Clarence Greathouse, Kentucky’s Legal Advisor to King Kojong in Korea

GREATHOUSE, CLARENCE RIDGEBY (c. 1845-Oct. 21, 1899), journalist, lawyer, diplomat, was born in Kentucky, the son of Dr. Ridgeby Greathouse, an early emigrant to Ca1ifornia. In 1870 he went to San Francisco. He practised law with Louis T. Haggin, then, upon the latter’s retirement, in the firm of Greathouse & Blanding–finally Wallace, Greathouse & Blanding. He was also active in local politics as a Democrat and in 1883 he became the general manager of the San Francisco Examiner, a Democratic daily. He continued in this position until 1886, when he was appointed consul-general at Kanagawa (Yokohama), Japan. Upon the confirmation of his appointment he left Washington May 31, 1886, and served successfully at his post for four years. At this time events and conditions in Korea were largely an enigma and a challenge to discovery to most foreigners in the Far East. Korea was also the one Asiatic country in which American influence and American participation in governmental affairs was at least the equal of that of any other Occidental nation. The successive American representatives in the Korean capital succeeded in so impressing the Korean King with the friendly and disinterested nature of the policy of their government that he was led to secure a comparatively large number of American advisors and on Sept. 12, 1890, Greathouse was engaged to serve as legal advisor to the Korean government. At that time there were eight Americans serving in Seul in various advisory capacities. The extent of American influence in Korea displeased the Chinese, but despite positive suggestions by the Chinese Resident against the employment of further foreign advisors, on Jan. 3, 1891, the Korean government gazetted Greathouse as a vice president of the home office and gave him charge of matters pertaining to foreign legal affairs. Gen. Charles Le Gendre [q.v.] at this time was a vice-president of the same office as foreign advisor to the King.

It is difficult to evaluate the work accomplished by Greathouse during his eight years in Korea. It is certain, however, that he secured the confidence of the King, and that for a time he was given complete charge of the trial of important political cases. He is also said to have acted as head of the Korean post-office department, but since during most of his service this department was weak and struggling he cannot be said to have accomplished much in this direction. His legal knowledge was often called upon in the drafting of conventions, in the constant negotiations with foreign representatives in Seul, and in the revising of Korean law and the reorganizing, at least on paper, of the Korean judicial system. His best-known work was in connection with the trial of the Koreans implicated in the murder of the Queen of Korea by Japanese and Korean conspirators on Oct. 8, 1895. After the King had escaped from his Japanese and Korean captors to the safety of the Russian legation, he asked Greathouse to supervise the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of the Queen. Greathouse attended all sessions of the court, examined the witnesses, and had the trials conducted in a thoroughly modern manner. It was owing to his influence that the trials were free from the gross faults which customarily disfigured the proceedings of all Korean courts, and that for general approximation to Western notions of justice and integrity they were in every way remarkable. During the last few years of his life Greathouse acted as confidential advisor to the King on foreign affairs. As far as the records show, he was never married; his mother remained with him until his death. While he was in Japan he secured the services of a young Goanese, H. A. Dos Remedios, as his secretary. When he went to Korea he took his assistant with him and Dos Remedios came practically to occupy the position of son as well as secretary, although he was never officially adopted. Greathouse died in Seul while still in the service of the government of Korea.

[The only trustworthy sources on the life of Greathouse are in the archives of the Department of State, and in the former American legation in Seul, Korea. Unfortunately, these are very meager. For printed sources see the Korea Repository, Mar. 1896, aud the Examiner (San Francisco), Nov. 18, 1899.] H.J.N.

SOURCE: Dictionary of American Biography. Greathouse was survived by his mother, who donated her diaries and documents to the U. of Kentucky Library in Lexington. I attended first grade at Greathouse Elementary in Louisville, KY, after kindergarten in Kokura, Japan. All I remember about school that year was nuclear attack drills and warnings about not allowing strangers to pick you up in their cars. (I guess nowadays kids are more scared of their classmates.) I never knew until decades later that Clarence Greathouse was a Kentucky notable who provided legal advice to the Meiji government, then to the Korean court. His whiskey-swilling mother was said to be one of the distinctive characters in the diplomatic community in Seoul. I spent some time exploring her diary and other documents in the Greathouse archives at UKy at few years back. Most of her diaries are concerned with diplomatic gatherings, especially this or that “tiffin” (high tea), with increasing worry about her son’s stomach ailments. I got the impression he drank himself to death.

A series of letters from other members of the diplomatic community in Seoul during the 1890s is online here.

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