Many people mistakenly believe the first foreigners in Korea were the Dutch – Hamel and his group. It is actually a difficult task to determine who the first “foreigners” were in Korea because at one point Korea had relations with various nations as far away as the Middle East, but the first Westerner in Korea was probably Portuguese. A Portuguese shipwreck victim was discovered in Jeju in 1582, but we know almost nothing about him. We do know that during the Imjin War there were several Portuguese in Korea – one priest and at least four mercenaries. The priest arrived with the Japanese army and the mercenaries with the Chinese. While the priest enjoyed some success in converting the Japanese soldiers he apparently had little contact with the Koreans.

The mercenaries, who were known as Haegui (Sea Ghosts), may have played some role in the destruction of Japanese warships. They were described as having supernatural powers and being able to live underwater and able to “easily penetrate into the enemy ships” which some believe is a reference to underwater demolitionists. Prior to returning to China with the Chinese army they were given an audience with King Sunjo and are depicted in a painting of the event.

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