The First Westerners in Korea: The Portuguese

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.

You can read the article here.

  • leguwan

    Most interesting story, Robert. People tend to forget that the Portuguese were at least a century ahead of the Dutch regarding exploration of the world’s oceans. They were already making landfall in Namibia and South Africa in the 1400s and they even settled outposts like Goa and Macao back then in the 15th century.

  • CaptBBQ

    I really doubt that many people are even aware of Hamel’s excursion here, but even those that are can remember the Hamel had Jan Weltevree to greet him.

  • SomeguyinKorea


    Persian and Arab cartographers had already mapped East Asia by the 9th century. Vasco da Gama’s navigator on his trip to India is said to have been the cartographer Ahmad Bin Majid.

  • CactusMcHarris

    And we all know how eager foreigners are wishful of achieving easy penetration.

  • babotaengi

    Thank you, Mr. McHarris, sir: I enjoyed the DOUBLE double entendre very much.

  • CactusMcHarris


    It’s my pleasure entirely.

    This (and the food, wine and scenery) are some of the reasons that Portugal is on my top-10 destinations. A wee country going everywhere.

  • Alex

    ‘Haegui’ is a much cooler name than what the Japanese called the Portugese – Nanbanjin, Southern barbarians.

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