|Ernest T. Bethell|
November 3, 1872|
May 1, 1909|
Seoul, South Korea
|Other names||Bae Seol (배설/裵說)|
|Home town||Bristol, England|
Ernest Thomas Bethell (November 3, 1872 – May 1, 1909), who is also known by his Korean name Bae Seol (배설, 裵說), was a British journalist who founded a newspaper, The Korea Daily News, antagonistic to Japanese rule.
Arrival in Korea
In 1904, he originally came to Korea as a correspondent for Daily Chronicle, from Kobe, Japan where he had been in the export business, to report on the Russo-Japanese War, but then stayed in Korea and reported on Japanese imperialism in Korea. Bethell soon noted the abuses by Japanese soldiers towards Koreans, and how Koreans were treated unfairly and as inferior.
Founding of Korean newspapers
He founded an early newspaper in Korea with Yang Gi-tak, a Korean independence activist, in 1904 called Daehan Maeil Sinbo (대한매일신보, 大韓每日申報, The Korea Daily News) which was published in both Korean and English. The publication was strongly antagonistic to Japanese rule in Korea. The paper was available in three versions - English, Korean, and Korean mixed script. Many people who opposed Japanese, such as Park Eun-sik and Sin Chae-ho, wrote articles and columns on the paper.
Prosecution for sedition
At the time British subjects enjoyed extraterritorial rights in Korea. Because the paper was published by a British subject it was not subject to local law.
The next year, at the request of the Japanese Residency-General, Bethel was prosecuted in the British Supreme Court for China and Corea (sic), sitting in Seoul, for sedition against the Japanese government of Korea. He was convicted of sedition and was sentenced by judge F.S.A Bourne to three weeks of imprisonment and a six month good behaviour bond. As there was no suitable jail in Korea, he was taken to Shanghai aboard HMS Clio and detained at the British Consular Gaol in Shanghai.
After being released, he returned to Seoul to continue his business. He died of cardiac enlargement on May 1, 1909.
The Korean people erected a monument in his honour. This was defaced by the Japanese. Another monument was erected near the original one in 1964 by journalists living in South Korea. Both can be now seen at his grave at Yanghwajin Foreigners' Cemetery.
2012 Memorial service
On 8 May 2012 a special memorial service was held for Bethell at the Yanghwajin Foreigners' Cemetery organised by the Bethell Commemoration Committee. Former South Korean Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung chaired the ceremony and President Lee Myung-bak sent flowers to mark the event. Some 250 people participated in the ceremony, also including Park Yoo-chul, chairman of the Korea Liberation Association.
British Ambassador Scott Wrightman spoke at the ceremony. Wrightman said:
“This ceremony celebrates Ernest Bethell’s contribution to the history of modern Korea and his particular role in strengthening the bonds which bind our two countries ... Recent events in other parts of the world remind us that freedom of expression is not universal. It’s fitting therefore that we celebrate the role of people such as Ernest Bethell who highlighted the cruelty of imperialism, defended the rights of the marginalized and reaffirmed the basic rights of all to live in a free and just society.”
Photos of the event (and commentary in Korean) can be found by clicking here
- Press, Office of the President also cited by Nicole Cohen, Japanese Periodicals in Colonial Korea, report on Japanese bibliography accessed on Columbia University NY website at  July 27, 2006
- North China Herald, 27 June 1908, p825
- North China Herald, 27 June 1908, p841
- Clark, Donald N., comp and ed. The Seoul Foreigners' Cemetery at Yanghwajin: An Informal History with Notes on Other Cemeteries in Korea and Individuals and Families in the History of the Foreign Community in Korea. Seoul: Seoul Union Church, 1998
- Korea Herald 13 May 2012