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Hendrick Hamel (1630 – 12 February 1692) was the first Westerner to write and experience first-hand in the Joseon Dynasty era in Korea (1666). He later wrote "Hamel's Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea, 1653-1666", published after his return to the Netherlands.
Hendrick Hamel was born and died in Gorinchem. He was a bookkeeper with the Dutch East India Company (the VOC). In 1653, while heading for Japan on the ship 'De Sperwer' (the Sparrowhawk), he was shipwrecked on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea along with thirty-five of his crewmates. 36 of the 64 members of the crew survived the shipwreck, and the men were promptly taken into custody and sent to Seoul (where the king was Hyojong of Joseon, who ruled from 1649 to 1659). They were forbidden to leave the country, but they were given some freedom to move and mix with the different classes of Korean society.
After thirteen years, Hamel and seven of his crewmates managed to escape to Japan, and from there to the Netherlands. After 1667, three different publishers published his report, describing their improbable adventure and giving the first detailed and accurate description of Korea to Europe.
Hamel in the Joseon Korea
The sudden appearance of 36 Europeans caused a major disturbance among the Koreans, even though the sailors unmistakably were victims rather than deliberate raiders. As castaways, Hamel and the others were treated well in the early months after the disaster. However, as soon as the novelty wore off, they again became the foreigners whom Korea had wanted to keep away from its shores.
Hendrick Hamel, the most educated of the seventeen prisoners, wrote a report during their stay in Dejima about their stay and about the customs in Korea. Of his first encounter with Koreans after they had crawled ashore from the wreck of De Sperwer, Hamel wrote:
"After dinner they came with ropes in their hands, which very much might surprise us, imagining they intended to strangle us; but our fear vanished when we saw them run all together to the wreck to draw ashore what might be of use to them."
He described his experiences with Koreans. Spurned in their quest for freedom, the men were obliged to adhere to the customs of the land and became all but imprisoned by the Koreans, however, he also wrote that:
"The Governor also took such care of our sick that we may affirm we were better treated by that idolater than we should have been among Christians."
When the novelty of their capture was still fresh, the Dutchmen had been brought to the royal palace in Seoul, as a kind of novelty item for the king. Through a Dutch interpreter Park-Yeon and confidants, Hamel and the others were able to relay an urgent request to the king. They bade him to grant them their release so they could go back home and rejoin their wives and children. Hamel's entry in the journal conveyed the disappointment the men felt upon the negative decision. It was obvious to the Dutchmen that the Koreans intended to continue to restrict their movements.
In 1666, after thirteen years and twenty eight days(during the reign of Hyeonjong of Joseon, 1659–1674) of stay in Korea, eight men including Hamel were able to escape. They managed to seize a boat and soon reached Japan where they were able to travel on to the VOC trading mission at Dejima, the artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki. They were examined by a Japanese official in charge of Nagasaki for a year about their lives in Korea, and Hamel arrived at home on July 20, 1668, and died in 1692.
Dutch Recognition of Hamel
Back in 17th century Holland, Hamel was just another of the many former VOC crewmen with stories to tell about his adventures. He had sailed the Seven Seas at a time when dozens of VOC ships plied their trade, fought sea battles, survived disasters, made discoveries and enjoyed adventures. Not surprisingly, the events described in his journal were regarded a mere curiosity.
Only recently has Hamel's hometown acknowledged his role as an explorer. In a major move to pay homage to its famous traveler, the old fortress town of Gorinchem now boasts a statue of Hamel. A second, similar casting was added to the Hamel monument in the South Korean town of Gangjin. The first public recognition of Hamel in the Netherlands occurred early in the 20th century, when a local street was named after him. The street still exists.
- Corea, Without and Within, Hendrick Hamel's narrative of captivity and travels in Corea, annotated, by William Elliot Griffis, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1885.
- Coree-Korea 1653-1666 (Itineraria Asiatica: Korea), Hendrik Hamel, Orchid Press, Thailand, ASIN 9748299481, 1981.
- Works by Hendrik Hamel at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Hendrick Hamel at Internet Archive
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