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The Great Barrier Island pigeongram service.

Before 1897, mail services to and from Great Barrier Island relied on weekly steamer visits. The need for a faster service, which would carry urgent messages to the mainland, became apparent in October 1894 when the SS Wairarapa was wrecked off the island's coast, with the loss of 134 lives. The news of the disaster took three days to reach Auckland.

As a result, a pigeon-gram service was set up. The pigeon Arie' carried the first message on January 29, 1896. It took less than an hour and three-quarters to reach Auckland.

The service ran between Newton Rd in Auckland, Great Barrier Island, the Marotiri Islands near Whangarei, and Port Charles on the Coromandel Peninsula.

The world’s first 'airmail' stamps were issued for the Great Barrier Pigeon-Gram Service from 1898 to 1908. Distinctive triangular stamps were printed in 1899. Up to five messages were carried by each pigeon, the fastest of which, Velocity, held the record of only 50 minutes flight time (only 40 per cent slower than modern aircraft), averaging over 125kph from Great Barrier to Auckland.

The first 'airmail' stamps used for the Great Barrier Pigeon-Gram Service.

The first letter sent using the Great Barrier-Pigeon-Gram Service.

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