1895 - Former Korean Customs Official F. H. Morsel (牟世乙) said "Wosan" (Usan) an Islet a quarter of a mile off Ulluengdo

This post was originally made in 2011, but I came across it again today and noticed two things. The first was that only one person had commented. The second was that the man who wrote the article was F. H. Morsel, a German who once worked as the Chemulpo Harbor Master for the Korean Customs Service and a friend of James F. Mitchell (25 May 1829 - 11 June 1903), "The Timber King of Ulleung Island." In the 1895 book entitled "The Korean Repository" (Vol. 2), Mr. Morsel described Ulleungdo's neighboring island of "Wosan" (Usan) as follows:
 On the south east is an islet, called "Wo-san, about 500 feet high, a quarter of a mile from the main island with a deep passage between the two.  
Unless examined closely, a landing seems impossible, but between Wo-san and the point projecting from the main land, there is a small beach and here close to the shore a vessel can find anchorage in from 16 to 25 fathoms, but even this harbor is available only in fine weather.
You can read more about James F. Mitchell and his timber business on Ulleungdo HERE.

As for Ferdinand H. Morsel (牟世乙), he was a German working in China in some way with the Chinese Merchant Company when he was hired by the Korean government is 1883 to work as a "maritime pilot" (指泊所) for the Korean Customs Office in Incheon. The following article, which was printed in the September 16, 1899 edition of "The Japan Weekly Mail," briefly introduces Mr. Morsel and talks about a book he had just published entitled "Korea: General Information on the Approaches to Chemulpo Harbour and Navigation of the Hankang" (1899). Mr. Morsel seems to have been somewhat of an expert on Korea's seas and waterways, and based on another article posted below,  he seems to have also known a great deal about the geography of Ulleungdo.
Mr. F. H. Morsel, formerly Acting Harbour Master in the Korean Customs, and since 189I commander of a steamer on the Han River and pilot for vessels entering Chemulpo, has just published, from the Shanghai Mercury Office, a small volume called "Korea." It contains general information about the approaches to Chemulpo harbour and the navigation of the Han-kang.  
There is a great want of any trustworthy charts for the aid of ship-masters in those waters. The Japanese naval authorities made some surveys of the coast northward of Chemulpo in 1890, but their charts, being in the Japanese language, are of no use to foreigners. We may here refer to a curious statement which finds a place in Mr. Morsel's pages. "To the North from Chemulpo," he writes, " no surveys have been made since the opening of Korea to foreign intercourse by any other except the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1890, and it was then done by them for their own particular use, for at that time it was well-known to them that they intended to go to war with China, which broke out in 1894."  
A strange assertion surely! On the very next page Mr. Morsel tells us that the east coast has been well surveyed by the Imperial Russian Navy, but he does not infer any bellicose intention on Russia's part. That by the way, however. We note that according to Mr. Morsel the dangers of navigating Korean waters have been exaggerated, the absence of charts, not the presence of perils, being chiefly responsible. The Han River, however, gets a bad character from him. It changes its conditions perpetually, and a chart made of its course to-day might be quite useless six months hence. The best boats for navigating it, Mr. Morsel thinks, would be flat-bottomed craft, drawing from two to three feet when loaded, and having stern-wheels.  
We are not in a position, of course, to express any opinion about the accuracy of the information contained in the book, but the author's painstaking minuteness is quite apparent, and we should imagine that the volume will prove of great value to every ship-master visiting Chemulpo or navigating the Han-kang.
Also, Ferdinand H. Morsel's name (牟世乙) was listed among the tax officials in the 12/29/1883 edition of the Hanseong Sunbo (漢城旬報), as you can see below. His name, job, and nationality is outlined in red:

Below Ferdinand H. Morsel writes of Ulleungdo as if he had actually been there, but more probably his friend James F. Mitchell described the island to him with much detail and emotion. Mr. Mitchell had also worked as a ship's captain. Also, Mr. Morsel was friendly with the Russians, who surveyed Ulleungdo and the eastern coast of Korea.


In an 1895 book entitled "The Korean Repository" (Vol. 2), F. H. Morsel describes "Wolung Do" (Ulleungdo), on pages 412-413, as having an islet that was a quarter of a mile off the southeast shore of the main island that was about 500 feet high and was named "Wo-san" (Usan).

In spite of a discrepancy in compass direction and distance, Mr. Morsel was almost certainly describing Ulleungdo's neighboring island of Jukdo (竹島 - 죽도), which is about one and quarter miles off Ulleungdo's northeast shore.
     WOL-UNG-DO or Matsusima as it is called by the Japanese, is an island off the east coast of Korea, 37° 48' north latitude and 130° 17' east longitude. It is about 190 miles from Fusan, 170 from Wonsan and 63 miles direct from the coast. I think this will be found more correct than the position given by the charts in common use, with the exception of those surveys made by the Japanese and Russians.
Explorers of those waters first named the island Dagelet. Some navigators gave it the position of another island and called it Argonaut and so named it on the charts. About 50 years ago, careful surveys were made by Russian, English and French navigators and it was then found that the island Argonaut had no existence, only Dagelet. There is no doubt the sailors who first located Argonaut, after leaving Dagelet got into a fog and after a day's sail, with perhaps contrary winds and currents, sighted Dagelet again and placed it on the chart as another island.
   Wol-ung-do is a gem in the sea. Notwithstanding its distance from the mainland the right of the Korean government to the island, has never been questioned by the Japanese government. The length from east to west is about ten miles, from north to south about six and a half. Seen from the distance it looks like a dark towering rock, but on nearer approach it will be  seen to be composed of a collection of conical hills, with a peak 3,000 feet high rising from the center and having the appearance of being supported by the smaller ones. The shore is steep and rugged; on all sides the water is very deep. A number of detached rocks, some having a height of 300 feet, are found near by. On the south east is an islet, called "Wo-san, about 500 feet high, a quarter of a mile from the main island with a deep passage between the two. 
Unless examined closely, a landing seems impossible, but between Wo-san and the point projecting from the main land, there is a small beach and here close to the shore a vessel can find anchorage in from 16 to 25 fathoms, but even this harbor is available only in fine weather.

The inland is not inhabited, at least not permanently. In the spring Koreans visit it and remain until autumn and occupy their time building junks which are taken to the coast and sold. The island is not cultivated further than what is required to sustain the junk builders during their stay. There is good, fresh, cool water on the island.
W'ol-ung-do, whatever the Korean meaning may be. is an emerald gem of many shades. The whole island is rich in vegetation, wild flowers abound while among the trees are found the cedar, pine, teak, camphor and fir. The first three mentioned are not only numerous, but some of them are very large. Pine and teak from three to four feet in diameter can be found while the grain of the teak when sawed presents beautiful patterns. The camphor tree is not so plentiful, as most of the trees of this species have been pilfered. It is well worth the while of the owners of this beautiful spot to take good care of it and to guard its riches, for the island from its outer appearance is not alone a gem, but it is a real gem from the standpoint of the mineralogist, but where the door is open every one thinks he has a right to enter.
The rocks are of granite formation with veins of quartz and and gneiss. Gold, cinnabar, Dragon's blood or red sulphur of mereury are among the minerals found in the island. I believe others will yet be found, and it is for this, more than for its valuable trees that I call it a gem in the sea.
Japanese junks at times visited the island, camphor and teak are cut in convenient lengths, loaded and taken to the Kobe and O-aka market.
In 1884 a British subject, a friend of mine, obtained permission from the Korean government to cut timber on this island. The season was late and the emeute of December came on, so that he did not reach the island until the following March when he went there with fifty Japanese wood cutters. He spent four or five months felling trees, but was disturbed by a company of Japanese who likewise came armed with permission from the Korean government to cut timber. A dispute naturally arose, a lawsuit followed, which ended in wind, my friend left the island and the same party of Japanese made a second visit and took all the cut timber to Kobe.
F H. Morsel


  1. To make it clear.
    It's not an official dispute.

    Just few absurd Japanase people are insisting the Rocks is their's.

    Throughout history, they have been doing it.

    Eventhough this ridiculous thing happens, many of Japanese doesn't know it's happening.

    Or some of them who knows that it happens, feel sorry for Koreans.

    What a shame.
    Stop spitting on your own face, please.

  2. F. H. Morsel's description of Ulleungdo is so detailed and personal that I think he may have traveled there, possibly with his friend James F. Mitchell, who most definitely went there.

  3. On second thought, it is more probable that Mr. Morsel was describing the island based on a detailed and emotional description of the island by his friend James F. Mitchell.

  4. I am wondering if there is any information on Ferdinand H. Morsel (牟世乙) in Japanese documents. The Chinese spelling of his name seems to have been either 牟世乙 or 毛世乙. After Mr. Morsel left the Korean Customs Service in 1990, he stayed in Korean continued to work as a ship caption and a maritime pilot. He also had a store in Chemulpo.

    Also, Mr. Morsel seems to have been very friendly with the Russians, who gave him a gold medal in 1898 with the ribbon of St. Stanistan in recognition of meritorious services rendered to the Russian fleet as a maritime pilot. Remember the Russians surveyed Ulleungdo and the east coast of Korea. There is even a record of Mr. Morsel taking a trip on a Russian man-of-war to the waters near Pyongyang in about May 1897.

    I wonder if Japan may have considered Mr. Morsel a threat because of his friendly relationship with the Russians.

    Anyway, it might be worthwhile to do a search for 牟世乙 in Japanese archives.

  5. I could not find any Japanese archives regarding 牟世乙 on the net.

  6. Thanks for checking, Chaamiey.

  7. Chaamiey様
    スコットランド出身の造船業者 James Mitchellってどこかで見た名前だと思ったら、オールトの趣味用のヨットを作った船大工でした。つまり、James Mitchellに、松島(鬱陵島)のことを話したのは、たぶん岩崎弥太郎ですね。
    岩崎弥太郎が1867年に、竹島・松島をめざして航海に使用した船は、乙女丸というバーク形式の木製帆船で、1862年 排水量386t全長39m全幅8.4mと特定できたことを昨年投稿しましたが、もともとは、アメリカのニューヨーク製で、「ヲーサカ(大坂)」という名前で発注建造された船ということです。したがって、James Mitchelが作った船というわけではないのですが、乙女丸の修理には関与しているかも知れません。岩崎もJames Mitchellも、坂本龍馬の夢を継いだともいえます。


  8. matsuさん

  9. I have found some trivial misspellings in the quotation of the Morsel's article.
    The letters "s" and "c" are vanishing but not indistinguishable.

    I make corrections.
    ・The island is not inhabited, at least not permanently.
    ・Dragon's blood or red sulphur of mercury are among the minerals found in the island.
    ・loaded and taken to the Kobe and Osaka market.