Title / object name
Great Barrier Island Pigeongram Agency:Mail Form No. 9
|Maker ||Role ||Date |
|Great Barrier Pigeongram Agency ||printer ||1903 |
This is a 'flimsy', a message form printed on tissue paper, issued by the Great Barrier Pigeongram Agency. Pigeongrams, or 'flimsies' as they were called, were used by the Great Barrier and Marotiri Island pigeon post service around the turn of the nineteenth century. This example is a special issue to promote a special pigeongram service from the grounds of Government House, Auckland, to Great Barrier Island to raise funds for a War Veteran's Home
Before the pigeon post service was established, the only regular connection between the community on Great Barrier Island (90 kilometres northeast of Auckland) and the mainland was provided by a weekly coastal steamer. The island's isolation was highlighted when the ship Wairarapa was wrecked off its coast in 1894, with the loss of 121 lives, and the news took several days to reach the mainland.
Pigeon postal service
The pigeon post service began between the island and Auckland in 1897. Soon there were two rival pigeongram companies, both of which issued distinctive and attractive stamps. These were effectively the world's earliest airmail stamps, pre-dating the first recorded aeroplane flight by several years.
Initially, the service operated only from Great Barrier Island to Auckland, the reverse route being considered uneconomic. On the island, pigeongram agencies were established at Port Fitzroy, Okupu, and Whangaparara. Birds were sent over to the island on the weekly steamer and flew back to Auckland with up to five messages per bird written on flimsies and attached to their legs.
The stamps were eagerly collected for their novely value, and some have become extremely rare. Te Papa has an extensive collection of stamps and ephemera documenting the history of Great Barrier Island's pigeongram service, which ended when the first telegraph cable was laid between the island and the mainland in 1908.