Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Phila-Trivia: The Pigeon Post of Great Barrier Island

Many modern city-dwellers are accustomed to thinking of pigeons as filthy nuisances- "rats with wings"- but the birds have played their part as useful messengers since the time of the Romans.
A pigeon postal service was established between Great Barrier Island, an isolated community 90 kilometers north east of Auckland, New Zealand, and the mainland in 1897. Formerly, postal service had been provided by a weekly coastal steamer, but treacherous seas wrecked the ship SS Wairarapa off the coast of Great Barrier Island in 1894, with the loss of 121 lives, leading to the establishment of two rival pigeongram companies, each of which issued stamps. The birds were sent over to the island on the weekly steamer, and then flew back to Auckland with up to 5 small messages attached to each bird's legs. Great Barrier's pigeongram service ended when the first telegraph cable was laid between the island and the mainland in 1908.

Today, the pigeongram stamps are eagerly collected for their novelty value, and some have become extremely valuable.

New Zealand 1997 Pigeon-Gram Centenary Commemoratives


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