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 accompanying text.


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 these.

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 it today.


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 1887.

Moore, J., Pigeon-House. Being an Introduction to Natural History of Tame Pi­geons. Colum­barium: or the pigeon house, Printed for J. Wilford, London 1735.

Sell, A., Taubenzucht. Möglichkeiten und Grenzen züchterischer Gestaltung 2019.

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.

Willughby, Francis, 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

Willughby 1678

Moore on the Horseman and Scanderoon, Moore 1735, p. 31.