(88) Harry’s Hotel
Probably the first hotels catering to and established by foreigners in Korea were in the Japanese settlement in Fusan (modern Busan) in the early 1880s. Shortly afterwards, a couple of Japanese hotels were established in Jemulpo (modern Incheon). The most famous ― and perhaps the first ― was the Daibutsu Hotel. For the most part the Japanese had a monopoly on hotels in these open ports but that all changed sometime in 1884 when Harry’s Hotel was established in Jemulpo.
Very little is known about Harry’s Hotel ― including why it took that name. The owner was a Chinese man surnamed Shin and assisted by Thomas Hollingsworth, an Englishman who was described as an innkeeper. It was likely located in a two-story building next to the Chinese consulate with the first floor serving as a general provisions store while the second floor served as the hotel.
One of the first known anecdotes about the hotel involves Rev. J. R. Wolfe, an Englishman, who, on the spur of the moment, traveled to Korea in November 1884. Not being properly prepared, he was fortunate enough to encounter Horace N. Allen, an American missionary returning to Korea with his family, who kindly gave him directions to Harry’s Hotel. Wolfe was able to purchase “a few necessaries (such as a knife and fork, bread, meat paste, etc.)” and obtain the services of a couple of ponies and their guides in order to make it to Seoul before nightfall.
Another early visitor was Edward Lawrence, who came to Korea in August 1885 at the invitation of Allen. Undoubtedly, there were few rooms available to the general public as most of them appear to have been rented by foreign members of the Korean Customs Service at Jemulpo, at least until the Ginseng Riots in January 1886.
The Ginseng Riots occurred after a Chinese smuggler of red ginseng was apprehended by the Korean Customs Service. A mob of angry Chinese attacked the customs office, forcing the staff to flee for their lives. When measures were taken against the rioters, Chinese businesses in Jemulpo closed their doors and refused to provide service to Westerners. Harry’s Hotel followed suit and refused to allow its foreign residents to enter. Fortunately, the riot ended quickly with little damage to the port facilities ― save the customs office ― but relations between Harry’s Hotel and the customs service was shattered. The customs service staff apparently ceased to frequent the hotel and instead went to its competitors, the Daibutsu Hotel and the Hotel de Coree, owned by an Austro-Hungarian.
The hotel also had, for a short time, two “jinrikshas” which were used to transport a group of women missionaries to Seoul. So uncomfortable was the trip ― most likely due to the inexperience of their runners ― that the jinrikshas were left in Seoul. An early photograph shows two jinrikshas (possibly the above mentioned) in front of the American legation.
Hard times fell upon Harry’s Hotel and sometime in the late summer of 1887, the hotel changed hands. The new owner, a Chinese man named Sun, borrowed a $1,000 worth of merchandise from an American company in Nagasaki. Several deeds to land in Jemulpo along with the hotel’s furnishings were provided as collateral.
There was no recovery for the hotel and Sun sold his merchandise ― probably at a greatly reduced price, turned the property deeds over to an agent, and sold part of the hotel’s furnishings including the iron safe and billiard table. He then took the money and fled to Shanghai where he entered into service with another hotel.
It isn’t clear what became of the hotel and the associated properties ― possibly they were sold off or, as I like to think, at least one of the buildings was kept and became the final residence of one of Korea’s most notorious Western residents ― George Lake. But that is a tale for another time.
Robert Neff is a contributing writer for The Korea Times.