The Story of the First Foreigner to Land in Jeju

The Story of the First Foreigner to Land in Jeju


Jeju Island, known for its breathtaking landscapes, unique culture, and warm hospitality, is the jewel of South Korea. Among its many stories and legends, one story stands out for its historical and cultural significance: the story of the first foreigner to land on Jeju Island, Hendrick Hamel. This story is not just about a single individual but a complex weave of encounters, exchanges, and transformations that have left a permanent mark on the island's history. 


The Arrival of Hamel: A Dutch Mariner's Tale

Hendrick Hamel

The story of the first foreigner to land on Jeju is intricately tied to the Dutch mariner Hendrick Hamel. On 17 August 1653, while sailing to Japan on the ship "De Sperwer" (The Sparrowhawk), Hamel and thirty-five other crewmates survived a deadly shipwreck on the island Gapado, off the coast of Quelpart, Joseon (now Jeju, South Korea). Four days later, Hamel and his crew were taken to Jeju City.


The ship "De Sperwer" (The Sparrowhawk)


Life on Jeju: Struggles and Adaptation

Dutchmen and Jeju People

Upon arrival in Jeju City, the local prefect Yi Wonjin sent an announcement to King Hyojong of Joseon, describing the situation and requesting advice on how to deal with the Dutchmen. In October, the local government brought Jan Janse Weltevree, a Dutchman who had become shipwrecked in Korea 27 years prior Hamel, to converse with Hamel and his crew. With Weltevree's help, the Dutchmen formed a positive relationship with Yi Wonjin.


Statue of Jan Janse Weltevree

However, several months into their stay, Yi Wonjin was replaced by a new prefect who was cruel to Hamel and his crew. Soon after, the prefect received a response from the Joseon court, dismissing any chance of the crew's release but declaring a moral obligation to ease their existence. The announcement called for the castaways to be sent to Seoul.


Captivity in Seoul

In June 1655, after nearly a year on Jeju, Hamel and the others were taken to Seoul, the capital of Joseon. Upon arrival, they were presented to King Hyojong. With Weltevree's help, they begged the king to release them so they could return home, but the king denied their request, citing official policy. Instead, the king asked the Dutchmen to entertain him with song and dance from their home country.

Despite being forbidden from leaving the country, Hamel and his crew were given relative freedom to live normal lives within Korean society. During their two years in Seoul, they served in the king's guard and lived in a complex administered by Korean landlords, performing domestic chores and integrating into the local community.


Transfer to Jeolla Province

In 1656, two of Hamel's crew caused a disturbance by ambushing a Manchu envoy, begging for help to escape. This, along with mounting pressure to dispose of the Dutchmen, led King Hyojong to banish Hamel and his crew to a military garrison in Jeolla Province in 1657.

During their seven years in Jeolla, Hamel and his crew acquired houses, households, and gardens, adapting to local customs. Their well-being varied depending on the commandant in charge, with some being crueler than others. At one point, the crew resorted to begging, drawing large crowds as foreigners.


Escape to Japan

Between 1659 and 1663, a local famine prompted Korean officials to divide the Dutchmen among three different areas. Of the twenty-two Dutchmen still alive, twelve, including Hamel, were sent to the headquarters of the Left Provincial Naval District, near modern-day Yeosu. Recognizing their opportunity to escape, the group slowly gathered supplies and purchased a small fishing boat.

On 4 September 1666, they left their compound under the cover of darkness and set out to sea. Four days later, Japanese boats found Hamel and his crew near the Goto island chain. They managed to reach Japan, where the Dutch operated a small trade mission in Nagasaki harbor called Dejima.


Cultural Exchange and Influence

Hamel's presence on Jeju and his subsequent travels through Korea facilitated a unique cultural exchange. The Dutch sailors introduced new concepts and ideas to the Korean people, while they, in turn, absorbed and documented the intricacies of Korean life.

One of the most notable contributions of Hamel's account is the detailed description of Korean customs, social structure, and daily life. His observations on the political system, Confucian practices, and the hierarchical nature of Korean society have been invaluable to historians and scholars.

 Moreover, the interaction between the Dutch and the Koreans highlighted the complexities of cultural exchange. Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, both groups found ways to communicate and coexist. This early encounter set the stage for future interactions between Korea and the Western world.


Hamel's Return and Legacy

Hamel and his crew stayed in Nagasaki from September 1666 to October 1667, during which Hamel wrote his account of their time in Korea. They then traveled to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) in late 1667. Although his crew continued to the Netherlands in 1668, Hamel stayed in Batavia until 1670, attempting to secure fourteen years of back salary from the Dutch East India Company. Experts believe that three versions of Hamel's original manuscript were published in 1668 after his crew returned to the Netherlands.


The Broader Impact on Jeju and Korea

The arrival of Hamel and his crew on Jeju Island had broader implications for the island and Korea. It marked one of the earliest recorded interactions between Korea and the Western world, paving the way for future encounters and exchanges.

For Jeju, the story of Hamel is a reminder of the island's role as a crossroads of cultures and a gateway for new ideas. The island's unique position in the maritime trade routes has always made it a melting pot of influences, and Hamel's arrival is a significant chapter in that ongoing narrative.

For Korea, Hamel's account provided the Western world with a glimpse into Korean society and culture. His writings helped demystify Korea and fostered a better understanding of the country among Europeans. This early documentation of Korean life also contributed to the historical record, offering a valuable perspective on the Joseon Dynasty's era.


Modern Reflections and Commemorations

In modern times, the story of Hamel and the first foreigner to land on Jeju continues to resonate. The Hamel Memorial Museum in Jeju City is a popular attraction, drawing visitors interested in the historical and cultural significance of his journey. The museum features exhibits on Hamel's life, the shipwreck, and the broader context of 17th-century Korea.


The Hamel Memorial Museum in Yeosu, Jeju Island

Additionally, the story of Hamel has inspired various cultural works, including books, documentaries, and even plays. These adaptations and retellings keep the tale alive, ensuring that the legacy of Hamel's extraordinary adventure continues to be appreciated by new generations.



The story of the first foreigner to land on Jeju is more than just an account of a shipwreck; it is a narrative of adventure, survival, and cultural exchange. Hendrick Hamel's journey to Jeju and his subsequent experiences in Korea offer a unique window into a bygone era and highlight the island's historical significance as a point of contact between different worlds. Jeju Island, with its stunning natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, continues to honor the legacy of Hamel and the impact of his journey, reminding us of the power of human resilience, the importance of cultural exchange, and the enduring connections that shape the island's shared history.


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Author: Tugba

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