The discovery of Korea

The first Europeans who knew about the existence of Korea were the Portuguese. Since 1543 they had a trade post on the island of Hirado, where they without doubt got to know that in northwestern direction passed the island of Tsushima, there was a nation that they called Couray. During his investigations in Portugal and on the Portuguese merchant fleet, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten got to know this from Dirck Gerritszoon Pomp, nicknamed "Dirck China." Pomp, a Hollander, also in the service of the Portuguese, went to sea in 1584 aboard the Portuguese vessel "Santa Cruz". The ship was richly laden with merchandise and had sailed by way of the trade-settlement in Goa, India, to Macao in China and from there to Japan. He arrived in Nagasaki in 1585, perhaps the first Hollander to set foot on Japanese soil. Dirck gave oral information to Jan van Linschoten. In his Reisgheschrift (travel notes), which were published in 1595, he writes the following:

...soo streckt de Custe [van Japan] weder nae het noorden toe, wijckende daer nae inwaerts, noordwestwaerts aen, aen welcke Custe comen die van Japon traffijcken met het Volck van de contreije diemen noemt Cooraij, waer van ick goede, breede en waerachtige informatie hebbe, als oock van de van de Navigatie naer dit Landt toe, van de Piloten die 'taldaer' ondersocht ende bevaren hebben. stretches the coast [from Japan] again to the north, recedes after that inward, northwest ward, to which Coast those from Japan trade with the Nation which is called Cooray, from which I have good, comprehensive and true information, as well as from the navigation to this Country, from the pilots who investigated the situation there and sailed there.

In the Itinerario, which was published one year later, at page 37 we will find the following extract:

Een weinig boven Iapon, op 34 ende 35 graden, niet verre van de Custe van China, legt een ander groot Eijlandt, ghenaemt Insula de Core, van welcke tot noch toe gheen seker bescheidt en is van grootte, 'tVolck, noch wat waren daer vallen
A little above Japan, on 34 and 35 degrees, not far from the coast of China, is another big island, called Insula de Core, from which until now, there is no certainty concerning size, people, nor what trade there is.

It was also known to the Portuguese and, through them, to the Dutch, that the Japanese were trading with Korea. And that the Lord, or Daimyo, of Tshusima had the monopoly of this trade.

In 1610, one year after the Dutch received permission from the Japanese government to establish a factory on the island of Hirado, Jacques Specx, the chief of this factory, sent a ship with a cargo of pepper for Korea, to the Island of Tsushima.

"At our returne to the English house [te Hirado], I found three or foure Flemmings there; one of them was in a Iapan habit, and came from a place called Cushma [Tsushima], within sight of Corea. I understand they sold Pepper and other Commodities there, and I thinke haue some secret trade into Corea, or else are very likely to haue " (The Voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, page 170),

"Pepper was sold there [Japan] for 15 and 16 tael per picol; these were partly sold in Japan, partly transported to Corea" (Gen, Miss. February 3, 1626).

Maybe there would have been a better market for tin:

"Nangasacki November 3, 1610. Tin is bought much in Corea, that's why [it] is much retained here, I have requested if it were possible if we could do some trade on Corea here from Japan; for this purpose I have sent on March lastly with 20 picol pepper to the island Tuxcijma being around 30 mijlen from here, who with those of Corea, which is still another 25 mijlen from there, trade and make their journey 3 to 4 times a year hither, however previously mentioned is because of the strict laws found to be impossible, that the Governor of previously mentioned island wouldn't consent, since it would do him damage, then will previously mentioned had not taken place, have further requested since a big profit can be made, so with silk work, leather, medicine and other things which can be brought there" (To Heeren XVII; unsigned but probably from Specx).

But also if Specx would have been capable of offering this metal, would "the strict laws of the country" and the self-interest of the Daimyo of Tsushima have prevented the desired trade.

Also a letter from the stadtholder, the prince Maurits, sent on December 18, 1610 from the remote The Hague to the 'most Almighty Emperor and King of Japan' didn't soften the Japanese. Maurits wrote the following:

" Voorts alzoo mijne ondendanen genegen zijn, om alle landen en plaatsen met handeling in vriendschap en sincerelijk te bezoeken; zoo verzoeke ook aan Uwe Keiz. Majesteit, dat dezelve den hande1 op Corea door Uwer Majesteits faveur en behulp mogen genieten, om alzoo met gelegener tijd,de noordcust van Japan mede te mogen bevaren, daaraan mij zonderlinge vriendschap geschieden zal" (18 December 1610)

"Furthermore my subjects are willing to visit and trade sincerely all countries and places, I thus request Your Imperial Majesty that the same trade on Corea may favor Your Majesty's help, so that at the right time, we can sail also the north coast of Japan, thereto my particular friendship will happen" (December 18, 1610)

In whatever beautiful words the request however was written, the prince got naught. For the VOC however it was difficult to swallow that the monopoly of the trade with Korea was in other hands than theirs, and they were keen to change that situation. In 1622 the VOC-ship de Hond, officially due to a navigation error, but maybe deliberately, sailed into Korean waters. Immediately the ship was attacked, by not less than 36 war-junks, who shelled de Hond with 'bassen, roers, boogen ende ontalrijcke hasegaijen'  (cannons, firelocks, bows and numerous wooden lances).

In his report about the unwelcome reception the skipper advises the authorities in Batavia 'alle schippers te waarschouwen ende te belasten wel op haer hoede voor soodanighe resconters te wesen' (to warn all skippers to be well aware of these kind of encounters ).

But the administrators didn't give up all hopes yet. In 1636 commander Matthijs Hendricksz.Quast gets the assignment to 'het landt Coree t'ontdecken' (discover the country Korea).

".... at north to turn [to] Japan, the coast of Tartarien, China as well to discover the country Corea and to understand what profitable traffic about that can be obtained for the General Compagnie...." (Instruction to Quast July 7, 1639).

But even before the mainland came into sight, his convoy was intercepted by units of the Korean war-fleet. After a short council of naval officers, Quast decides to return on his course and to give up further attempts to set foot on Korean soil. Sometimes ship in dire need would try to get some water on Chejudo but were chased away immediately.

The honor to be called the 'discoverers' or maybe even better the first describers of Korea for the west, is thus for the crew of the Sperwer who survived the shipwrecking of August 15, 1653.

At the end of April 1653 the governor of Formosa, Nicolaes Verburgh submitted his resignation. Since his stay was not valued (he appeared to be a weak administrator) his resignation was granted. There were reasons for the administrators to appoint for these precious premises, as Formosa was called in official documents, a new holder of the office, from extraordinary wisdom, discretion and boldness.

Weltevree doesn't deserve the title of "discoverer". Though he and his mates (and a few others before them) were earlier to set foot on Korean soil, they never returned (and the others never wrote about it.)

Picture of a jaght, like the ones being used in the 17th century by the VOC to maintain the connection between the several settlements in southeast Asia. Most likely the Sperwer would have looked like this. Etching by Cornelis Visscher de Jonge (1629-1658)

The eyes were bent upon ordinary counselor Carel Hartsingh, who worked before on Formosa. But when suddenly at May 18, 1653 the governor-general, Carel Reniersz. deceased, Hartsingh preferred to succeed the new governor-general Joan Maetsuycker as director-general. As a consequence it was decided to appoint extraordinary counselor Cornelis Caesar. For transportation Caesar depended on the jaght the Sperwer. On June 16, Joan Maetsuycker made a joyful farewell meal for the leaving governor. Next day he embarked, with his family, aboard the Sperwer. In one of the holds of this jaght there were ample 50 militaries accommodated, who made the journey to Formosa, to complete the crew of the fortress Zeelandia

On June 18, 1653, the Sperwer weighed anchor and set course to Formosa. And now the story is further to Hamel.

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