The Aquarium (Gosse)

The Aquarium  (1854) 
by Philip Henry Gosse


Pl. I.

The aquarium - Plate 1.jpg

P. H. Gosse. del. Hanhart Chromo lith.








"The sea is HIS, and He made it."—Ps. xcv. 5.



The habits of animals will never be thoroughly known till they are observed in detail. Nor is it sufficient to mark them with attention now and then; they must be closely watched, their various actions carefully noted, their behaviour under different circumstances, and especially those movements which seem to us mere vagaries, undirected by any suggestible motive or cause, well examined. A rich fruit of result, often most curious and unexpected, and often singularly illustrative of peculiarities of structure, will, I am sure, reward any one who studies living animals in this way. The most interesting parts, by far, of published natural history, are those minute, but most graphic particulars, which have been gathered by an attentive watching of individual animals. Many examples crowd up to my mind;—Wilson's picture of the Mocking-bird; Vigors's of the Toucan; Broderip's of his Beaver "Binny;" Wollaston's of the Water–Shrew; Bennett's of the Bird of Paradise, and multitudes more.

It is true that observations of this kind make us acquainted rather with an individual than with a species; and long experience has convinced me that this is not a distinction without a difference. There is an idiosyncrasy in the inferior animals, I am persuaded,—not so great or varied, probably, as in Man, since the more highly any faculty is developed, the more susceptible it is of modification but—sufficient to communicate individuality of character, and to make the actions of one animal to differ, in some degree, from those of another of the same species, under similar circumstances. We commonly think of the features of one Deer, or Sparrow, or Crab, as exact counterparts of those of every other Deer, or Sparrow, or Crab; yet a shepherd is able to distinguish every Sheep of his flock by its face; those who are conversant with Horses can readily detect diversities in the expression of their eye or mouth, scarcely less marked than in their human acquaintances; and I have myself noticed the same distinctness in birds. When I was in Jamaica, I could tell one from another of the wild Doves in my cages, by their expression of countenance alone, though perfectly alike in colouring. Doubtless this individuality would be much more generally perceived, if our observations on animals were not so loose and cursory as they usually are. And if it exists in the features, we might reasonably infer a parallel diversity in mind (by which I mean a faculty distinct from, but co-existent with, instinct) in them, even if direct observation did not detect it.

But, bearing in mind that records thus obtained of the manners of animals are properly biographical, belonging to the individual more strictly than to the species, it is manifest that these must be the foundation of all our correct generalization. Nor are they in themselves unworthy of careful regard, as those will allow who know the value of human Biography. Shakspeare and Scott, who treat of man as an individual, are not inferior in their walk of science, to Reid and Stewart, who describe him as a species.

The inhabitants of the deep sea have hitherto been almost inaccessible to such observation as this; and hence exceedingly little has been accumulated of their Biography. A paragraph went the round of the papers some months ago, to the effect that an eminent French zoologist, in order to prosecute his studies on the marine animals of the Mediterranean, had provided himself with a water-tight dress, suitable spectacles, and a breathing tube; so that he might walk on the bottom in a considerable depth of water, and mark the habits of the various creatures pursuing their avocations.

Whether a scheme so elaborate was really attempted I know not; but I should anticipate feeble results from it. The Marine Aquarium, however, bids fair to supply the required opportunities, and to make us acquainted with the strange creatures of the sea, without diving to gaze on them. In this volume I offer to the world a small earnest, just the first fruits, of what may be looked for, in increased knowledge of natural history, from this invention.

In some respects the present Volume may be considered as a sequel and continuation of my "Rambles on the Devonshire Coast;" inasmuch as it is conversant with similar objects, and as I have made it assume somewhat of the form of a personal narrative; sufficient, at least, to constitute a link of connexion between myself and my reader, not only in the things described, but also in the feelings they excite in my own mind.

But the subjects of the present work are principally deep-sea animals, as those of the former were chiefly littoral; and even where the sphere of observation is the same, the observations themselves are quite distinct, and have to do with different creatures. A certain degree of family likeness must prevail in all out-of-door natural history; but so vast, and almost illimitable, is the field of labour, that industry and faithfulness will always be rewarded by fresh and interesting results.

The following pages embrace a brief History of the Marine Aquarium, as an application of scientific principles to a definite object;—my own Experience in collecting animals and plants, with Instructions founded thereon;—copious Details of the peculiar habits and instincts of such species as I have observed in confinement;—Sketches of scenery, of local customs and manners, and of personal adventure, made during the prosecution of the employment; and, finally, an arranged chapter of Directions for the construction, preparation, stocking, and maintenance of a Marine Aquarium.

The Plates which illustrate this volume are its principal peculiarity. I have endeavoured,—in a manner hitherto,I believe, unattempted,—to represent marine animals, with their beauty of form and brilliance of colour, in their proper haunts, surrounded by sub-marine rocks and elegant sea-weeds, as these appear when transferred to an Aquarium. They have been printed from stone by Messrs. Hanhart, who have not spared all the resources of that beautiful art of which they are the acknowledged masters, in reproducing my original drawings.

The wood-engravings are by Messrs. Whymper, and represent the Coast-scenery in the vicinity of Weymouth.

London: April, 1854.


Return of Spring—Flight to the Coast—Weymouth Bay—Its Grandeur—Portland Breakwater—Its Utility—Harbour of Refuge—Aquarium at the Zoological Gardens—History of the Scheme—Gradual Enunciation of the Principle—Priestley—Ellis—Daubeny's Researches—Ward—Johnston—Warington's Experiments—Their complete Success.
Page 1–13
Reconnoitring—Walk along the Beach—Belmont Bay—Shingle unproductive—Sea-grass—Lucky-stone—Power of Memory—Byng Cliff—Rocky Ledges—Promises—Scene from the Cliff—Steamer 'Contractor'—Birds and Insects—Oil Beetle—Loon—Peculiarity of Tide—Collecting Sea-weeds—Mode of Operation—Fissures—Delesseria—Chondrus—Laurencia—Oarweeds—Dulse—Chylocladia—Coralline—Ulva—Cladophora—Method of Dislodgment—Its Risks and Difficulties—Collecting Animals—Yellow Winkle—Periwinkle—Its Usefulness—Confervoid Growth in Aquarium—Removed by the Mollusks—Their manner of Eating—Periwinkle's Tongue—Its Action and Efficiency—Weymouth Anemone—Its Varieties—Black Sand-worm—Yellow Doris—Cowry—Hairy Crab—Lobster Prawn.
Craving for the Remote—Visit to Portland—Wilderness of Stone—Barren Shore—Tansy—Cowslips and Hyacinths—Burnet Rose—Spurge—Land Shells—Garden Snail—Banded Snail—Heath Snail—Silky Snail—Stone Snail—Elegant Cyclostome—Reasons of hidden Things discoverable—Glory to God in Praise—The Broad-claw—Its Manners—Use of the Foot-jaws—Their exquisite Structure—A living Casting Net—Use of the hind Feet—A Dredging Day—Quay Scene—Nature and Use of the Dredge—Oyster Dredge—Naturalist's Dredge—Keer-drag—Roman Advice—Jonah Fowler—His Qualifications—Preston Valley—A Cast of the Drag—Its Produce—Osmington—Burning Cliff—Whitenose—A tragical Adventure—Examination of a Dredge-haul—Brittle-stars—Sunstar—Bird's foot—Cribella—Beauty of Starfishes—Soldier-crab—Cloak Anemone—Spider-crabs—Sepiole—Its Beauty—Changes of Colour—Curious Mode of Burrowing—Accessory Uses of Organs—Discharge of Ink—Murderous Propensities.
Excursion to Wyke—Advent of Summer—Rural Sights and Sounds—Cockchafers—Larks—Starling—Wake-robin—Germander Speedwell—Recollections—View of Weymouth Bay Fern "Shells"—Belfield—Wood Plants—Clausilia—Magpies—Blackbirds—Cuckoo's Note—Apologies—Wyke Church—The Fleet—Chesil Beach—Spotted Goby—Flatfish—Sand Launce—Strange Variety of Daisy Anemone—Its Parturition—Chesil—The Beach—Lobster fishing—Rocky Shore—Seaweeds—The Long-tongued Medusa—Pearl-shells—Thorns turned to Gems—Belmont Ledges—The Goblet Lucernaria—Its Habits and Affinities.
Promenade on the Nothe—The Jetty—The Mixon—A fertile Garden of Algæ—Tangles—Rhodosperms—Chlorosperms—Laver—The splendid Cystoseira—The Floods of Adversity—My own Tank—Disappointments—The Contents—Crowds of unexpected Guests—Results—The Black Goby—Its cannibal Propensities—Changes of Colour—Sucking Fin-disk—Mullet Fry—Their Manner of Feeding—Efforts to breathe Air—Wrasses—Their Beauty—Explanation of Frontispiece—The Corkwing—The Green Wrasse—Habits of a Corkwing—Its tragical Fate—Pipefishes—The Two-spotted Sucker—Suggested Use of its Mechanism—Analogy of the Echeneïs—Spawn of the Sucker—Double Vision—Examples of the Phenomenon—The Honeycomb Coral—Its Parasites—Its Structure—Its Populousness—Montgomery's Coral-worms—Spiritual Analogies—The Heavenly Jerusalem.
A Walk through Portland—Fortune's Well—Old Smuggler—Bow and Arrow Castle—Church Hope—Vast Chasm—Resemblance to Lundy—Southwell—Keeve's Hole—Awkward Accident—Natural Arches and Pillars—Sea-weeds—The Tansy—Its Nest—The Peacock's Tail—Seaweed Gardens—The Strawberry Crab—Its climbing Propensities—Connexion between long Arms and climbing Habits—The Cloak Anemone—Its Singular Form explained—Unaccountable Companionships—Illustrative Examples of the Species—Efficiency of the Thread-capsules—The Rosy Filaments—The Parasitic Anemone—Its Size, Form and Colours—Its Associations—Its missile Weapons—Rank Odour.
Another dredging Day—Fading Memories—A Calm—Durdle-Door—An Archway of Rock—A Walk under the Cliffs—Young Gulls—The Cow and Calf—Search for Sea-weeds—A Breeze—Zoëa of Crab—Its Habits—Singular Capture of a Fish—Contents of the Dredges—The Sea-mouse—Its remarkable Splendours—Interesting Structure—Pennant's Ebalia—Its Habits—Its Fate—Soldier-crabs—Resemblance to Spiders—Pugnacity—Curious Associations—Parasitic Anemone—Parasitic Worm—"Snatch and Swallow"—A Crab "moving House"—Details of his Proceedings—Prawns—Their Elegance—Eye-gleams—Manner of eating—Cleanliness—A judicial Appointment—Its Mercy—Its Extension to the Creatures—Examples of Animal Cleanliness—The Prawn's Scrubbing Brushes—Serpulæ—The Beauty of the Animals—Their Watchfulness—A curious Stopper—Locomotive Bristles—Comb-plates—Their Operation.
A Drag on Smallmouth Sands—The Abergavenny—Chalk Figure of King George—Varieties of Ground—The Little Weever—Flat-fishes—The Thornback—The Painted Ray—The Bordered Ray—The Angel—The Gemmed Sea-slug—Forest-bearing Crabs—Shrimps—Garret Windows—Æsop-prawns—Cranch's Æsop—White's Æsop—The Scarlet-lined Æsop—The Plumose Anemone—Its Beauty and Size—Variation in Colour—The Disk—Its Sociality—Its Locomotion—Runcina—The Fiddler Crab—His natatory Powers—A "striking" Species—His grim Habits—Ferocity—Indiscriminate Greediness—Tit for Tat—An odd Fish—Use of the Lamm—A Fisherman's "Rubbish"—Plate Armour—A fine Beard—Its probable Use—The Nothe Ledges—Various Sea-weeds—Phyllophora—Codium—Griffithsia—Rivularia.
A Meditation—The Spiritual Use of Natural History—Extremes of Opinion—Scriptural Warrant for the Study—Its Limits—Three inspired Modes of Treatment—I. Direct Testimony to God—Founded on our Ignorance—On our Knowledge—Various Attributes of God discoverable—Responsibilities—Cain's Offering—II. Moral Lessons by Examples—III. Spiritual Parallelisms—Similes—Types—Symbols—Allegories—God's Message of Grace.
Autumnal Gales—Lucernaria—Mode of finding it—Analogy with Medusa—Description—Habit of Bell Lucernaria—Last Look at Weymouth—London Studies—The Spinous Cockles—Their gymnastic Feats—Fine Appearance of the Foot—Open-heartedness—The Siphons and their Use—Strange Creatures in the Sea—The Rough Syrinx—Value of a Bit of Stone—The Terebella—Ancient Masonry—Crawling and Swimming Feats—The Gold-comb—Its Tube—Its Combs—Their Use—Its Mode of Burrowing—Respiration—Structure of the Tail—The Gills—The Spears—Use of these Organs—Self-abolition—A Faculty of Echinoderms—Brittle-stars—Cross-fish—Suicide of one—Holothuriæ—Chirodota—Its Structure—Its Manners—Ovarian Threads—Effusion of Colour—The Leaf-Worms—Their Elegance—Evolution of the Stomach—A new Species—Structure of the Spears—Use of these Organs not entirely known—Respiration—Reflections.
Practical Instructions—The Name—Vivarium—Aqua-vivarium—Aquarium—The Tank—Form and Size—Aspect—Cost—The Preparation—Artificial Rocks, &c.—The Bottom—Water—The Stock—Plants—Animals—Procuring Specimens—Transmission—General Directions—Purification—Occasional Death—Instruments—Artificial Aëration—Evaporation—Cleansing the Sides—Conclusion.


I. The Ancient Wrasse Frontispiece.
II. The Smooth Anemone, &c. Page 38
III. Star-fishes 64
IV. The Parasitic Anemone, &c. 150
V. The Plumose Anemone, &c. 192
VI. The Æsop-prawn, &c. 220


I. Collecting under Byng Cliff 18
II. Foot-jaw of Broad-claw 48
III. Dredging off Whitenose 60
IV. Portland, from Belmont 76
V. Durdle-door 154
VI. The Fountain Aquarium 254

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.