Liver Bird

Liverpool Mercury July 5th 1811

Ode to the Liver

Writers on the etymology of the word Liverpool are accustomed to reject the tradition of the existence of a species of bird denominated the Liver, as entirely fabulous. For this there is no sufficient reason. Livia was undoubtedly the Latin denomination of a wild bird, whether a wood-pigeon or a water fowl, is extremely doubtful for the short description of it in Pliny. It is worthy of remark that Liviopolis the name of a town situated on the shores of the Euzine, the coast of which abounded with the bird Livia, and which name is generally derived from the Empress Livia, bears great similarity to the word Liverpool. From the constant interchange of the letters b and v in the Greek and Latin languages, I have ventured to suppose the root of the word Liver to have been the same as that of Liber, free, and I have therefore styled the Liver the bird of Freedom.


O, Bird of Freedom, that of yore,

Built thy lone nest on Mersey's shore,

Fond of the stoney bed; -

Till there the steps of man were heard,

And sails upon the stream appear'd, -

Thy pinions then, outspread,

Bore thee upon the winds sublime,

To seek, 0'er distant waves, some solitary clime.

T'was thine, what time the morning beam

Sparkled across thy native stream,

To skim the refleuent wave;

When evening rose, with storms o'ercast,

Thy plumage ruffling in the blast.

T'was thine the storm to brave;

Fearful of nought but man's vile race

Shrieking, thou heardst his voice, and fled thy native place.

Yet, but the fisher's matted sail,

Scarce bending with the labouring gale,

Caught then thy startled sight;

His aspect wild, and rude his hand;-

His turf-hut reared upon the strand,

A shelter for the night.

Hadst though remained with him awhile,

His rude, yet strenuous hand, had taught these banks to smile.

Not yet the castle's feudal pride,

Raised, threat'ning o'er the Mersey's tide.

Its high embattl'd tower,

While, unenslaved, the fisher-swain,

Swept with wild net, the wealthy main,

Nor knew depotic power;

Nor were his toils with love unblest,

Love strew'd his sea-weed couch, and claspt his sea-worn breast.

O Liver-bird hadst thou remain'd,

Ne'er had that humble swain complain'd,

Of slavery’s direful woes;

But thou wert flown, - when on the shore.

Its deep foundations stain'd with gore,

The Poietier-turret rose.

Then blasts of trumpets, clash of spears,

And victor-shouts were heard, and wails of widow's tears.

T'was then, the second Henry's band,

Thicken'd, O Mersey, o'er thy strand,

Fraught with I'erne's doom;

How many born but to obey!-

Manhood's full prime, with veterans grey,

And youth in earliest bloom;-

How much of life is given to death,

To swell a conqueror's fame with sad, expiring breath!

O Liver-bird, hadst thou not flown,

That victor voice had not been known,

Triumphant on thy flood;

Nor after-ages e'er had seen,

The fierce besieger's vengeful mien'

Who swell'd thy stream with blood!

When Rupert's courser crush'd the slain,

And feeble age implored, and mothers shriek'd in vain.

T'was ere that direful day, a star,

Shone o'er the western waves afar,

With hesitating light;

New mountains then their summits rear'd,

A world, a new born world appear'd,

Slow rising on the sight!

In those vast regions of the west,

Hadst thou, O Liver, built thy close-secluded nest ?

Ah no!- not thee, Tlascala knew,

Not the soft children of Peru,

Not Hayti's listless race, -

Nor yet Bahama's flowery isles,

Nor northern Indians who, with wiles,

Delight their foe to trace;-

These knew thee not, or thou hadst fled,

Soon as his anguine sails the greedy bigot spread.

Yet when the gentler arts were seen,

And Commerce rose, the Ocean's queen,

And sought thy Mersey's shore;

Hadst thou revisited this strand,

Peace, who sustains just Commerce' hand,

Had blest the Merchant's store:-

Now droops that hand, - and Commerce pale,

Laments her waiting wealth, and unexpected sail!

Return, O Liver!- Freedom's bird!

Shall aught to Freedom be preferr'd

On this thy native flood?

Return !- the groans of trade-borne slaves

Have ceased along the tropic waves -

Ceas'd hath the gain of blood!

And war, at thy return, shall cease,

And man again rejoice in Freedom and in Peace.


Liverpool Mercury July 2nd 1824

The Liver Bird

A very beautiful stuffed bird has been brought into our office, where it will be permitted to remain for inspection the whole of the day. The individual to whom it belongs, calls it the "Liver bird" from which some antiquarians derive the name of our native town. We know nothing of ornithology ourselves, and we have been taught to regard our corporation bird as the creature of fiction, like the renowned phoenix. The specimen which we now invite our readers to examine, may be familiar to naturalists, but we must be permitted to observe, that if there be such a bird as the liver, this must be one of the species, as the resemblance it bears to our best representation of that bird is most remarkable. It is about two feet high, and of a most elegant and symmetrical form. As this specimen has excited much curiosity, we hope some person, versed in this branch of natural history, will take the trouble to call and look at it.

Mr RIDDIOUGH of Ormskirk, who is distinguished for his knowledge of ornithology, and who has stuffed hundreds of birds in his time, requests a friend to tell us, "there is no such bird as the liver, that birds of the same species [viz the cormorant] as that represented at our office, may often be met with near Liverpool" In reply to this we beg, in the first place, to repeat, that we have no knowledge of ornithology, but that we have shown our specimen to many experienced persons who declare that it differs from any bird they ever saw in their lives. The cormorant is not so very uncommon as thus to be unknown, but we have a better argument to offer, to show that our specimen is not only not a cormorant, but not at all of that species. The cormorant tribe are web-footed, so is the bird which Mr KAYE of the Courier-office, possesses, which has by some persons been deemed a liver. The bird in our office has fine long slender toes, without the slightest web. We hope that some person, skilled in natural history, will decide upon its identity.

It height is about two feet, beak and legs dark iron grey, neck, breast, belly and thighs, reddish brown, back and wings, bronze colour, beautifully variegated in the light with shades of green, purple and reddish hues. We have made an exact drawing of it, in order to show any person who may call after the owner has removed it from our office. From the descriptions we have been reading, it appears to us to resemble some of the curlew species, which are numerous.

Liverpool Mercury Feb 9th 1854

Mr SPENCE, an artist who is now staying in Rome, has completed the model of a colossal figure, intended for the Sydenham Palace, representing his native city of Liverpool. The figure is dignified and grandly draped, and will be easily distinguished from her companions in the row of cities by the commercial caduceus and the legendary bird the Liver, which was the origin of her name.


Fit for royalty

The Liverpool Courier May, 1872

Interchange of gifts between Liverpool ladies and Prince Arthur on his recent visit to Liverpool

Prince Arthur was observed to be wearing on Tuesday a very handsome and unique scarf pin. This was the gift of twelve ladies who preside at the bazaar stalls. The centre bore the symbol of the town of Liverpool, that mystical bird the Liver Bird, formed of diamonds and enclosed in a garter of deep blue enamel, with the civic legend, "Deus nobis brec Otin Fecit" The gift was forwarded to the Prince with a letter addressed by the Chairman of the Bazaar Committee, in the names of the twelve ladies, thanking him for his presence at the opening of the bazaar. The Prince graciously received the gift and acknowledged it in the following letter :-

Wavertree Grange, May 20th, 1872, Ladies, - I am very grateful to you for the very handsome and most unexpected present which you have sent me through your chairman Mr Lawrence. I can assure you I shall very highly appreciate a souvenir given to me with so kindly a feeling, and one which displays such exquisite taste. In wearing this handsome pin I shall ever bear in mind the interesting visit to Liverpool, coupling with it the names of the fair donors. I must ask you to do me the favour of accepting a photograph of, yours sincerely, ARTHUR."

The letter was accompanied with a dozen photographic cartes, in cameo, of the Prince in rifle costume, each bearing the Prince's autograph, "Arthur" for distribution to the ladies who had sent him the gift.

The Liverpool Mercury May 17th, 1887

Royal Visit to Liverpool

On the visit yesterday of Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise, for the opening of the Liverpool Jubilee Exhibition, her Royal Highness was presented with a key-brooch, it is made with fine gold, and around the shaft is entwined in a very graceful manner a wreath of laurels, the words of the key taking the form of a cross, the shaft terminates in a richly-wrought capital, and the circular head has the Royal fleur-de-lis and Maltese crosses enriching it, surmounted by the coronet of the Princess. The lozenge shaped shield is beautifully enamelled in proper heraldic colours, differenced with the Royal Arms in her own right and those of the Argyll family, forms a striking part of the beautiful key-brooch. The Liver Bird also in enamel is placed on the shaft, standing erect as worn. It is enclosed in a blue silk velvet case, bearing a gold plate outside, on which is engraved the inscription and the Royal coronet. The committee entrusted Messers Elkington and Co, Church St, with the order, and it has been carried out to their entire satisfaction.


Liverpool seal

The Graphic, May 5th 1877

Liverpool, tradition asserts that the place has its name because the "pool" was the haunt of the "Liver" or "Lever" a bird of which very little is known, but which is supposed to be represented in the nondescript fowl which now figures on the armorial bearings of the town. Those who hold this opinion have a well-known heraldic writer on their side Holmes in his "Storehouse of Armoury and Blazonry, " says of the Liver, "This bird is denominated by Conradus Gessner in Latin Platea, which he conceives to be the water pelican or Shroveller [anglice] but in Dutch is called Lepler or Lepelar or Leefler, in the German Lefler or Lever, and is supposed to be the Spoonbill of Mr Ray and the pelican of Onocratalus." It is possible there may have been such a bird. If one were intended it would probably be the Anas clypeata, a wild duck still found on the Ribble and occasionally in the Mersey, the form of which corresponds strikingly with that of the bird figured on the beautiful ancient corporate seal of the town granted in the reign of King John, and with that which appears in the debased copy of the seal which took the place of the original after the second siege during the Civil War. For those who still cling to the "Liver Bird" we may mention that at the Herald's Visitation in 1567, several of the families of Southern Lancashire bore one or more "levers" in their arms

A. DUCK !!!!!!!!!!

The Liverpool Mercury July 20th, 1887

Liverpool Astronomical Society

The rooms of the Royal Astronomical Society in Burlington House, London were recently thrown open to the Liverpool Astronomical Society for the purpose of holding an annual general meeting, the report presented there was a very satisfactory one, but the results of the meeting not such as to encourage the Liverpool members to hold any more meetings away from home. When the question came up as to the form of the society's seal, it was found that a few of those present knew anything about the fabled bird the "Liver" and the irreverent remarks about a "duck" jarred on the nerves of the few Dicky Sams present. Several rather uncomfortable things took place at the meeting and it was considered wise to change the headquarters of the society to London, and that a "duck" will not be required on the seal

The Graphic, Oct 23rd 1897

The Law Society of Liverpool

An anonymous donor has just presented a badge to the Incorporated Law Society of Liverpool. The general form is vesica shaped, the outer line being varied by gentle curves, while the inner outline is formed by a bold vesica of diamonds broken into arches on its inner side. This forms a bond of diamonds of pure whiteness, every stone perfect in cutting and free from flaws. Within the arches are shown the Liver Bird on an enamelled shield and the motto of the society, "Lux Gentium Lex, " on an enamelled ribbon below. These are displayed against a diaper background enamelled on gold, and over the shield, as emblematic of "Law the Light of Peoples" is a superb diamond specimen stone two carats weight. The severe lines of the vesica of diamonds id diversified by two diamond open set flowers, with fine ruby centres above and below, a series of ruby and diamond ornaments in succession occupying the alternate curves of the border. Between these is a beautiful arrangement of Etruscan decoration after ancient models giving a variety of Greek anthemion suited to the form. Above the pendant, and connecting it with the ribbon is the Liver crest in gold, beautifully enamelled, and a ribbon with slide for attachment when in wear. A novel arrangement is given at the back by two folding doors in gold, which are released by a small bolt, and which allows a number of names of Presidents in succession being engraved. The badge was designed and executed by Messers Elkington and Co, Liverpool

Liverpool Mercury March 22nd 1880

Not so bad

A much respected Conservative and Churchman, meeting a brother in the faith, inquiringly said, "Now that we are so soon to become cathedral citizens, is there any idea of changing the corporation emblem by discarding that antiquated-looking bird the Liver, now used as the corporate badge.?"

The good churchman, in the language of the Prayer-book, emphatically said, "The Lord deliver us, " and passed on.

Liverpool Mercury Sept 22nd 1899

Correspondence after the "Ode to the Bird of Freedom" appeared in the Liverpool Mercury

The Liver Bird or Dodo

To the editors of the Liverpool Mercury

Gentlemen, I have read your interesting quotation about the famous bird and the well written lines of the, "Ode to the Bird of Freedom" which appeared in the Liverpool Mercury, Friday July 5th 1811.

The writer was quite correct in saying that the writers then were accustomed to reject the tradition of its existence, and I find there is many people in Liverpool who still view the idea of its existence as without foundation, and that the insignia representing the spirited bird to be seen everywhere on public buildings in Liverpool is purely imaginary and arbitrarily adopted, but why nobody appears to know. Now it is certain that such a long-timed and generally-adopted "crest" for Liverpool must have had some basis and origin in point of fact, and such was the case in Liverpool's "Bird of Freedom" A few years ago having to execute some decorative insignia representing the "Liver" and hearing a great deal of conflicting opinion about the mystic bird. I applied to the city surveyor of waterworks for permission to see some old maps of Liverpool in the municipal possession. I was kindly shown maps of Liverpool from early dates down to the present time, all bearing representations of the "Liver"

Beginning with the first of three, I found that the "Liver" was a very different kind of creature from the animated bird we now see upon public lamp-posts and on the front page of the Liverpool Mercury. In fact the "liver bird" has gradually developed itself by a curious process of suggestive evolution from its original and very humble and unassuming condition of a bird without a tail and really the "Dodo" A singular instance of this can be seen on the top of an old water pipe at the Pro-Cathedral, Church St, and from the "untailed" state the coming bird progressed through successive stages of improvement until it finally assumed its present highly-spirited and heraldic form, with a sprig of leafage in its beak, plainly declaring:-

"Here I am, the "Bird of Freedom" for Liverpool ! When I wandered by the banks of the old "pool" of Liverpool, I had no tail, and yet I represented "freedom". When slavery came to Liverpool I fled to other climes, but since Liverpool was freed from its accursed trade in slavery, I returned with my tail to tell of freedom's dawn of day, and still I whirl my sprig of leaves aloft in the fore page of the Liverpool Mercury, and still I cry for further freedom for the white slaves of Liverpool, from everything that oppresses, degrades and makes miserable ! City Father's, hear my cry!"

The Liverpool Mercury Sept 25th, 1899

In connection with the references recently made in this column to the "Dodo" or "Liver Bird" a correspondent sends the following interesting lines:-

Ode to the Dodo or Liver Bird

Inexplicable creature, say,

And tell us truly if thou can,

What wer't thou in the bye-gone day:

A gull, a crane, or pelican?

What land did thou the light first see?

For tiresome folk us now are boring;

And what relation may'st thou be

To t'other "Bird o' Freedom soarin'"?

Come drop the sprig from out thy beak,

For wicked people gainst thee rail,

Thou fearful wild-fowl, up and speak;

Oh! Dodo, prithee tell thy tail!


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