Artefact of the Month - May 2013. 160 years since the opening of the Fish House at ZSL London Zoo, the first public aquarium
According to the 1858 Guide to the Gardens…
'This building was erected in 1852 for the purpose of exhibiting Fish, and the lower aquatic animals in a living state. The success which attended this experiment, then first publicly attempted on a large scale, has assisted in promoting the popular study of these most interesting creatures in a very remarkable manner, not only in this country but on the Continent.’
The Fish House was opened in May 1853 and according to the report in the May 28, 1853 edition of the Illustrated London News...
'The accompanying illustrations [see two of the images below] represent a pair of the water scenes, inclosed between walls of plate glass, of which more than a dozen are now presented to visitors to the Zoological Gardens, in a building which the Society have erected for the novel and ingenious purpose of exhibiting, under natural conditions, an amazingly curious and beautiful division of the animal kingdom which, hitherto but little known to the popular observer, people the endless regions of the lake, the river, and the sea.'
It was revolutionary for the time; the possibility of making tanks from large sheets of plate glass enabled visitors to have an underwater view of the life in the tanks. Additionally it had only recently been recognised that fishes absorbed oxygen from water and replaced it with carbonic acid. Plants absorb this and return oxygen to the water leading to a more balanced system within the tanks. Although fairly simple in principle it was more difficult in practice to maintain a balance. These developments and the opening of the Fish House led to a Victorian 'craze' for aquaria in the home.
The 1860 Guide to the Fish-House included brief details of all the exhibits accompanied by illustrations - see as an example the 'short-nosed Hippocampus, or sea-horse' illustration below. ZSL is active in the conservation of seahorses and some can be seen in a new exhibit at ZSL London Zoo - read more about Seahorses
Find out more about Philip Henry Gosse who was instrumental in setting up the Fish House Artefact of the month - April 2010. Bicentenary of Philip Henry Gosse
Read more about The history of The Aquarium
The publications and illustrations featured form part of the special collections of ZSL Library, you are welcome to visit and consult/view them but an appointment is necessary Library Regulations for Special Collections (96 KB)Please email email@example.com or telephone 020 447 6293 to make an appointment.
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