all the Chinese and English words occurring in the work  by Philo Sinensis (1835) which is not available online. The list of Korean words begins on page 540 of Belcher Vol. 2. It constitutes the first list of Korean vocabulary published in England. (For other works by Medhurst see the Internet Archive index or the Play Google list of works available.)

In 1851 the China Repository Vol 20 no 7 July 1851 pp 500-6 relates in some detail the expedition from Shanghai to rescue French sailors stranded on an island off Quelpart when their ship the Narwal was wrecked there. The description show how much the previous explorers would have benefitted by having someone capable of writing in Chinese characters.

Last updated:January 27, 2014

Accounts of Korea published in Europe in the later 19th and early 20th centuries

It was only in the later part of the 19th century that Westerners were able to explore Korea and write about it after living there and travelling through it freely. The most significant question for many of them was the country’s commercial (and also strategic) interest.

In June 1865 a certain Captain Allen Young presented a paper to the Royal Geographical Society stressing the potential interest of Korea, which he had not visited. Among those speaking during the following discussion was Admiral W. H. Hall, who had been a midshipman in the Lyra under Captain Basil Hall in 1816. 

In September1866 three French ships set out from China for Korea, where nine French Catholic missionaries had been executed in the great persecution of that year. The French reached Korea at the level of Ganghwa Island, 2 ships sailed up the Han River as far as Mapo but could not establish contact with the authorities so returned to Ganghwa where they stayed until 22 November. One ensign on the Primauguet was Jean Henri Zuber, who left the navy on returning to France in 1868 and became a noted artist. He published a fascinating account of Ganghwa “Une Expedition en Coree” (links to scanned PDF file; click here for a text file in French and click here for an English translation) in the annual publication Le Tour du monde illustré, 1873. T. XXV, p. 401 – 416, illustrated with engravings based on the drawings he made during his stay. What makes his account especially interesting is that, as he says, he “passes lightly over the military acts and focuses instead on the geographic and picturesque parts”. He describes what he saw of Korea with obvious sympathy and interest, as an artist, in considerable detail. His account includes the fact that the beautifully illustrated books they discovered and took with them (the royal copies of the Uigwe Archives) were deposited in the French National Library. His account includes a translation of the message from the King of Korea demanding their withdrawal. Another eye-witness account of the expedition, much briefer and rougher, was recently discovered in a letter written by Eugène Masson, a quarter-master on the Tardif. In his account for Le Tour du monde illustré, Zuber does not mention any military action. Yet it seems that he was leading the small group of soldiers that approached the fortress walls surrounding the temple of Jeondeung-sa, in the southern part of the island, on Novermber 11, 1866, under the impression that it was unguarded. They suddenly came under fire, some were wounded, they lost their lunch, and they went running back to the headquarters where this incident helped convince admiral Roze that they ought to leave. Extracts from his unpublished letters to his mother about the expedition were included in the text of a fine volume about his career as an artist:  Denis Blech, Henri Zuber (1844-1909): De Pékin à Paris, Itinéraire d’une Passion. Paris: Somogy. 2008. In addition, Zuber prepared a complete map of Korea using the measurements the French made (he was mainly working as a cartographer during the expedition). These he combined with a Korean map the French discovered in Ganghwa Island, with translations of the Korean text by the surviving French priests, and presented this work with a brief commentary to the Société de géographie in 1870.

Louis Léon Prunol de Rosny (1837- 1914) was one of the earliest French scholars to learn Japanese but he seems never to have been in Japan. In 1864 he published  Aperçu de la langue coréenne; this was followed by Sur la géographie et l’histoire de la Corée (1868) and finally by Les Coréens, aperçu ethnographique et historique (1886). This latter is a short book of 90 pages of general information about Korea, with no indication of his sources, although he refers to Dallet and Oppert.

One of the very first British accounts of Korea was included in Alexander Williamson’s Journeys in North China, Manchuria, and Eastern Mongolia With Some Account of Corea. Volume 2.  London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1870. Williamson was a scholarly missionary who in the later 1860s sold Christian books to Koreans in the market at the Manchurian frontier with Korea.

Henry Walton Grinnell was born November 19, 1843 in New York. The son of a semi-famous explorer who searched for the doomed Franklin Expedition, Grinnell joined the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1861. However he did not complete his formal education due to the start of the American Civil War and joined the navy proper. Attached to the modern steam sloop USS Monongahela, on patrol near New Orleans for Blockade runners in the Gulf of Mexico, .H. Walton Grinnell was listed as a Mate on the naval list 23 June, 1862 and then made an Acting Ensign, 11 November, 1862. He was given his own command of a small gunboat the USS Nyack as Acting Master, 6 January, 1864. After the end of the Civil War, he was honorably discharged 25 July, 1868. In newly modernizing Japan he found work as a o-yatoi gaikokujin (Japanese for hired foreigners or mercenaries), specifically a naval specialist to assist in the modernization of Japan. He became an instructor in all things naval and rose to the rank of Inspector General of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Grinnell helped train and develop the Japanese officer corps and molded them into a western model. Within a dozen years the Imperial Japanese Navy went from a small wooden fleet with iron cannons to one of the most modern all-steel steam-powered navies in the world. He became a rear admiral and served at the battle of the Yalu River in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 as an advisor with no command authority. He was discharged as a full admiral at the end of the war. He died on September 2, 1920. In September 1870 he arrived in Vladivostok, hoping to find a way of crossing Manchuria to reach Samarkand and Central Asia. He was also interested in learning about Korea and spending time there. He failed to do either but his account of his encounters with Korean settlers in Manchuria and the information he gained from them about Korea was published in the Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York in January 1872, having been presented in June 1871. It constitutes a very early American report about Korea.

The first lengthy volume published in the West entirely devoted to Korea was Fr. Claude-Charles Dallet’s Histoire de l’Eglise de Corée (Paris: V. Palmé. 1874. 2 volumes. Volume 1Volume 2), which begins with an Introduction 192 pages long describing in greater detail than any previous account almost every aspect of Korean society and culture. A complete text of Dallet’s Introduction section by section can be viewed here. Dallet (1829-1878) was a priest of the Missions Étrangères de Paris. After serving for some time in India, he was obliged to return to France for health reasons. In 1870 he went to Quebec, and it was there that he classified manuscripts regarding the Catholic Church in Korea, largely the work of the martyred bishop Antoine Daveluy (1818-1866), which provided the material for his Histoire. The main body of the work contains accounts of the growth of the Catholic Church in Korea from the first baptism in 1784 and the violent persecutions it endured, with multiple accounts of the life and death of individual martyrs. It is a monumental work in every way. Dallet then returned to Asia, intending to go back to India but he died in China of dysentery, aged less than fifty.

In 1875 a British battleship, the HMS Audacious, which was the flagship of the China fleet, arrived at Port Hamilton (Geomun-do), which had previously been surveyed by Sir Edward Belcher. No explanation is given for the visit but one officer, Cyprian Bridge (later to become Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge) wrote a simple account “A Glimpse of the Korea” which was published in the US.

In stark contrast to Zuber’s idyllic vision of Korea, Ernst Jakob Oppert (1832 –1903) was a German businessman living in Hong Kong. Being in financial difficulties, he visited Korea a number of times in secret and is best remembered for his notorious attempt in 1867 to remove the body of the father of the Regent from his grave in order to blackmail the regent into removing Korean trade barriers. This incident ended in an armed confrontation and hardened conservative Koreans’ opposition to any opening to foreigners. After returning to Germany, he published a lengthy illustrated book about Korea in 1880, in German Ein verschlossenes Land. Reisen nach Corea.Leipzig: Brockhaus. 1880, and in English (Ernest Oppert) A forbidden land: voyages to the Corea.  London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington. 1880. This was the first volume entirely devoted to Korea ever published, apart from Charles Dallet’s Histoire de l’Eglise de Corée (1874), and it shows considerable scholarly knowledge of previously published descriptions.
Oppert’s attitude, that of a pragmatic businessman, foreshadowed the impending forced opening of Korea. The first 6 chapters of his book provide a summary description of Korea, including its history and culture. At the end of the book there is a fairly substantial word-list of Korean vocabulary. Chapters 7, 8 and 9 relate the three visits that Oppert made to Korea in his attempts to negociate, single-handed, a treaty opening the country to foreign trade. The account he provides in Chapter 9 of the dramatic final visit, when he led a cross-country expedition to the grave of the Regent’s father, is extremely different from the versions published later by Griffis and Landor. Amazingly different, in fact. Oppert makes no mention of their goal being the “body of the Regent’s father” but instead ingenuously claims that Fr. Féron merely told him that they were going to take possession of “some old relics which had been in [the Regent’s] family for many years” and implies that he had no idea what kind of things they were. When they reach the spot, Oppert says nothing suggesting that it was a tomb, referring only to “a walled-in place, strongly protected by an earthwork all round.” After starting to dig they encounter a wall and an entry sealed by a large stone. Unable to move the stone, they give up and he simply says that they returned safely to their ship. The accounts of the incident given by Griffis and Landor have stones being thrown at them by furious villagers, and guns being fired to frighten them off . . .

One of the earliest British (or indeed ‘western’) 
eye-witness descriptions of Korea including Seoul is that written as a report to Sir Harry Parkes, H.M. Minister in Japan, by John Carey Hall (1844-1921) who visited Seoul briefly in 1882; he was then British Acting-Consul at Nagasaki.  Hall was born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, and educated at Coleraine Academical Institution and Queen’s College, Belfast. He was appointed student-interpreter in Japan in December 1867, appointed Assistant Japanese Secretary at Tokyo in April 1882;  In 1888 he was appointed consul at Hakodate and Neegata. In February 1896 he was appointed consul at Tamsui in China and in August the same year he was appointed consul in Hiogo (Kobe) and Osaka. From 1903 until 1914 he served as British Consul-General at Yokohama. He was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1912. He died in England on October 21, 1921, when he was living at 49, Broadhurst-gardens, Hampstead, but he and his wife are buried in Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery. (View a photograph taken after retirement).

An expanded page centered on William Richard Carles (1848 – 1929) linking to the texts of his book  Life in Corea (1888), the text of his White Paper Report of a Journey by Mr. Carles in the North of Corea  and a shorter paper Recent Journeys in Corea  published by the the Royal Geographical Society, as well as a Biography of Carles.

Pierre Louis Jouy (1856 – 1894) despite his French name was born in New York and served from 1886 as museum assistant at the United States National Museum after spending several years in China, Japan and Korea as a collector of zoological and ethnological specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. His main interest was in birds and he contributed much to the early study of Korea’s natural history. In Korea he was first attached to the U.S. Legation in Seoul, then spent some 3 years at Busan as an employee of the  Chinese custom service. The Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Insitution for 1891  (main Internet Archive index page) contains an illustrated catalog of the Bernadou, Allen and Jouy Collections (from page 429). Jouy took some 40 photographs of Korea, some of which are included in the illustrations to the catalog. He published a paper on “The Collection of Korean mortuary pottery” (Annual Report of the National Museum, 1887-’88) but his health declined (TB) and he died in Arizona still young.

In 1886-1887 H.E.M. James of the Indian Civil Service used a two-year leave to travel to China. Together with two younger British companions, the officer (and later remarkable explorer, ultimately knighted) Francis Younghusband and the China-based diplomat Harry English Fulford, he explored Manchuria, travelling through the frontier areas of Chinese settlement in the region and to the Changbai Mountains. A paper, A Journey in Manchuria  By H. E. M. James (Henry Evan Murchinson James), of the Bombay Civil Service, was published in: Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography. Volume IX., No. 9, September 1887. Pages 531-567  and I have linked that to a page with images of the map of Manchuria from that volume tracing the journey. The page also links to the Internet Archive text of James’s book The Long White Mountain, or, A journey in Manchuria: with some account of the history, people, administration and religion of that country (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1888) published the following year. This contains the first English-language record of an ascent of Baekdu-san by westerners. Younghusband included accounts of his travels in Manchuria (and the Himalayas etc) in his book The Heart of a Continent (1896). Fulford’s report of the Manchuria journey was published as a British government paper (China No. 2 (1887))

On (or about) October 10, 1888, the wealthy French traveller and amateur ethnograph Charles Varat came to Seoul and after spending a couple of weeks there he traveled for another two full weeks across Korea through Daegu and down to Busan. He published a lengthy account of his journey from Seoul to Fusan in 1888, Voyage en Corée, [links to Section 1, with links from there to the other 4 sections, or see below] in Le Tour du Monde 1892. His pseudo-scientific interest in every aspect of Korean life distinguishes his approach from that of more mercantile or more naive explorers, although he had no academic training and left no written records of any other journey beyond this account of Korea. His attitude is almost always positive, he was delighted with much that he saw in Korea and clearly appreciated its culture. Because it is in French, and because Varat died suddenly a year later, in 1893, before he could publish the full-length book he had planned, his account is little known, at least outside of France. Many of the objects which he collected are now in the musée Guimet in Paris. Before his death, Varat helped design the Korean gallery there; he died 10 days after its opening, of a pulmonary congestion. Other objects he collected in Korea are in other Parisian collections. Section I,   Section II,   Section III,   Section IV,  Section V ]  Click here for an English translation of: Section 1Section 2Section 3Section 4Section 5.   The complete engravings can be viewed separately.

In 1887, Colonel Charles Chaillé-Long (1842-1917) arrived in Seoul, having been appointed Consul-general and Secretary to the United States Legation. Born in Maryland of parents who both seem to have traced their descent from French Huguenots who moved to England after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), he seems to have learned French in his youth. He fought in the Civil War, rising to be captain. He then moved to Egypt in 1869, where he taught French while also serving as lieutenant colonel in the Egyptian Army; from 1874-1877 he was Chief of staff to Charles George Gordon, but later published bitter criticisms of Gordon and British policies in Egypt. In 1874 he executed the treaty annexing Uganda to Egypt; he developed a taste for explorations and is famed for having discovered Lake Ibrahim. He published books and articles about his African experiences but he graduated from Columbia University’s law school in 1880 and became a lawyer, after which he practiced in Egypt; In 1882 he was United States consul in Alexandria, Egypt, during the bombardment of the city by the British Mediterranean Fleet. He then moved to Paris before receiving his posting in Seoul. He resigned from his position in 1889 after President Cleveland lost the election and from 1892 – 1902 he lived in Paris, then returned to the United States. He published a number of articles about Korea both in French and in English, in a variety of journals. His main French articles were then collected and published in 1894 in the Annales Musée Guimet (Tome 26 Premiere Partie) under the title La Corée ou Tchôsen (La Terre Du Calme Matinal).  In English no such collection of articles was made, but the text of his most ambitious piece, the account of his journey to Jeju Island in the autumn of 1888, was published in the Journal of the American Geographical Society Vol. 22, 1890, pages 218-266 with the title “From Corea to Quelpaert Island: In the Footprints of Kublai Khan.” He began his journey on September 5, 1888, and returned to Seoul on November 4, thus he was absent when Charles Varat was in Seoul and the two were making their journeys at exactly the same moment. Unlike Varat, Chaillé-Long despises Koreans, dwells on the dirt and the disorder, and his texts are full of gross misrepresentations of Korean cultural history.

A year later, in 1889, another British Vice-consul in Chemulpo, Charles William Campbell, attempted to visit Baekdu-san, travelling through northern Korea, but by the time he reached it in early October the snow was already too deep for them to climb to the summit. A page with some information on his career includes a link to the text of “A Journey through North Korea to the Ch’ang-pai Shan“. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography. Vol. XIV., No. 3. March, 1892, pages 141 – 161.

Joseph Walton, a coal-dealer who had recently (1897) been elected Liberal M.P. for Barnsley, felt a strong interest in China and in 1899 he set out on a lengthy visit which began with a few days in Japan, a few hours in Korea, then after China he returned to England via S-E Asia and India. He was good at picking up information quickly from people who mattered. He published a book on his journeys, China and the Present Crisis with Notes on a Visit to Japan and Korea (1900).  His short chapter on Japan and Korea (with hostile references to Russia) indicates well the attitude that a liberal Englishman might adopt regarding Japanese intentions toward Korea and Korea’s future in 1900: “I had the opportunity of meeting the men most likely to understand the Korean political situation, and they hold the opinion that there is little chance of its regeneration except by the intervention of some foreign Power.”

In 1904, Henry James Whigham published his rather journalistic book Manchuria and Korea, the result of a visit he made to the countries as a war correspondent prior to the Russo-Japanese war. It gives a very entertaining account of the things he saw.

In 1919, Captain Arthur de Carle Sowerby gave a talk to the same Society “The Exploration of Manchuria” about his journeys in Manchuria, which began in 1913. Among those present was Sir Francis Younghusband (see above) who commented at the end. Sowerby’s life is the subject of a book: R. R. Sowerby. Sowerby of China: Arthur de Carle Sowerby. Titus Wilson and Son,1956. In 1912 he published an account of an expedition through northern China: Through Shên-kan: the account of the Clark expedition in north China, 1908-9.  In 1922-30 he published The Naturalist in Manchuria, the results of his Manchurian explorations in 5 volumes (bound as 3): Volume 1 – Travel and Exploration Volume 2 – Mammals Volume 3 – Birds Volume 4 – The cold-blooded Vertebrates and Tunicates of the Manchurian Region – Volume 5 – The Invertebrates and Flora of the Manchurian Region. Tientsin press. A paper about him provides further information.

In October 1892 Marquess Curzon of Kedleston (then the Hon. G. Curzon) made a journey to the Diamond Mountains during his visit to Korea that produced his book “Problems of the Far East.” It is briefly described there then a rather longer account of it, In the Diamond Mountains : Adventures Among the Buddhist Monasteries of Eastern Korea, was published in the National Geographic Magazine of October 1924, together with some 20 striking photos, of which only a very few have the Diamond Mountains as their subject, and they seem to be from various decades.

In addition to the above, there are all the books about Korea published by early visitors and residents. Almost all can be read online through the links in my Old Books page

Books about Korea published (mainly in English) 1870 – 1910

Charles Dallet. Histoire de l’Eglise de Corée. Paris: V. Palmé. 1874.

Ernst Oppert. Ein verschlossenes Land; Reisen nach Corea, nebst Darstellung der Geographie, Geschichte, Produkte und Handelsverhältnisse des Landes, der Sprache und Sitten seiner Bewohner. Leipzig: Brockhaus. 1880.

Ernest Oppert. A Forbidden Land: Voyages to the Corea. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington. 1880.

William Elliot Griffis. Corea: The Hermit Nation. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1882.

Maurice Jametel. La Corée avant les Traités: souvenirs de voyages. Paris: Ch. Delagrave. 1885.

Percival Lowell. Choson: The Land of the Morning Calm, a Sketch of Korea. Boston: Ticknor. 1886

William Richard Carles. Life in Corea. London: Macmillan. 1888

O. N. Denny. China and Korea. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1888

George William Gilmore. Korea from its capital: with a chapter on missions. (1892)

A. E. J. Cavendish, H. E. Goold-Adams. Korea and the sacred White Mountain : being a brief account of a journey in Korea in 1891. London : George Philip and Son. 1894.

George W. Gilmore. Corea of Today. London: Nelson. 1894.

Arnold Henry Savage Landor. Corea, or Cho-sen: the land of the morning calm. London : W. Heinemann. 1895.

Trumbull White. The war in the East : Japan, China, and Corea : a complete history of the war. Philadelphia ; St. Louis : P.W. Ziegler & Co. 1895

Louise Jordan Miln. Quaint Korea. London : Osgood, McIlvaine & co. 1895.

Vladimir (John Foreman). The China-Japan War: Compiled from Japanese, Chinese, and Foreign Sources. New York : Scribner, 1896.

The Rt. Hon. George N. Curzon. Problems In The Far East. Japan-Korea-China. New and Revised edition, Archibald Constable, 1896

Isabella L. Bird. Korea and her Neighbours (2 Vols). London: John Murray. Second impression. 1898.

Daniel L. Gifford, Everyday Life in Korea. Chicago, New York: Fleming H. Revell. 1898.

R. Villetard de Laguérie. La Corée, indépendante, russe, ou japonaise. Paris: Hachette. 1898.

James S. Gale. Korean Sketches. Edinburgh / London: Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier. 1898.

Alexander Hosie. Manchuria: Its People, Resources and Recent History. London: Methuen. 1901.

Elizabeth A. McCully. A Corn of Wheat or The Life of Rev. W.J. McKenzie of Korea. Toronto: The Westminster Co. 1903.

Francis Edward Younghusband. The Heart of a Continent. Fourth edition. London: John Murray. 1904.

Henry James Whigham. Manchuria and Korea. London : Isbister. 1904.

Georges Ducrocq. Pauvre et Douce Corée. Paris: H. Champion. 1904.

James S. Gale. The Vanguard: A Tale of Korea. New York etc. Fleming H. Revell. 1904.

Horace Newton Allen. Korea, fact and fancy : being a republication of two books entitled “Korean tales” and “A chronological index”. Seoul : Methodist Publishing House, 1904.

Constance J. D. Tayler. Koreans at Home. London: Cassell. 1904.

Angus Hamilton. Korea. New York : C. Scribner’s Sons. 1904

Lillias H. Underwood. Fifteen Years among the Topknots or Life in Korea. Boston, New York : American tract Society. 1904.

Lillias H. Underwood. With Tommy Tompkins in Korea. New York, Chicago F.H. Revell. 1905

Homer B. Hulbert. The History of Korea, 2 Volumes. Seoul, Methodist Pub. House. 1905

The Burton Holmes Lectures: Volume 10, Seoul, Capital of Korea, Japan . . . New York: McClure, Phillips . 1905.

Carlo Rossetti. Corea e Coreani. 2 volumes. Bergamo: Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche. 1905.

Homer B. Hulbert. The Passing of Korea. New York: Doubleday Page. 1906

W. Arthur Noble. Ewa: a Tale of Korea. New York: Eaton & Mains. 1906.

George Heber Jones. Korea, the land, people, and customs. Cincinnati, Jennings and Graham; New York, Eaton and Mains. 1907.

F. A. McKenzie. The Tragedy of Korea. New York: Dutton. 1908.

Horace Grant Underwood. The Call of Korea: political, social, religious. New York, Chicago : Fleming H. Revell. 1908.

George Trumbull Ladd. In Korea with Marquis Ito. New York : C. Scribner’s Sons. 1908.

James S. Gale. Korea in Transition. Nashville etc: Methodist Episcopal Church South. 1909.

Angus Hamilton, Herbert Henry Austin, Masatake Terauchi. Korea: Its History, Its People, Its Commerce. (Oriental Series Volume 13) Boston / Tokyo: J.B. Millet.1910.

An expanded page with the text of and the photos from Isabella Bird’s Korea and her Neighbors (1898), with additional photos of Korea taken by her.

An expanded page with the text of and the illustrations from Constance Tayler’s Koreans at Home (1904).

I have received files of 3 “missionary novels” by Lois Hawks Swineheart : “Jane in the Orient“, “Sarange: A Child of Chosen” and “Korea Calls!” These books are not yet in the public domain so these files may not be accessed legally for another 10 years or so. They are simply resting here in the meantime.

I have made PDF files of revised / corrected scanned texts of the annual issues of the Korea Review
The Korea Review Volume 1 (1901)
The Korea Review Volume 2 (1902)
The Korea Review Volume 3 (1903)
The Korea Review Volume 4 (1904)
The Korea Review Volume 5 (1905)

Appendix: Korean Church History

In 1798, Alexandre de Gouvea, the Catholic Bishop of Peking, wrote to another (French) bishop in China a long account in Latin about the early history of the Church in KoreaFrench (1800), Portuguese (1808) and Korean (1992) translations have been published but there is apparently no English translation and the Latin is not easily available. I have translated the 1800 French edition into English with a few notes and made a digital version of the Latin for any who are interested. A copy of the Latin original can be found in the Portuguese national archive.

See also in the Internet Archive:   Charles DalletHistoire de l’Eglise de Coree (1874) full text from scan

My page in memory of the missionaries who founded the Anglican Church in Korea, who are poorly represented on the Internet.