Use of Pigeons During the Siege of Ladysmith


Use of Pigeons During the Siege of Ladysmith


 
Communication with the outside world was sometimes very difficult. Heliographs needed the right weather conditions to work properly and so it was not surprising that the besieged resorted to pigeon post. At the onset of the Anglo Boer War, Mr Arthur Hirst of the Durban and Coast Poultry Club, started a loft of the best racing pigeons in Durban. He was soon moved to the Intelligence Department’s Headquarters in Ladysmith from where he sent out many of his intelligent birds. He volunteered to take charge of some 160 birds in the lofts at Ladysmith. It was by means of these birds that news of the conditions of affairs in the beleaguered town was conveyed to Durban and from there to Europe.
 
The messages were written in cipher and translated at the Durban club by Mr Percy Scott. Messages were carried in goose quills attached to the pigeon’s leg or inserted among the tail feathers in a way that would not handicap the bird in flight. In this way, it could not be readily spotted and captured.
 
One such bird with the name of “Royalty” was used to send birthday wishes to the Prince of Wales on 9 November 1899. The message he carried read as follows: “General Officer Commanding Natal and Garrison of Ladysmith beg to congratulate your Royal Highness on your birthday. A royal salute of shells will be fired at the enemy at noon in honour of the occasion”. Royalty had to cover over 240 kilometres to deliver this message. Shortly after Royalty’s demise, the bird was stuffed and put on display in a museum in Durban.
 
Another pigeon, called “Invincible” delivered the message of Ladysmith being under siege to the then Prime Minister of Natal, Colonel A H Hime.
 
It is true that lighting could strike these feathered friends, they could also fall prey to vultures or other animals, but they were still more reliable and cost effective than human messengers, be they on foot or on horseback. 
 
Pigeons were used throughout the siege of Ladysmith to communicate with the outside world. They carried all sorts of messages from casualties to maps and as we have learned, also birthday wishes! 
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