Great Barrier Island History

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"Pigeon Post"

The Pigeongram Service started on the Barrier after the “Wairarapa” was wrecked off the coast.

In October 1894, the “Wairarapa” smashed against the rocks near Miners Head. 121 of the 235 people on board perished. It took some time before the survivors were discovered and then the settlers rallied around to house, feed and clothe them.

There was no way of getting a message to the Union Steam Ship Company of the tragedy involving its vessel. There were no telephones or any of the other means of communication that today we take for granted.

When the next boat arrived at the island, it took the survivors and the terrible news back with it to Auckland.

This reinforced the sense of isolation and the feeling that something needed to be done to improve communication with the mainland.

Eighteen months later, in March 1897 an innovative solution was instigated – the pigeon post, a world first.

Pigeon Post in 2002“Each pigeon carried up to 5 ‘flimsy’ letters which were often mundane order-lists for groceries, spare parts, timber, hardware, etc. But important news or emergency calls also arrived via pigeon post. Elections news, death of a monarch [Queen Victoria’s in 1901], etc. A pigeon-gram letter requesting a doctor saved the life of young Charlie Osborne in 1900. When the Le Roy house burnt down 6/12/1902, a pigeon-gram message sent an order to the Kauri Timber Company for new timber and joinery and the next steamer brought the order.” – The Olde Barrier Scrapbook cobbled by Dave Watson

This service was provided from 1894–1908. It was no longer required when a telephone line was connected to the island from Port Charles at the end of the Coromandel Peninsular. 

For their efforts, the Union Steam Ship Company gave mementos to those who assisted so ably at the time of the misfortune. Both the Paddison and Flinn families received a silver tea service, and the Moors, a suite of furniture. I do not know whether individual Paddison sons received anything, but William Moor was given a gold watch and my father a small pair of binoculars.”

Taken from Cyril Moor’s book “Early Settlement of Port FitzRoy, Great Barrier Island”.
Cyril’s father was Joss Moor and his mother Ada (nee le Roy)

One verse of a poem written about the Wairarapa shipwreck by Arthur Pittar, another early settler.

Of Messrs Moor, Stark, Paddison and Flinn,
Who live on the island and assisted in
Feeding the living, burying the dead,
Too much in praise of them cannot be said.
The Maoris also did their very best,
As did settler Edlington and the rest.
In such an unexpected, sudden case,
Where they had little clothing, and no place
To put such a multitude to sleep,
They did very well, them in food to keep.

Garth & Pat Cooper tell of one experience when their grandmother, Christina Cooper sent a message to her grocer in Auckland, but the pigeon landed on a ship going to Sydney, and returned some weeks later.