Carrier and Horseman:
On fibs and fakes in early writings
False statements are sometimes passed down in the literature about
pigeons over the centuries until today and are taken as truths.
Often mistaken. Sometimes also consciously in order to increase the
reputation of one's own breed or to exaggerate one's own
achievements or those of breeders in the region. Moore’s story on
the Carrier and the Horseman is an early example.
The carrier at WILLUGHBY and the show carrier at Moore
It is clear not only from its flight ability but also from its
phenotype that the English carrier that Moore praised as the king
of pigeons in 1735 was not the carrier of the Turkish Empire
described by Willughby in 1676/78. The messenger pigeon of the
Turkish Empire was the size of an ordinary pigeon or slightly
smaller. According to him, Moore's carrier is larger than most
breeds. At 20 ounces (approx. 567 g), almost twice the weight.
Length from tip of beak to end of tail 15 inches (38.1 cm) instead
of 34-35 cm (pp. 25ff.). The beak length of the racing homers is
moderate (about 23 mm from the tip of the beak to the angle of the
beak), while the English Carrier is 38 mm according to Moore,
probably from the tip to the eye. So about 30 mm from the tip to the
corner of the mouth. Eye edges and beak wart are more developed in
the Carrier described by Willughby than in the common pigeon,
extremely pronounced in Moore's description. The figure of the
carrier at Willughby is not in line with the description in the
text. The use of such an illustration rather highlights the problems
that authors at the time had with appropriate illustrations for
their texts. John Gray, who published Willughby’s work posthumously,
reported on these problems in detail in the introduction. But even
if the messenger pigeon would have looked more like the Turkish
pigeons depicted by Frisch in 1763 and by Neumeister in 1837, the
question remains as to how such pigeons would turn out to be that
size, weight, beak, face, neck and leg length in 50-60 years. Such
modified pigeons as in the Treatise 1765 certainly could not be
derived at by through pure breeding, even if this impression seems
to be intended by Moore.
Turkish Pigeon at Frisch 1763 and Neumeister 1837
Carrier in the Treatise 1765 and at Tegetmeier 1868
Suggestions from Moore
With his sudden, rapid transition from the describing his carrier as
the king of the pigeons to depicting the achievements of messenger
pigeons in antiquity (p. 28), Moore gives the impression that
precisely this pigeon is the legitimate descendant of the ancient
messenger pigeon. Only he is entitled to the name 'Carrier' and its
legend. Thanks to high breeding, he would be now only too valuable
for the messenger service. He himself indirectly admits that his
story is not valid when he struggles to make a clear statement about
the Horseman. This is what he calls the messenger pigeon preferred
in England at the time (p. 31). He pretends not to know whether it
was a separate breed or a crossbreed, "we shan't take upon us to
determine such Controversies as these" (p. 31). Not rhetorically
clumsy, because both given answers were bound to mislead the
reader. As an experienced pigeon fancier, he would have known that
both were wrong. It was not a new breed nor was it a crossbreed. The
pigeons were obviously the messenger pigeons still used in the
Turkish Empire at the time, which Willughby had called 'carriers'
and Moore renamed ‘Horseman’. He indirectly admits this. Because he
reports that the same kind with the same abilities came to England
from Scanderoon (ibid). His realization should have been that there
were still the same carriers in Scanderoon as in Willughby’s time.
By renaming the original carrier to Horseman, the fib of his Carrier
as the ancient messenger pigeon was successfully covered up.
The carrier from Scanderoon
Scanderoon, temporarily Alexandretta and now Iskenderun, is the port
from which English merchants from Aleppo maintained a pigeon post to
be informed of incoming ships. Henry Teonge reported about this in
his ship's diary 1675-1679. As a ship's chaplain, he accompanied
trips of the Royal NAVI from London to the Levant and also to
Scanderoon. The pigeons would cover the distance of about 60 miles
in less than three hours. It is obvious to assume that these pigeons
were Willughby’s carriers, which could be seen in the royal aviaries
in St. James's Park.
The image of a 'Scanderoon' or 'Horseman' by Peter Paillou in 1745
has only recently become accessible. Hand-signed on the back with
Scanderoon, recorded in the accompanying text as Horseman. Almost
too beautiful not to be fake! A homer pigeon type with longer legs
and strong upper beak warts, as shown by old racing pigeons in some
tribes. Scanderoon and Horseman are probably rightly equated in the
Scanderoon by Peter Paillou (England c. 1720 - c. 1790), 1745.
Historical flight route of messenger pigeons between the port of
Scanderoon (Iskenderun) and Aleppo
Willughby does not mention either name among his races. If the
carriers in the royal aviaries also came from Scanderoon, which is
likely, then they are of the same origin and race. In Willughby,
however, the term horseman can be found in the light horseman, which
is described as a cross between carrier (=horseman) and cropper. The
name is probably a reference to light cavalry (light horse
regiments) because of their agility. In French literature he appears
as Cavalier for identical or similar pairings.
Speculations about the change from a Scanderoon to a show carrier
Lyell gave a possible explanation for the change in the breed during
Moore's time in 1881. In Calcutta in India, he found pigeons that
did not differ from the English Carrier of his time and originally
came from Baghdad. Imports of such animals could have displaced or
improved the popularity of the previously rather inconspicuous
carriers in England around 1700. A new breed for which a
promotional name and legend were sought. Moore could have knitted
Brent mentions a second possibility (3rd edition 1871, p. 24).
Crossing existing warty pigeons (such as the Turkish pigeon by
Neumeister, the Carrier or 'Scanderoon' described by Willughby, or
Barbary pigeons by Manetti) with large-format bagdettes that existed
on the nearby continent. Van Vollenhoven from Utrecht dedicated a
few verses to the Bagdette in his verse-form work in 1686. Although
there is no strong wart on the beak, there are more developed
circles around the eyes. The thighs are barely feathered, they are
short and round in the body and 'steady on their feet'. The neck
resembles that of a swan. Jakobus Victors drew such an animal in
1672. There is much to suggest that Brent’s version is correct.
Carrier and French Bagdette ash red bar at a German Pigeon Show.
The similarity in the appearance shows that the name at Neumeister/Prütz
1876 as English straight-beaked bagdette is justified. Source:
Sell, Taubenrassen 2009.
The combination of warty pigeon and bagdette figure is a breeding
achievement that deserves recognition. The result, however, is a
cross product, instead of one with a long pedigree of pure royal
blood. And therefore, not the 'ancient messenger pigeon of the Near
East and North Africa', which the German BDRG standard still calls
Brent, B.P., The Pigeon Book. Containing the Description and
Classification of all the known Varieties of the Domestic Pigeon
London (3rd ed. 1871)
Frisch, Johann Leonhard, Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschlands und
beyläuffig auch einiger fremden, mit ihren Farben…Die Zehnte
Klasse, die Arten der Wilden, Fremden und Zahmen oder Gemeinen
Tauben, Berlin 1763.
Lyell, J.C., Fancy Pigeons, London 1881, 3rd ed. London
Pigeon-House. Being an Introduction to Natural History of Tame
Pigeons. Columbarium: or the pigeon house, Printed for J. Wilford,
Sell, A., Taubenzucht. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen züchterischer
Sell, A., Critical Issues in Pigeon Breeding, Achim 2023, pp. 37-42.
Tegetmeier, W.B., Pigeons: their structure, varieties, habits
and management, London 1868.
Teonge, Henry, The Diary of Henry Teonge. Chaplain on Board H.M.’s
Ships Assistance, Bristol, and Royal Oak 1675-1679, edited by Sir E.
Denison Ross and Eileen Power in the Broadway Travellers. First
published in this Series 1927.
The Ornithology in Three Books. Translated into English, and
enlarged with many Additions throughout the whole work by John Ray,
Fellow of the Royal Society, London 1678.
Annex: Excerpts from Willughby 1678 and Moore 1735
Moore on the Horseman and Scanderoon, Moore 1735, p. 31.