Hendrick Hamel

Statue of Hamel in Gorinchem
Hamel Museum in Yeosu

Hendrick Hamel (1630 – 1692)[1] was the first Westerner to provide a first hand account of Joseon Korea. After spending thirteen years there, he wrote "Hamel's Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea, 1653-1666," which was subsequently published in 1668.[1]

Hendrick Hamel was born in Gorinchem, Netherlands.[2] In 1650, he sailed to the Dutch East Indies where he found work as a bookkeeper with the Dutch East India Company (VOC).[1]:122–123 In 1653, while sailing to Japan on the ship “De Sperwer” (The Sparrowhawk), Hamel and thirty-five other crewmates survived a deadly shipwreck on Jeju Island in South Korea.[3]:43[4]:17 After spending close to a year on Jeju in the custody of the local prefect, the men were taken to Seoul, the capital of Joseon Korea, in June, 1655, where King Hyojong (r.1649 to 1659) was on the throne.[1]:39–48, 52 As was customary treatment of foreigners at the time, the government forbade Hamel and his crew from leaving the country.[1]:43–44 During their stay, however, they were given freedom to live relatively normal lives in Korean society[1]:52,59,66

In September 1666, after thirteen years in Korea, Hamel and seven of his crewmates managed to escape to Japan where the Dutch operated a small trade mission on an artificial island in the Nagasaki harbor called Deshima.[1]:75–82,12 It was during his time in Nagasaki (September 1666 to October 1667) that Hamel wrote his account of his time in Korea.[1]:124 From here, Hamel and his crew left to Batavia (modern day Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies in late 1667.[1]:125 Although Hamel sojourned in Batavia until 1670, experts speculate that his crew, returning to the Netherlands in 1667, brought his manuscript with them, where three versions of it were published in 1668.[1]:125 Hamel himself did not return to the Netherlands until 1670.[1]:125

Hamel in the Joseon Korea

Jeju Island

On Jeju Island, the sudden appearance of thirty-six Europeans created no small stir among the Koreans inhabitants.[1]:17 On August 21, four days after the shipwreck, Hamel and his crew were taken to Jeju city, upon which the local prefect, Yi Wonjin, sent an announcement to the king in Seoul, describing the event of the shipwreck and requesting advice on how to deal with the Dutchman. In October of the same year, the local government brought Jan Janse Weltevree (Korean name “Park-Yeon”), a Dutchman who himself had shipwrecked on Korea 27 years prior, to converse with Hamel and his crew. With the help of Weltevree, the Dutchmen formed a positive relationship with Yi Wonjin.[1] :25–39

Several months into their stay on Jeju, Yi Wonjin was replaced by a new prefect, who was cruel to Hamel and his crew. Soon after the new prefect replaced Yi Wonjin, he received a response to Yi Wonjin’s announcement that had been sent to the Joseon court months earlier. Although the announcement dismissed any chance of the crew’s release, it declared that the Korean government had “a moral obligation to ease their existence,” It also called for the castaways to be sent to Seoul.[1]:41–43


Once Hamel and his crew arrived in Seoul, they were taken before king Hyojong[1]:52 With the help of Jan Janse Weltevree, they begged the king to release them so they could return home to their wives and children. The king denied their request, citing official policy. The king then asked the Dutchmen to entertain him with song and dance from their home country.[1]:54 [3]:70–71

During their two years in Seoul, Hamel and his crew served in the king’s guard. They lived in a complex administered by Chinese landlords and, in addition to their duties in the king’s guard, performed domestic chores for their landlords.[1]:57 Outside of these duties, Hamel and his crew were permitted to live relatively normal lives.[1]:59

Jeolla Province

In 1656, two of Hamel’s crew caused a disturbance when they ambushed a Manchu envoy on its way to Seoul and begged the Manchu officials to help them escape. Because of this, and mounting pressure to dispose of the Dutchmen, in 1657, King Hyojong banished Hamel and his crew to a military garrison in Jeolla Province on the Southwest corner of the peninsula.[1]:59–65 [3]:81

Life in Jeolla Province was relatively normal. During the seven years Hamel and his crew stayed there, they acquired “houses, households and gardens, all nicely set up after the customs of the country.”[1]:66 Much of their well-being and comfort depended on the attitude of the commandant in charge. Some commandants were crueler than others, burdening Hamel and his crew with extra duties.[1]:68–69 At one point, Hamel and his crew resorted to begging, a vocation they actually found rewarding since, as foreigners, they had no trouble drawing a large crowd.[1]:68–69

Escape to Japan

Because of a famine that cursed the region from 1659 through 1663, Korean officials at the garrison decided to divide the burden of hosting the Dutchmen between three different areas. Of the twenty-two Dutchmen still alive, five went to Suncheon, five went to Namwon, and twelve, including Hamel, went to the headquarters of the Left Provincial Naval District, near modern-day Yeosu.[1]:70

Situated on the water, Hamel and the group at the naval district quickly recognized they were in an excellent position to escape. Down to eight from the original twelve, the group slowly gathered supplies and negotiated the purchase of a small fishing boat from a local Korean. On September 4, 1666, an especially dark day with good tidal conditions, the men left their compound, loaded their boat, and headed out to sea. Four days later, Japanese boats found Hamel and his crew near the Goto island chain.[1]:76–79

After communicating with the Koreans about the situation and running into some diplomatic complications, the Japanese were finally able to return Hamel and his crew to Deshima, the Dutch trade mission at Nagasaki. During the negotiations, per Hamel’s request, the Japanese inquired about the remaining crewmen in Korea. Two years later, the Japanese secured their release as well.[1]:83–97

During his time in Nagasaki (September 1666 to October 1667) Hamel wrote his account of his time in Korea.[1]:124 From here, Hamel and his crew left to Batavia (modern day Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies in late 1667.[1]:125 Although his crew continued on to the Netherlands in 1668, Hamel himself stayed in Batavia until 1670 trying, in vain, to secure fourteen years of back salary from the Dutch East India Company.[1]:96 Once his crew returned to the Netherlands, experts believe they had three versions of Hamel’s original manuscript published.[1]:125

Dutch Recognition of Hamel

Back in 17th century Holland, Hamel was just another of the many former VOC crewmen with many adventurous stories to tell. He had sailed the Seven Seas at a time when dozens of VOC ships plied their trade, fought sea battles, survived disasters, made discoveries and enjoyed adventures. Not surprisingly, the events described in his journal were regarded a mere curiosity.

Only recently has Hamel's hometown acknowledged his role as an explorer. In a major move to pay homage to its famous traveler, the old fortress town of Gorinchem now boasts a statue of Hamel. A second, similar casting was added to the Hamel monument in the South Korean town of Gangjin. The first public recognition of Hamel in the Netherlands occurred early in the 20th century, when a local street was named after him. The street still exists.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Ledyard, Gari (1971). The Dutch Come to Korea. Seoul Korea: Royal Asiatic Society. pp. Whole book.
  2. Savenije, Henny. "Hendrick Hamel". The Journal of Hamel and Korea. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 Griffis, William Elliot (1885). Corea Without and Within. Philadelphia: Presbyterian board of publication.
  4. Winchester, Simon (1988). Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press. pp. Whole book. ISBN 0-13-517244-6.
  1. Corea, Without and Within, Hendrick Hamel's narrative of captivity and travels in Corea, annotated, by William Elliot Griffis, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1885.
  2. Coree-Korea 1653-1666 (Itineraria Asiatica: Korea), Hendrik Hamel, Orchid Press, Thailand, ASIN 9748299481, 1981.
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