Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: Hamel's Journal and a description of the Kingdom of Korea: 1653-1666

Title: Hamel's Journal and a description of the Kingdom of Korea: 1653-1666
Author: Hendrick Hamel and Jean-Paul Buys
Paperback: 113 pages
Publisher: Royal Asiatic Society: Korea Branch (1998)
ISBN-13: 978-8972250869

Crashed on the shores of a forbidden kingdom unknown to the Western world, a young Dutch bookkeeper and 35 of his shipmates found themselves in uncharted territory in 1653. Unlike the Japanese or Chinese who customarily sent shipwrecked foreigners on their way, the Korean court flatly refused and instead intended the survivors to spend the rest of their days as guests in their kingdom. For thirteen years, that's exactly what happened.

All told, only 8 out of the original 64 members of the Sperwer made it back to their homeland after living in Jeju, Seoul and later split between three cities in the Jolla region. Hamel's observations were well recorded and still provide a fascinating look into life in seventeenth century Korea. This revised edition contains plenty of supplementary information. A small treasure worth reading.

The story makes several interesting references to an older Dutch shipwreck survivor, Jan Jansz Weltevree, who decades earlier, also shipwrecked in Korea. although his two shipmates successfully escaped, he did not and lived out his life in Korea. After meeting Hamel, he acted as a translator for the Dutchmen. What are the odds?

There's a museum in Jeju near the supposed crash site of the Sperwer. I visited it in 2010 and took a few snapshots. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend checking it out.


Post a Comment