In mid-September 1878, a powerful typhoon struck the southern coast of Japan wreaking havoc upon the shipping industry in that area. Several ships, including the small English schooner Barbara Taylor, were lost in its fury. Fortunately for the Barbara Taylor’s crew, they were wrecked off the coasts of Jeju Island. After much effort, John Taylor, the ship’s captain, was able to make his way to Nagasaki and report the loss of his ship and the predicament of his crew.
Soon an expedition was formed to recover the Barbara Taylor and rescue its “European crew being held in durance vile” on the “hitherto almost unknown” and “uncivilized island.” The expedition consisted of several Englishmen including Capt. Taylor, Mr. Paul (the British representative at Nagasaki), Frederick Ringer (agent for the owners of the Barbara Taylor) and, surprisingly, Nicolas C. Mancini, the Italian proprietor of the Belle Vue Hotel in Nagasaki. In addition, 20 Japanese coolies were hired to provide the brawn for recovering the cargo.
The Hakon Adelsten, a 906-ton Norwegian steamer commanded by Capt. Bergh, was chartered to take the expedition to Jeju and to then trans-port the recovered crew and cargo back to Nagasaki. Although it is hard to say with any true certainty, Bergh may have been the first Norwegian to purposely visit Korea.
On the afternoon of Oct. 21, the Hakon Adelsten departed Nagasaki and, steaming throughout the night, arrived at the wreck the following afternoon. Taylor and Paul were amongst the first ashore and were greeted by a large crowd of Koreans dressed in white. Taylor’s welcome was especially exuberant and he was “shown every sign of the kindliest feelings and friendship.” It was here that they were joined by the ship-wrecked crew of the Barbara Taylor and by a young Italian named Giuseppe Santori who was the only survivor of an Italian ship that had been destroyed in the typhoon.
Taylor and Paul then met with a Korean official who was regally dressed in a long garment of dark brown silk with scarlet and yellow sleeves and blue silk trousers, which greatly contrasted with the white and straw colored clothing of his subjects. He claimed to be 67 years old but to the Westerners he looked much older due to a missing eye and several upper front teeth. Although his appearance and demeanor were stern, he welcomed them and expressed his willingness to assist the expedition’s recovery of the ship’s cargo. He did, however, insist that the Japanese coolies were not to come ashore.
The Westerners thanked him for his kindness and then offered him the 30 bags of Japanese rice that Taylor had earlier promised to bring and, as gifts, some cloth, a bundle of Japanese umbrellas and two bottles of gin. The Korean official kindly but steadfastly refused the gifts except for the gin which he promptly drank and declared “that it warmed his heart.”
As the day progressed, the weather grew steadily worse and the meeting was quickly concluded. The Westerners, probably with the Barbara Taylor’s rescued crew, returned to the Hakon Adelsten to wait out the storm. They brought with them the rice and cloth that had been offered as gifts but, knowing how much the Koreans valued umbrellas (Koreans viewed them as a status symbol), intentionally forgot them on the beach.
As the wind increased and the sea grew choppier, Bergh prudently sailed a couple of miles out to sea and waited for the storm to pass. In the morning the steamer returned to its anchorage near the wreck but the sea was so violent that on several occasions it caused the ship to drag its anchors. Despite the weather, a recovery crew was sent ashore.
When the recovery crew landed they were surprised to discover that the Korean official had gathered nearly 100 Korean men to assist them. Amongst the Korean coolies were several policemen, dressed in blue and white and armed with short clubs, to ensure that the coolies worked quickly and diligently and did not pilfer any of the cargo. Those coolies who failed to work quickly enough were often chastised and then corporally punished with staves and clubs, an event that in the Westerners opinion occurred with alarming frequency.
A quick examination of the Barbara Taylor confirmed Ringer’s fear - the ship could not be recovered and would have to be stripped of everything of value. Throughout the day, Taylor and his men removed the copper plates, yards, ropes, blocks and any cargo that might have been earlier overlooked.
While salvaging operations were going on ashore, Paul and Bergh invited the Korean official and his staff to come aboard the Hakon Adelsten for a visit. It was a visit that held surprises for all and is the subject of the next article.
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