Friday, March 23, 2012

Incheon : Foreigners' cemetery offers glimpse into history

Despite being the oldest foreigner cemetery in Korea, Incheon Foreigners Cemetery is rarely visited. The cemetery, hidden by apartments and modern buildings, is filled with the graves of early business pioneers, missionaries, sailors, soldiers, diplomats and even a Spanish dancer who captured the heart of a Chinese diplomat. They are but for the most part forgotten except by the Korean grounds keepers.

During his visit to the cemetery, Jaroslav Olsa Jr., Czech ambassador to Korea, confessed that he “was surprised by the great ambience of the place” and then added that it was “a silent nice meadow with so much history in it.”

A stroll through its grassy rows reveals just how much history.

The first foreigner to be buried in the cemetery was George B. Mott, an American ship captain who suffered tremendous bad luck. After a series of accidents resulting in the losses of his ships, Mott decided to change careers and become the first Western merchant in Korea. In late June 1883, he sailed to Jemulpo where he tried to set up a small merchant shop but within two weeks he was dead. Not only was he the first Western merchant to die in Korea, he was also the first Westerner to die in Korea following its opening to the West.

Another early merchant buried in the cemetery is Captain Charles H. Cooper. Like Mott, Cooper came to Korea after suffering a terrible loss ― part of his family was killed by Chinese bandits in the Russian Maritime Provinces. Cooper and a group of hand-picked men went on a revenge spree and were said to have killed hundreds of Chinese before being forced to leave Russia. After leaving Russia he came to Korea and set up a very successful merchant business before dying in 1889.

Undoubtedly the most well-known and perhaps most important early Western businessman was Walter Townsend. He was one of the leading figures in the Jemulpo community for nearly 34 years and his company sold everything from watches to gatling guns. Surprisingly, his grave was graced with long-dead flowers ― evidence of an earlier visitor.

Friedrich A. Kalitzky, an early Polish merchant can also be found in this cemetery. His tombstone is one of the most prominent and seems to imply that he was either a merchant marine or a former naval man. During his 38 years in Korea he worked as a general merchant, auctioneer, constable and even exported Korean grass seed to the United States.

Sailors and soldiers have also found their final rest in this quiet place. Disease claimed many of these young men. Francis Shearman, a young sailor aboard the U.S.S Enterprise, died in December 1883. His tombstone bears the inscription: “There’s a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft to keep watch o’er the fate of poor Jack. Sleep well.”

He was soon joined by others. Charles Gray, a corporal aboard the U.S.S. Juniata, died in August 1888. Michael Moynahan, a seaman aboard the H.M.S. Undaunted was only 20 years old when he died in 1898. His shipmates had his stone inscribed with: “Gone from us but not forgotten: Never shall thy memory fade.” And yet, judging from the condition of the grave, the memory has faded.

Other sailors died in accidents. George Warren and James Martyn were amongst the 48 British sailors and marines who drowned after their pinnace capsized in Jemulpo harbor during a storm. A monument to remember their deaths was erected in the months immediately following the accident but, due to neglect, was thrown into the harbor in 1929 leaving these two graves as the only testament of that horrible disaster.

Three crewmembers of the Italian warship Marco Polo are also buried here. On Sept. 9, 1904, as the Marco Polo dropped anchor in Jemulpo harbor smoke was discovered coming from the powder room. Immediate action was taken to contain the fire and while it saved the ship, it could not save the lives of three sailors. Unlike many of the other graves in the cemetery, theirs are remembered every year by the Italian ambassador and his staff ― even going so far as to have the tombstone repaired.

Early members of the Korean Customs Service can also be found here. Amandus Ladage, a German, died in the great cholera epidemic of August 1886. Thomas Hollinsworth came to Jemulpo in 1886 to run an inn but after only a year or two, probably due to financial concerns, went to work for the customs where he remained until his death in 1899. Canadian Frederick Richmond also died 1899 but unlike the others ― he was murdered.

British gold miner Lancelot I. Pelly’s ornate gravestone reads that “he fell asleep 23 March 1906” and that “He (the Lord) giveth his beloved sleep.” Australian gold miner A. R. Wiegall was buried here in 1931 ― his wife, Francoise, joined him 30 years later.

Doctors and missionaries also call this cemetery their final resting ground. The tomb of Jean and Joseph Maraval ― French Missionaire Apostoliques ― dominates one side of the cemetery while the grave of Eli Barr Landis ― an early English missionary-doctor ― offers a more humble tribute to his life and death.

Not all of the occupants are adults. Justin Barry McCarthy, the three-year-old daughter of an English gold miner, died at Gwendoline Mines in present North Korea during the winter of 1902. It wasn’t until two months later that her body was carried from the mines to Jemulpo where she was buried ― her grave marked with a tombstone that her mother designed. Time and the elements have taken its toll and the inscriptions are no longer easy to read but at least the grave is identifiable ― unlike the small German child buried nearby whose name has been lost forever.

Part of the reason the cemetery is unvisited is because of its out-of-the-way location. But, according to Lee Jae-bok, the official responsible for the cemetery, that will be remedied in 2014 when the graves are disinterred and moved to a nearby general cemetery.

Lee explained that not only will the move make the graves more accessible to the public but will also make it easier to maintain them.

While Olsa acknowledged the benefits of the proposed move, he also expressed his regret that the cemetery had to be moved at all and hoped that its new location maintains the historical ambiance that it now possesses.

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