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)
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.
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 1;
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
V ] Click here for an
English translation of: Section 1; Section 2; Section 3; Section 4; Section 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,
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.
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.
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
Books about Korea published (mainly in English) 1870 - 1910
Charles Dallet. Histoire de l'Eglise de Corée. Paris: V. Palmé.
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
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 &
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,
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.
W. Arthur Noble. Ewa: a Tale of Korea. New York: Eaton &
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.
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
The Korea Review Volume
The Korea Review Volume
The Korea Review Volume
The Korea Review Volume
The Korea Review Volume
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 Korea. French
(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
See also in the Internet Archive: Charles
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