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 1; Volume 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 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,
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 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 archive.

See also in the Internet Archive:   Charles Dallet, Histoire 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.