Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



Admiral Roze arrived at Chefoo with the frigate Guerrière,' corvettes Primauguet' and 'Laplace,' and the gunboats

‘ · Kien-chan,' • Déroulède,' · Le Breton,' and · Tardif. The two missionaries, MM. Féron and Calais, who had been left behind in Corea on M. Ridel's departure, had in the interim found means of effecting their escape, and brought news that persecution still continued to harass the native converts.

The gunboats · Tardif' and · Déroulède' were detailed to effect a preliminary survey of the river approaches to the Corean capital; and having entered the embouchure of the Han, which they found undefended, they followed its course upwards entirely unopposed for a distance of some fifty miles until they found themselves actually in front of the walls of Séoul. Here they anchored for a few hours, the officers diligently employed in hydrographic observations, whilst half the population of the city lined the river bank and gazed in wonder at the unaccustomed spectacle. No attempt at molestation was encountered, though several forts commanding the river were passed, and the gunboats finally steamed away after completing their exploratory mission. It was fully ascertained that Séoul might be reached by vessels of moderate draught, but the somewhat unpleasant fact (to nautical minds) was noted that the rise and fall of the tides in the river Han reach the remarkable extent of fifty or sixty feet, combined with currents of unusual force. On the ilth of October Admiral Roze set sail from Chefoo with his entire squadron, and two days later he anchored opposite an island known to the French surveyors as l'île Boisée, in the embouchure of the river descending from Séoul. At the mouth of the river lies the large insular tract forming the district of Kiang-hwa or Kang-hoa, comprising the city of that name, and here, without any attempt at communication with the Corean Government, a force was landed from the French ships on the 14th of October, and moved inland to attack the city. After some insignificant skirmishing, unattended with loss on the side of the French, Kang-hoa was escaladed and found almost wholly deserted by its inhabitants. Silver ingots to the value of about 190,000 francs were discovered in the treasury and became lawful prize of war; whilst some curious specimens of Corean art in metal-work and textile fabrics formed the principal trophies of the royal residence which was found to exist within the walls of the town.

At this time, so unwarlike had the institutions of the country become, and so little was the Regent prepared, despite his now implacable resolve to refuse all intercourse with the outer world, to meet an invasion, that the only force at his disposal for resisting or rather for harassing the French expedition consisted in some bodies of men hurriedly called in from the forests of the north, where their avocations as woodsmen and hunters had familiarised them with the use of firearms and inured them to habits of daring. Eight disabled and dismounted cannon with a stock of powder and useless muskets constituted all the munitions of war discovered at Kang-hoa; and it cannot be doubted that had the small French force of some 500 or 600 men been pushed on at once, they would have entered the capital with little more difficulty than they experienced in the capture of Kang-hoa. Common prudence, nevertheless, was opposed to such an advance into an unknown country, with the prospect of finding that the Government had removed into the depths of the interior even should the capital be successfully reached. It was probably hailed as a relief, therefore, from the embarrassing condition in which this somewhat headlong expedition found itself when, after a few days' delay, a vague and wordy despatch was received from a Corean general, who professed a desire to negotiate respecting the designs of the French commander. A reply was forwarded to this communication, demanding the punishment of the three Ministers who had counselled the execution of the missionaries, and the appointment of plenipotentiaries with whom Admiral Roze might treat; but within a day or two after this letter was despatched it became evident that the Coreans were bent merely on gaining time, and that numerous levies were being assembled for the purpose of surrounding and overwhelming the handful of invaders. Armed bodies began to appear on the opposite bank of the river, whence by land to the capital is a distance of but twelve or fifteen miles, and on the 26th of October a reconnoitring force sent in this direction fell into an ambush and was driven back with considerable loss. A larger force was landed on the following day, but met with no better success. Advancing against a line of breastworks where the Corean force was supposed to be lodged, the French force found themselves suddenly confronted by about five hundred soldiers, who greeted them with a heavy fire. Thirty-five of the French fell wounded, including three officers, and being unprovided with artillery the attacking party was compelled to retreat after returning with interest the Corean fire. Finding the task he had undertaken entirely beyond the means at his disposal, Admiral Roze reluctantly abandoned Kang-hoa, embarked his forces, and returned to Chefoo, where instructions from the French Government were met by no means supporting the hasty action inaugurated by their Chargé d'Affaires at Peking.

The exultation of the Coreans on this triumph over the first European invaders of their sacred soil may be easily imagined ; and it is mortifying to record that at a date posterior to the entire abandonment of the French expedition M. de Bellonet was still inditing despatches in a tone of singular bombast to the Chinese Government. On the 11th of November, 1866, after accusing the Chinese (on evidence which has never been substantiated) of complicity' in the murder of the missionaries and of affording encouragement to the hostile feelings of the Coreans, he wrote:

• It is of no consequence for us to know the reasons which led the Coreans to commit this execrable offence; the deed is done. ... I have already given the most precise instructions that the culpable mandarins, whose names I have been able to procure, shall be tried and executed as soon as they fall into our hands. As for the fate of the ci-devant King of Corea, it is now subject to the decision of the Emperor, my august master. . ..

• I ought, in closing, to bring to the notice of your Imperial Highness that military operations once commenced, as they now are, I cannot stop them before we have attained the end we have set for ourselves. Every attempt at conciliation will now be useless, unless the ci-devant King of Corea surrenders at discretion, and implores the mercy of the Emperor, our august sovereign, trusting to his generosity. It is for your Imperial Highness to see if you can give this alvice to the Corean Government.' (U.S. Diplomatic Correspondence, 1867, vol. i. p. 423.)

The Chinese Foreign Office, greatly disturbed by the receipt of such bellicose communications, at length_submitted them to the various European representatives at Peking, as also to the United States Minister, by whose Government they were subsequently made public. It is only fair to the Government of the Emperor Napoleon to add that M. de Bellonet's language and proceedings were equally disapproved and were followed by his recall; but this correspondence was, nevertheless, dexterously employed in the following year by Mr. Burlingame, the then United States representative at Peking, as one of the reasons for his own appointment (with an immense salary) as Chinese ambassador to the Western Powers,

Meanwhile, by a singular coincidence, the same year which had witnessed the massacre of the missionaries had been marked by more than one event tending to fix the attention of other Governments besides the French upon Corea. On several occasions, in previous years, European vessels had been wrecked on the Corean coast, and their crews had been, if not hospitably, at least humanely treated, although placed under jealous

[ocr errors]



restrictions so long as they remained on Corean soil. In June, 1866, the American schooner Surprise' was wrecked on an island near the north-western coast, and her crew, having reached the mainland in safety, were kept for twenty-four days under guard at a fishing village, while instructions from the capital were awaited by the officials who took them in charge. During this time they were abundantly supplied with food and even with medicines for the sick; and they were finally sent under escort to the Chinese frontier, having every reason to be satisfied with their treatment until they arrived, after a tedious journey, upon Chinese territory, when starvation and harsh treatment took the place of the kindly entertainment they had previously met with. In August of the same year the British steamer • Emperor' was privately despatched on an experi' mental voyage to Corea by a mercantile firm in Shanghai, and this vessel penetrated to within a short distance of the capital. No symptoms of hostility were betrayed by the Corean officials who visited her, but the determination arrived at by the Regent to permit no commercial intercourse with foreigners was firmly manifested, and a proposal on the part of the enterprising captain to make a treaty was politely negatived. No reference was made during this visit to the recent murder of the missionaries. Simultaneously with this undertaking, another attempt to break through the barriers of Corean exclusiveness was being made in another direction. On the very day that the Emperor' steamed up the river Séoul, an American schooner, the General Sherman,' left the port of Chefoo, secretly bound for Corea. Her voyage, destined to a melancholy ending and to give rise to important results, was a venture on the part of a British trader at Tientsin (who held also the appointment of United States Consul at that port), and she was freighted with an assortment of merchandise specially selected with an eye to Corean requirements. Three United States citizens were on board the General Sherman, viz., her owner, Mr. Preston, with the master and mate, named respectively Page and Wilson; besides whom she carried two British subjects—the supercargo, Mr. George Hogarth, and the Rev. Mr. Thomas, a young missionary of great promise

a as a linguist, who, already possessing a remarkable knowledge of the Chinese language, had acquired some acquaintance with the Corean, and had previously visited the islands on the coast of Corea in a native junk. There was, in addition, a crew of

a some fifteen or twenty Malays. Notwithstanding a full knowledge the individuals of this party had obtained, before leaving Chefoo, of the massacre of the French missionaries, they did

[ocr errors]

not hesitate to prosecute their voyage, and the vessel ascended the course of the Ping-jang river for a distance of four tides. Many weeks elapsed during which nothing was heard of her subsequent fate, until at length, on the arrival of the French exploring expedition in the river Séoul, a native convert who made his way to Père Ridel informed the latter that a foreign vessel, which had lately entered the P'ing-jang, had been destroyed by fire with all on board in obedience to orders from the Regent. This distressing intelligence was subsequently confirmed by the Chinese pilot who had navigated the vessel for some distance up the river, but who had cautiously left her on discovering that danger was menaced. All information received at this time and subsequently was to the effect that the General Sherman' had been left high and dry at a point some distance from the mouth of the river, in consequence of having diverged from the proper channel during a period of floods; that the Europeans on board had been at first received with apparent friendliness and beguiled with promises of trade; but that after a period of treacherous delay (the local officials having meanwhile received instructions from the capital) some of her European passengers were inveigled into landing under the pretext that negotiations for trade were about to be entered upon, and were immediately set upon and murdered. At the same moment a large body of Coreans surrounded the vessel as she lay helplessly stranded, and piled brushwood round her in heaps. Fire was then set to the pile and she was destroyed with all who still remained on board.

The intelligence of this frightful act of barbarity was duly communicated to the United States Minister at Peking, at whose request a corvette, the · Wachusetts,' was despatched to make inquiries respecting what was stated to have occurred. A letter, addressed to her commander by order of the Corean Government, but not received until 1868, when a second visit was made to the coast, admitted the destruction of the General Sherman,' casting all blame, however, upon those on board the unfortunate vessel. They were accused of having wantonly seized and detained a high Corean official, and of having rent to pieces with their cannon' the native trading junks, thus

? rousing to a pitch of irrepressible fury the passions of the multitude, by whom, it was hinted, and not by their rulers, the vessel and all on board had been destroyed. This vague and wholly incredible story was further repeated to the Chinese Government in reply to inquiries instituted by them at the request of the United States representative.

« PreviousContinue »