The Irish Contribution to Joseon Korea

Another post in honour of St Patrick: OhMyNews has a piece on the Irish contribution to Korea’s early modern history

Arguably the first Irishman to live in Korea arrived in Seoul in the mid 1890s. His name was John McLeavy Brown, and he was a lawyer by trade, but was employed with the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Department.

Brown was described as a “learned man” with a personal library of nearly 7,000 books — an extraordinary number considering it was the 1890s and books were much harder to obtain. He had sunken eyes, a heavy Edwardian moustache and walked with a cane that he occasionally used to thump some sense into those he felt were disrespectful.

He was sent to Korea by Sir Robert Hart to manage Korea’s Customs Department, and performed so well that King (later Emperor) Kojong granted him control of Korea’s finances. It was through Brown’s dedication to duty and common sense that Korea was able to straighten out its financial problems.

Follow the link to read about other interesting characters.

Other links:

  • BAKS papers contain a study of John McLeavy Brown in Korea
  • OhMyNews feature on Seoul’s Pagoda Park (Tapgol Park), created in 1897 through McLeavy Brown’s inspiration (some good pictures)

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