At Seoul

After we had traveled like this for several days and stayed the night at several cities and villages, we finally reached a river as wide as the Meuse near Dordrecht (having traveled 70 to 75 miles north, but also a bit west). We crossed this river after which we arrived one mile further at a big walled city. This is Sior (Seoul ), the residence of the king. All of us were accommodated in a house where we stayed two or three days. Then we were accommodated with two, three or four men at Chinese fugitives, who lived in Seoul. This was hardly done or we were summoned before the king who asked us through the before mentioned Jan Janse Weltevree , all kind of questions.

We answered these questions in the best way we could and accordingly requested passionately to let us leave to Japan. We reminded him that we lost our ship because of a storm, with which we almost lost half of our companions. That we found ourselves in a foreign country, faraway from hearth and home and we longed heavily to be reunited with our parents, wives, children, friends and next of kin.

Upon this the king answered, again through Weltevree, that this was not the custom of the country. Foreigners never received permission to leave the country. So we had to reconcile ourselves to staying in this country for the rest of our lives. To the custom of the country he invited us accordingly to amuse him with dancing, singing and clownish behavior. Though we fulfilled this obligation with little talent and as little enthusiasm, our performance was to the liking of the king and his court.

After we had been treated in the way of the country, each of us received two pieces of linen, so we could dress ourselves according to the customs of the country. Then we were brought back to the houses in which we were accommodated. The next day we were summoned at the commander-in-chief, who told us through Weltevree, that it had pleased the king to draft us as his bodyguards. We would receive a monthly allowance of about 70 ounces of rice each.

Each of us received a round wooden disc, on which were engraved in Korean letters our names, age, country of origin and our functions in service of the king. On top of that the stamps of the king and the commander-in-chief were burned in it. Then each of us received a musket, gunpowder and lead and the assignment to pay our respect to the king each new and full moon.

It is namely the custom in Korea that inferior servants of the king twice a month paid their respect to their superior. The male population is, until a certain age, being enlisted six months a year as a warrior. Hence three months in spring and three months in fall. During both periods they are drilled three times a month, and are practiced in shooting three times a month as well. Weltevree was assigned as a drilling master to us and besides him a Chinese. There are namely a lot of Chinese enlisted in the bodyguard of the king.

We were daily invited to appear for several great men, because both men and their wives as well as their children were curious to see us. Because the rumor had been spread that we looked more like monsters than like human creatures. It was being said that, when we wanted to drink, we had to put our noses behind our ears. And that our heads were best to be compared to the head of a sea cow. A closer acquaintance with us was a disappointment for most of them, because we didn't look that monstrously as one had expected, or maybe even hoped.

Actually most Koreans didn't think at all that we were ugly. They admired the whiteness of our skin. The possession of it is being regarded at as something desirable. In the beginning we couldn't show ourselves on the street or a crowd was following us, or people were surrounding us and were gaping at us. On the island Quelpaert we were much less hindered by that, though we also attracted a great deal of attention.

It came thus far that, at a certain night the mob broke into our bedrooms, in order to drag us, against our will, outside and made fun out of us. We lodged a complaint at our commander about this. He forbid anybody to harass us in any way. From that moment on we could move around freely, without causing the gathering of a crowd.

In the month of August, the envoy of the Tartars (=Manchu's) came to Seoul to collect the taxation which was laid upon the Korean nation. During his visit we were banned by the king out of the city and accommodated in a fortress. It was about six or seven miles from the city on a very high mountain. This fortress was a place of refuge. When the enemy forced its way into the country, the king sought his refuge over here. There is always so much food that 1000 men can live there for three years long. The fortress is also being used as a residence for the highest spiritual leaders of the nation. The name of this fortress was Nammansansong. We stayed here from the second till the third of September, the day the Tartarian envoy left again.

Toward the end of November it started to freeze so hard that the big river (the Han Kang) near the city froze. The ice was so strong that a cavalry unit of about three hundred men in full marching kit could cross the river without any danger. Since the cold was increasing, it began to hinder us. We went to our commander with the question if he couldn't take care for winter clothes. Then he went to the king with the request to give us back a part of the hides, which they had salvaged from the wreck of the Sperwer. This request was granted. The hides were dried and accordingly shipped to Seoul , where they were stored in a warehouse. Upon inspection it seemed that a lot of these hides were rotten and another part was had been eaten by mite. We decided to sell the hides which were still useable, to buy a house from the profit. The Chinese with whom we were accommodated, namely didn't treat us very pleasantly. They demanded us for instance to fetch wood for them regularly. Wherefore we had to walk three miles to there and back three miles as well, over the mountains. Since we were not accustomed to climbing a mountain with a pile of wood on our backs, we found this job extremely unpleasant. We were all of the opinion that we preferred to suffer some cold, if only to get rid of these people. The profit exceeded our expectations however, the money we received for the hides was enough to buy three little houses and with the money which was left we could buy some winter clothes. In this way we made it through this severe winter.

The incident with the Tartarian envoy

In March 1655 the Tartarian envoy came again to Seoul . During his stay we were kept under house arrest. But on the day that, as far as we knew, the envoy would leave, Hendrik Janse from Amsterdam and Hendrik Janse Bos from Haarlem claimed that they were completely without firewood. They got permission to go to the wood. But instead, they went to the road where the envoy would pass. When the envoy approached, surrounded by some hundred horsemen, they broke through the cordon and grabbed the horse of the envoy at his reigns.

Hastily they undressed their Korean outer garment and showed the Dutch clothes they were wearing underneath. This caused an enormous commotion. The frightened envoy asked what this was supposed to mean, at which the two shouted that they were Hollanders who were kept in Korea against their will. Unfortunately the envoy didn't understand anything of what they shouted. The Koreans who accompanied him were neither willing to clarify him anything. They claimed not to understand it either.

After that the Tartarian envoy requested to take the coxswain to his house where he would spend the night and the envoy would take care of an interpreter. So it happened. In the meantime the other Hollanders were dragged out of their houses and brought in front of the Crown Council. The chairman of this council asked us if we had known what these two had been up to. Of course we denied being aware of it. Nevertheless the court sentenced us guilty, because we could have seen that the couple didn't go to the mountains, but, on the contrary, walked to the other side. We should have reported this immediately.

The verdict was 50 blows on the bare buttocks for each. This verdict however, had to be ratified by the king. The king was of the opinion that we didn't deserve this punishment. He considered that we didn't enter the country as robbers or conquerors, but were driven here, against our will, by the storm. He nullified the verdict, after which we were brought back to our houses, where we had to stay until further notice.

 

In the meantime, the coxswain had been questioned, through an interpreter, by the envoy and knew the whole situation. With this, the Koreans came into a difficult situation. As we were told later, the Tartarian envoy was bribed with a lot of money and promises for more if he didn't inform the emperor in Beijing. The whole incident ended badly for our two mates. They were thrown in prison and we have never seen them again. Much later we learned that they died in the meantime. Whether they died of a natural cause or had been sentenced after all, was not told. Even Weltevree, who knew so much, couldn't tell us. From the Korean resources we know that the two mates starved themselves to death. The Koreans were very worried about this, but didn't know how make them eat again.

 

In June the Tartarian envoy came again to Seoul . Shortly before that we were summoned before the commander, who told us a new ship had stranded at Quelpaert and because Weltevree had become too old to undertake such a fatiguing journey, three of us, who knew the language best, had to act there as an interpreter. We appointed three of our mates: an assistant, the under officer in charge of the rigs and a sailor. This threesome left a few days later to the South accompanied by a sergeant.

We, who stayed behind, got the strict orders to stay in our houses until the second day of the departure of the envoy. He who dared to stick his nose outside the door before that, could count on a merciless spanking. After a while we received a letter from our three mates, who had left for Quelpaert. They notified us that they were imprisoned on the outermost south point of the island, where they were strictly guarded. No ship at all had been wrecked. All these things had been a trick to get the threesome out of Seoul.

It was not clear to us what exactly had been the intention of this. Presumably the Koreans hoped to keep these three behind if the emperor of China came to know that there were in Korea and would request our extradition.

Maybe to use them at occurring occasions as interpreters?

At the end of that year, the envoy crossed the ice to demand again tribute . And as before, we were locked up in our houses during his stay and severely guarded. After his visit members of the crown council insisted upon the king to have us killed. They got support from other dignitaries who were fed up with us. They assembled upon this issue for three days. The king, the brother of the king, army commander and other leading persons were against this proposal, because they were kindly disposed toward us.

The army commander said that, if one decided to kill us, it had to be in a man to man fight, in which each of us had to fight against two Koreans, who were armed in the same way. He thought that to be more honorable, both for Koreans and Hollanders , then just killing a number of foreigners, who had entered the country against their will. All of this had been secretly told us, by sympathetic informers. Heavily alarmed we asked Weltevree if he could confirm this message. He didn't want to tell us more then, if we still would be alive after three days the danger would have passed.

The brother of the king, who was the chairman of the meetings, passed our houses on his way to the meetings. We took the opportunity, to kowtow in front of him and begged him to spare our lives. He set our minds at rest by telling us things didn't look as black as they were being suggested by envious persons, who were unkindly disposed toward us. And so it happened.

We owed our lives to the king, who stayed foot and didn't yield for the pressure applied by the enemy who aimed at our down fall. But he had to make concessions as well. To prevent that we caused problems again in the future by seeking contact with the Tartarian envoy, we were exiled to the province of Chollado . From the king we received a monthly allowance of 50 ounces of rice.

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