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Letter NEWHM:1996.H67.647

John Hancock to Earl Ravensworth (15 November 1876)

Hancock regrets that he did not visit the Eslington estate to see Ravensworth’s collection of Scottish Capercailles. He also discusses a specimen of the American Passenger Pigeon shot in Yorkshire and sent to him by the Dowager Marchioness of Normanby.




Newcastle 15th. Nov. 1876


Copy — To the Rt. Hon. Earl Ravensworth

My Lord

I beg have to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship’s letter of the 13th.

It was with much regret indeed that an opportunity to visit Eslington did not occur [.]  I have lost a chance probably I may never have again of seeing any caperlys [sic: capercailles] in life — I am very glad however that we are to have an account of them by your Lordship for our Transactions — If I could have the paper a few days before the 23rd of the present month (for on the day) there is to be a meeting of the Club and if we can get the paper read at this meeting it will go into the next part wh. is to complete the fifth volume –

[p.2] I hope a male or female of this interesting bird in the first plumage has been saved to place in the collection at Ravensworth.  I trust think in this state of plumage it is a desiderata in many most of our public museums –

On the 13th of last month your sister the Dowager Marchioness of Normanby — sent me a bird which was shot the day before at Mulgrave by Lord Harry Phipps.  He wished to know what it was for if a rare bird her Ladyship intended it to go into the Ravensworth collection.  It was the Passenger Pigeon Columba miqratoria Linn. — a female bird — I have stuffed it.

I have written a notice of its capture wh. will be read at the next meeting of the Club and by your Lordship’s permission I should like to keep the bird a few days to exhibit at the museum when the paper is read –





1. Henry Thomas Liddell, 1st Earl of Ravensworth (1797 – 1878) who lived at Ravensworth Castle, Gateshead. The Northumberland seat of the family was and still is at Eslington Park, an 18th-century mansion house near Whittingham.

2.  On the Capercailzie (Tetrao Urogallus, Linn.). The Right Honourable the Earl of Ravensworth Transactions of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  1877, XXII:334

3. The Dowager Marchioness is Maria Liddell (1798-1882) the sister of Earl Ravensworth. She married Constantine Phipps, 1st Marquess of Normanby (1797-1863) and was living at Mulgrave Castle in Lythe, Whitby in 1876.

The Lord Henry (Harry) Phipps (1851-1905), who shot the bird, was probably their grandson

4. The Passenger Pigeon or Wild Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius is an extinct North American bird. There are a few accidental records of birds being shot inBritain but they were most probably escapees.

Hancock wrote a note about the bird in the Transactions of the Natural History Society (1873-78) Vol. V pp.337-8

On the Occurrence of the Passenger Pigeon, Columba (Octopistes) migratoria, Linn., in Yorkshire.

On the 13th of 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. This is the only specimen killed in England that I have seen.

In Dr. Fleming’s History of British Animals, p. 145, it is stated that “a Passenger Pigeon, Columba migratoria, Wil., was shot, while perched on a wall in the neighbourhood of a Pigeon house at Westhall, in the parish of Monymeal, Fifeshire, 31st Dec., 1825. The feathers were quite fresh and entire, like those of a wild bird.” 

With regard to the Mulgrave bird it is very different, for the quill feathers in the wings are much worn and broken, and on the forehead above the bill they are apparently worn off to the skull, as though the bird had been trying to get out of a cage or some other enclosure; therefore I cannot come to any other conclusion than that this specimen, a female, had made its escape from confinement.

If we are to form an opinion of the vast numbers of this bird in its own country, from the account given by Audubon of these Pigeons at one of their roosting places, it must be the most prolific of the feathered tribe ever heard of.

The Mulgrave specimen will shortly be placed in the collection of the Right Honourable Earl Ravensworth. – John Hancock 20th November, 1876.

5. ‘the Club’ refers to The Tyneside Naturalists’ Field Club