canary, victorian
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VICTORIANA - Enjoy articles relating to the Victorian Era. A regular column in each issue of The Tea House Times. Written by Patrice LePera - Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing -

August 2012 Posts


Blog Entry

The Singing Canary by Patrice LePera

posted by TeaHouseTimes Admin, ADMINMonday, August 27th 2012 @ 6:07 PM

The story begins in the Canary Islands where a beautiful singing green canary was introduced to Europe.  Royalty from Chinese emperors to French nobility were enchanted with the idea of a tiny, singing bird.  The nightingale is a wild bird, and refusing to be caged, dies in captivity, so canaries were welcomed with deep delight, as royal and wealthy families acquired the tiny singers. 

Britain and Germany separately began the search for the yellow canary, breeding out the green colour and the brown barred wings, the first few, depending on the rarity of the colour were worth many times their weight in gold. 

The heart of the Hartz Mountains is coal; mining was the main occupation.   Traders brought the canaries to Andreasburg and other Tyrolean villages and the miners welcomed the little singers to light up their grimy underground caverns with song.  By  1882 most of the 800 families in St. Andreasburg were rearing canaries.  Less interested in colour than in their voices, they were the origin of The Hartzer Roller. 

Canary sensitivity to gas saved many miners’ lives, and it wasn’t until 1991 that canaries were replaced by gas detectors.  The main vein was a kilometer below ground. Two man-driven vertical rods pumped alternately up and down with each step, and it took 45 minutes of pumping to reach the vein, where it was 40 degrees C.  The little roller canaries uplifted the weary hours with song, and the miners loved their tiny, beautiful birds.  Several weeks of song training are required, and the chicks notoriously copy what they hear.  One canary, raised near church bells, incorporated the clear ringing tones of the bells into its song, and another, raised by a tax collector, intrigued listeners by including the “clink” of counting coins into its song. 

The Waterslager or water beater, was developed near Antwerp, its song sounding like bubbling, trilling as well as a “klok” like water dropping into a barrel.


©2012 by Patrice LePera ~ Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing ~
Patrice can create a personalized silhouette using your photo.  She also offers cards and other art.  See website.



From the July/August 2012 issue of The Tea House Times.  To view the most recent issue, please register / log-in at

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