Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 27, September 1983

Nell Climie

Considerable interest has been shown in "Pigeongrams" since one was pictured in the "Woman's Weekly" this year, 10 January 1983. This had been lent to me (as a member of the Paeroa Historical Society) by Mrs. Joan Edmonds who values it as a family relic, together with information concerning it.

The following is a quote from an article by A.L. Kidson, in the "New Zealand Herald" 28 July, 1964.

"This year we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Airmails in New Zealand. But an earlier airmail service began 67 years ago. On 14 May 1897, a pigeon post began between Great Barrier Island and Auckland. It continued for 11 years.

"At that time the Barrier was a busy place, with many people engaged in milling and mining. So the weekly steamer to and from Auckland could not cope with all mail requirements, especially for urgent letters.

"The pigeon mail went one way only - from the Barrier. Every week a fresh supply birds was sent across by ship.

"Each pigeon was stamped on the underwing with a number, the name of the service, and the address, so that a finder could return any birds lost or blown off course.

The fine paper on which each message was written was folded, wound round the pigeon's leg and kept in position by a rubber band; it was then covered by a waterproof legging to keep it clean and dry."

"Special three-cornered stamps were issued for this pigeongramme service, and they were the forerunners of modern airmail issues. The fastest time for the 60-mile flight was 50 minutes, or 72 miles an hour."


Further information comes from "Post Office Pioneer Series" (Turnbull Library).

"Late 19th Century inhabitants of Great Barrier Island - most of whom were employed at the Copper Mine - had a novel means of communicating with the mainland. Messages were flown by "Pigeon Post". The service which was never officially recognised, was begun in 1897 by a pigeon-fancier named Parkin, who, a year later, sold his business to another pigeon-fancier, named Howie; who claimed that by 1899 his pigeons had carried over 800 messages. Arrival service [A rival service? – E], called the "Great Barrier Pigeongram Agency" was started in 1898 by a Walter Fricker. He charged two shillings a pigeongram and claimed that each message, written on paper as light and soft as silk, could contain as many as 580 words. Fricker also failed to obtain official recognition. The pigeon service ended in 1908, when a cable connected the Island with the Mainland".

The printed Letterhead of our Pigeongram features a picture of two pigeons with their names printed underneath - "TE UIRA" and "VELOCITY". Following is the wording on the letterhead:



S. Holden Howie, Proprietor

Inspection invited.

LOFT - Newton Road, Auckland

Breeder of High-class Homers


Birds accepted by the Auckland Infantry Battalion



Whangapara - Mr A.S. Howe

Gt. Barrier……………………………..190..

Port Fitzroy - Mr F. Warren


Okupu - Mr C. Werner


MAROTIRA (Hen & Chicken Island) - Mr J.W. Mackay


PORT CHARLES - Mr Chas. Nairn




Recently I was shown a pigeongram and the three-cornered stamp which had accompanied it. The date was 30 December 1898. It certainly shows signs of wear, but can still be read by anyone with good eyesight. The sender was mining on Great Barrier Island at that time. This pigeongram is much smaller than the one with the letterhead referred to earlier in this article.

Its owners recall the story their Mother told them about the particular message which was not received by her as promptly as it should have been. This Carrier Pigeon was evidently blown off course in a storm and was found dead in a water butt at Thames but the message was forwarded to the Post Office in Auckland, where it was stamped and sent to her by ordinary mail.

Now it is appropriate that we should refer to a "Pigeon Post" closer to home, and earlier than that from Great Barrier.

In 1964 when our "Ohinemuri Regional History Journal" was in its infancy, I spent many hours in the Thames Library perusing early copies of the "Thames Advertiser", gleaning information about our "beginnings". Unfortunately there are now no spare copies of Journal 2 (October 1964), but in it we featured press messages in connection with the Opening of the Karangahake Goldfield many of which were per "Pigeon Express".

EXAMPLE - 23 January 1875.

"There are about 40 diggers here at the Paeroa Camp. Dan Sealey and 9 others are out. Mr. Thorp, Johnny Beeche and Mr. Bennett have an interest in a Reef. Mr. Skidmore is just in and reports well of the creeks. The Maoris are very friendly. Their potato crop is good and they are now getting in their wheat. An experienced miner warns that Ohinemuri will never be a poor man's diggings. Capital will be needed for development".


"Landing at the Puke, I struck out for the Paeroa. Everybody had a swag but me, and I carried a box with two gentle doves. I found the Paeroa pretty lively and learned what had already taken place. My mate had just ridden in from the Karangahake ridge. Writing a pigeongram from his dictation, I threw up one of my birds and had the pleasure of seeing it go off like a dart for Thames".

EXAMPLE - 3 MARCH 1875 - 9-20 a.m.

"I started this morning for the Prospectors' Claim. From this spur, the Warden's Marquee can be seen and the crowd around ... 10-20 a.m. Men pegging ... Mr. Adam Porter the first man up here where I am.... Shall now send off my pigeon and return to Mackaytown".

There were, of course, many more messages, for which, the Reporter, Joshua Jackson, became famous.

The 1900 Cyclopaedia of New Zealand tells us:

"Joshua Jackson arrived at Thames from England in 1869 and after a little practical experience in mining, became a Special Correspondent, reporting on the fields in this area. He was interested in the original "Woodstock" and floated the "Crown". His excellent descriptions of Karangahake and Waitekauri have had the value of standard works for the colony".

No doubt his messages were written on less elegant paper than the famous "Flimsys" from Great Barrier 20 years later, but they were wonderfully efficient.