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Letter NEWHM:1996.H67.1291

James E Harting to John Hancock (6 March 1877)

Harting thanks Hancock for the recent copy of the Transactions and mentions the account of the Passenger Pigeon. He attempts to justify his criticism of Hancock’s catalogue in the ‘Field’ magazine but says it is too late to rectify the mistake.



24 Lincolns Inn Fields.

London. w.c.

6th March 1877

J. E. Harting [Hancock’s hand]

My dear Sir

I am extremely obliged for the last part of your “Transactions” which has safely reached me, I have been much interested with its contents, particularly the President’s Address, and the account of the singular underground fire at Shields.

I propose to quote your account of the Passenger [p.2] Pigeon in “The Zoologist” for I dont imagine that this recent instance of its occurrence in this Country will be new to a good many readers of that journal.

With regard to my remarks on your Catalogue of Northumberland Birds, I see, on referring again, to page 26, that I evidentially misunderstood you, and that when you stated that “another point in the history of the Cuckoo [p.3] seems still to be undecided” you did not mean (as I thought) that you were “undecided” but that other naturalists are. My mistake about the Great Auk arose in this way — I remembered to have seen a specimen of this bird in the Newcastle Museum, & forgot for the moment that you had one. Not seeing any statement indication in the letter-press of that the plate was taken from any particular specimen [p.4] I erroneously jumped to the conclusion that it was a figure of that in the Museum.

I am sorry that I did not find out my mistake sooner, as I could have corrected the week after the review appeared.  Now I fear too long an interval has elapsed to reopen the matter.

Believe me | Yours very truly | J. E. Harting [signature]



James Edmund Harting (c1841-1928) worked as a solicitor in London from 1868-1878 eventually leaving his profession to follow a career in natural history. He was a recognised ornithologist and considered to be a great expert on British birds. Hancock writes to him just as he is beginning his new career as the Editor of the Zoologist, a monthly natural history magazine, which he fronted from 1877 until 1896.

1. Harting refers to an address given by the President of the Tyneside Naturalists’ Field Club, the Reverend G. Rome Hall, F.S.A. on April 11 1876. (See p.232 of the Society’s annual report.)

The TNFC’s first field meeting was held at South Shields where they visited the site of an underground fire at Harrison’s Court, between West Holborn and theCommercial Road.

2. Hartings’s Review of the Passenger Pigeon Story in the Zoologist

The Zoologist, Third Series, Vol. I. April, 1877 [No. 4.]  p180

Occasional Notes

Passenger Pigeon in Yorkshire. – In the last published part of the Nat. Hist. Transactions of Northumberland and Durham (vol. v., part iii.) Mr. John Hancock records the capture of a Passenger Pigeon in Yorkshire. At p.337 he says:- “On the 13th October, 1876, I received a specimen of this North-American bird from the Dowager Marchioness of Normanby, who stated in her letter which accompanied the bird that ‘it was shot here to day by Lord Harry Phipps.’ The bird must therefore have been killed on the 12th, and as her ladyship’s letter is headed ‘Mulgrave Castle,’ it is clear also that the bird was obtained at Mulgrave, the seat of the Marquis of Normanby.” Mr. Hancock adds that “the quill-feathers in the wings are much worn and broken, and on the forehead above the bill they are apparently worn off the skull, as though the bird had been trying to get out of a cage or some enclosure; therefore I cannot come to any other conclusion than that this specimen, a female, had made its escape from confinement.” It may be observed that the Passenger Pigeon has been previously recorded to have met with in the British Islands on five different occasions as follows:- One, Monymeal, Fifeshire, December 1825 (Fleming, Hist. Brit. An. P.145); one near Royston, Hertfordshire, July, 1844 (Yarrell, Hist. Brit. Birds, vol. ii., p.317); one near Tring, Hertfordshire (Yarrelop. cit.); one near Tralee, 1848 (Thompson, Nat. Hist. Ireland, Birds iii., p. 443); and one near Mellerstain, Berwickshire (Turnbull, Birds of East Lothian, p.41). With regard to this last, however, it is stated that a gentleman in Berwickshire had turned out several Passenger Pigeons before it was shot. – ED.


3.  Hancock, John (1874) ‘A Catalogue of the Birds of Northumberland and Durham.’ Transactions of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne. Vol. 6.