Appendix 4


Observations of the extinct Island Cock of Tristan da Cunha


17?? - It is possible that the 'strange bird that goes upright' mentioned by Dalrymple was a Moorhen, resembling August Earle's description ' their gait was something like that of the penguin.' Dalrymple quoted from the English Pilot, which was published in many editions in the 17th and 18th century. I have no idea how far back this decription goes.

1790 - The first man to spend a long time on Tristan, Patten, saw and ate Moorhens (Morrell 1832, Purdy 1816).

1811 - King Jonathan saw and ate Moorhens (Im Thurn and Wharton 1925).

1816 - Captain Dugald Carmichael saw and collected Moorhens (Carmichael 1818). Three were sold at the Bullock auction sale (Bullock 1819), but afterwards were never found (Stresemann 1953).

1824 - August Earle's dog occasionally caught tasty 'Black partridges'. Jules Verne, in his The Children of Captain Grant, relates a visit to Tristan, mentioning the history of the island, including Earle's involuntary stay. In his book, Lord Glenarvan goes ashore to shoot several couples of Black partridges, from which the cook made an excellent dish (Verne 1867-1868).

1835 - William Stirling, on board the Tiger, visited Tristan and saw Moorhens (Stirling 1843).

1842 - Brierly, travelling from Plymouth to Australia, took two Moorhens on board (Brierly 1842, Wace & Holdgate 1976). These have never been found.

1852 - Macgillivray, on board the Herald, stayed three days on Tristan. He found the Moorhens to still be common, especially away from the Settlement (Macgillivray 1852, Wace & holdgate 1976).

1853 - Mr. Gurney received a letter from Mr Strange, from Sydney. Strange writes that he had met someone who saw birds on Tristan 'without wings' (Gurney 1853). We find a bird without wings in the boy's book A grue of Ice by Jenkins (1962), which in a heavy gale was blown from the island onto the ship, where the author takes the lack of wings a bit too literally.

1856 - Captain Nolloth of the Frolic reported that the Moorhens on Tristan, according to the islanders, were still common. He also said they considered them a great delicacy. Nolloth collected geological and biological specimens, including a Moorhen egg (Nolloth 1856). The egg is supposed to be in the Cape Town museum, but cannot be found.

1861 - Moorhens were taken to London and were desribed as a new species by Sclater (Sclater 1861).

1867 - During the Royal visit with the Galatea (when the Settlement was named after the Duke of Edinburgh). the islanders said  that flightless Cocks were no longer to be found near the Settlement, but were still common further away (Milner & Brierly 1869).

1868 - Sperling visited Tristan and reported that the Moorhens had become scarce (Sperling 1872).

1869 - Mr Layard in Cape Town received a collection of eggs and birds from 'islands in the neighbourhood of Tristan da Cunha', including Moorhens. Three were sent to London (Layard 1869). Two of those got lost, the third probably ended up in the American Museum of Natural History in Washington in 1871. In this case, these birds were probably Gough Moorhens (Beintema 1972).

1872 - The islanders sold a Moorhen to a ship. No further information (Willemoes Suhm) 1876).

1873 - The Challenger expedition failed to find Moorhens, but did not venture further than half an hour walking distance from the Settlement (Moseley 1879, Thomson 1877).

1888 - George Comer collected Moorhens on Gough, which were described as a new species (Allen 1892).

1906 - Nicoll, naturalist on board the Valhalla, visited Tristan. The islanders told him Moorhens were no longer to be found (Nicoll 1906).

1937 - Yngvar Hagen, member of the Norwegian expedition, could not find anyone who had ever seen a Moorhen (Hagen 1952).

1950 - Hugh Elliott, first Administrator of Tristan, tried again, but even the oldest people on the island had never seen one and could not even remember anyone who had (Elliott 1957).

1981 - In the boy's book The Islanders, where the author was inspired by Tristan history, the people knew about the former existence of flightless 'Island Fowl', which were exterminated by their ancestors, because it was so easy to catch them (Townsend 1981).

Back to table of contents