ZSL London Zoo’s `Fish House’ opened in May 1853, it was revolutionary for its time, the possibility of making tanks from large sheets of plate glass enabled visitors to have an underwater view of the life in 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 leaving 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.
In 1847 Anna Thynne collected Madrepores (a stony coral) while on holiday, she took them home to Westminster and amazingly they survived! She watched them and kept them alive, developing new techniques for keeping marine aquaria. She inspired others who developed her techniques including Philp Henry Gosse who was instrumental in the establishment of ZSL London Zoo’s `Fish House’ which opened in 1853 as ZSL’s first aquarium.
Philip Henry Gosse was a renowned Victorian naturalist but was above all a marine biologist, designing and popularising the aquarium, a word he invented. He found the term `Aquatic Vivarium’ awkward and uncouth and coined the term `Aquarium’.
In his book `The Aquarium’ Gosse wrote :
`Early in December, 1852, I put myself in communication with the Secretary of the Zoological Society, and the result was the transfer of a small collection of the Zoophytes and Annelides, which I had brought up from Ilfracombe and which I had kept for two months in cases in London, - to one of the tanks in the new Fish House just erected in the Society’s Gardens in Regent’s Park. This little collection thus became the nucleus and the commencement of the Marine Aquarium afterwards exhibited there’.
He included detailed instructions for readers wanting to make their own aquarium with an account of his own difficulties and experiences in establishing successful aquaria.
`By the end of 1853 these relatively small tanks had been used to house a selection of marine animals, 58 species of fish and 200 invertebrates including 76 species of mollusc, 41 crustaceans , 27 coelenterates, 15 echinoderms, 14 annelids as well as a sprinkling from the small invertebrate groups.’ The Zoological Society of London 1826-1976 and beyond / edited by Professor Lord Zuckerman, London : Zoological Society of London, Academic Press, 1976
Further reading :
Glimpses of the wonderful : the life of Philip Henry Gosse / Ann Thwaite, London : Faber and Faber, 2002.
Theatres of glass : the woman who brought the sea to the city / Rebecca Stott, London : Short Books, 2003.
Walking with Gosse : natural history, creation and religious conflicts / Roger S. Wotton, Southampton : Clio, 2012
On the increase of Madrepores by Mrs Thynne with notes by P.H. Gosse In The Annals and Magazine of Natural History [Third Series] No. 18, June 1859, pp. 449-461. These are Anna Thynne’s published notes with an introductory letter by Philip Henry Gosse.
The Aquarium an unveiling of the wonders of the deep sea – 2nd ed. / by Philip Henry Gosse, London : John van Voorst, 1856.
Handbook to the Fish-House in the Gardens of the Zoological Society of London / by E.W.H. Holdsworth, London : Bradbury and Evans, 1860.This book includes brief details of all the exhibits accompanied by illustrations. Holdsworth advocated `balanced aquariums’ where with enough light, the carbon dioxide from animals would be used by plants for photosynthesis, with the oxygen so produced being used by the animals.
Follow us on twitter @ZSLLibrary
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.