The football reporter and his pigeons

June 13, 1892
It begins to seem probable that the time is rapidly approaching when no daily newspaper office with pretension to self-respect will consider in appliances complete without – a pigeon-cote! The cooing of the doves form an odd contrast to the whirr of machinery working off at frantic speed the “spesh’dishn,” which contain: the latest sensation of the hour.

Strange things do happen, however, nowadays, and it appears that the electric telegraph as a means of conveying news over short distance is outdone by the homing pigeon. Mr. A.G. Jeans, the manager of that important Lancashire paper the “Liverpool Daily Post”, is an astute and resourceful gentleman who watches the signs of the times and is ever on the alert to keep ahead of his compeers in the daily and almost hourly supply of the latest intelligence from all parts of the world.

It is under his aegis that a highly elaborate and successful system of transmitting news by means of pigeons has been perfected. A correspondence sends the following account of a conversation with Mr. Jeans in his managerial sanctum the other day –

“Be it known that in Liverpool, as elsewhere in the north of England, the rage for football and other sports is intense. The passion in London and the south is a growing one; in the north it is developed into a positive mania. Ergo a keen demand for rapid and constant intelligence of matches in progress. The evening paper which has the fullest and latest details sells its editions like wildfire; and it was more completely to gratify this ultra-Athenian appetite for news that Mr. Jeans devised his system of pigeon telegraph.

“I found,” said Mr. Jeans, “that the electric telegraph involved, after all, some degree of delay. Time was lost, it might be, through the reporter having to wait his turn at the telegraph-office. Then there was the actual time of transmission and of delivery from the post-office. It was suggested to me that a pigeon service might do better. I thought the idea at all events worth a trial, and I bought some very fine homing pigeons at the pretty stiff figure of £2 per pair.”

“I had a really comfortable pigeon-house erected on the office roof, and acting on the advice of practical men, I commenced by keeping the birds confined about eight or nine weeks, it’s the hope that they would by then have become quite accustomed to their new surroundings and regard themselves as at home.”

“And, in fact – – ?”
“The very first time they were let out they flew away. We never saw them again. Evidently, the only method was to breed the birds on the premises. I got other birds, and allowed them to breed, and soon had three or four dozen young fledglings, with which I hoped to experiment more successfully. That proved the right way. The young birds were accustomed gradually to liberty, and when allowed to fly free of the building for the first time, to my huge satisfaction, they all returned after their flight. The next step was to develop their homing instincts by gradually increasing the flights. I had the birds conveyed in baskets a mile or two away and then liberated. Then the distance were increased until the birds came home regularly from any distance up to sixteen or twenty miles, and that is the limit beyond which their special usefulness is at an end.”

“Why so?” I asked. – “Because at that point the telegraph beats the pigeons”, was Mr. Jeans’s reply. Proceeding to give details of the performances of  his interesting flock, Mr. Jeans related how the result of the Waterloo Cup – run some ten miles away in the country – was received in the Daily Post office per pigeon, and printed off in the evening paper, the Echo, within minutes of the completion of the deciding heat. The reporter, who was accompanied by a lad carrying the bird in a basket, had simply to dash off the message, commit it to the pigeon, and away the bird sped to the office. Racing results from Chester have been received in twenty or twenty-two minutes, the speed of the bird being for short distances maintained at the extraordinary rate of a mile a minute.”

“Do the birds never go astray?” I asked Mr. Jeans. The reply was accompanied by a hearty laugh. “It is not quite all plain sailing,” he said. “For instance, on one occasion of the last regatta of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club I sent two pigeons on board the club steamer, with instructions for them to be sent off with messages from the north-west lightship and another turning-point in the race. They were duly dispatched, but the sub-editor waited in vain for news of the race. One bird turned up late the next day. The other never came back at all. Upon the whole, the do their work very satisfactorily. It is a little aggravating, however, to see, as we occasionally have done, one of our birds, with the much desiderated ‘flimsy’ attached to its leg, alight on the chimney of our rival the Courier across the way, and calmly proceed to preen its feathers, unconscious of our anxieties and disdainful of our artifices to wheedle it home.”

In further conversation, I learned that in busy times, when football, or cricket matches are numerous, as many as thirty birds are sent out. A boy accompanies the reporter, taking two pigeons with him. The message the birds carry is written in minute characters on “flimsy,” and attached by a fine indiarubber band to the bird’s leg. The birds are kept without food for some hours before they are employed. Their homing instinct istherefore stimulated by experience that a feed of corn awaits them upon arrival; and their cote is so arrange that the birds themselves can enter by pushing against a wire door, which closes automatically when they have passed through, and prevents egress again. The pigeons are tended by one man, to whom they grow quite accustomed, and they suffer themselves to be caught and relieved of their messages with perfect serenity.
(Source: Pall Mall Gazette: June 13, 1892)

pigeon Ipigeon II

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