(From the Literary Gazette.1853)

A living exhibition of the tea-bottom and its odd inhabitants is such an absolute novelty, that we must give our readers this week, at the risk of being charged with an undue partiality for natural history, some account of the elegant aquatic vivarium just opened to the public. On the borders of the flower-bed in the Zoological-gardens, Regent's-park, has been constructed, crystal-palace fashion, of glass and iron, a light airy building 60 by 20 foot in area, containing around its transparent walls 14 6-feet tanks of plate glass. Eight tanks will, in the first instance, be devoted to living marine animals, and of these six are ready for exhibition. They enclose masses of rock, sand, gravel, corallines, sea-weed, and sea-water; and are abundantly stocked with crustacea, star-fish, sea-eggs, actinian, ascideans, shelled and shell-less molluscs, and fish of the genera gasterosteus, labrus, crenilabrus, blennius, gobius, and cottus. The whole are in a state of natural restlessness, now quiescent, now eating and being eaten. Here may be even a brilliantly-coloured actinia expanding its numerous tentacles, and there a pecten, open-valved; here a littorina crawling stealthily along a rock-crevice, there a balanus waving its graceful cirri; while the more active of the fish and of the shrimp-like crustacea give variety to the scene. The forms of the different animals exhibited are curious beyond conception; and their colours, and varieties, and blendings of colours, are equally varied.

"Nature here
" Wantons as in in her prime. and plays at will "
Her virgin fancies, wild above sale or art.".

The algae, which serve at once as ornaments and shelter for the animals, and as purifiers of the water, appear to bear their now situation as well us the lively zoophytes, and no difficulty has presented itself, so far, to the conservation of both. The collection is altogether from the British seas, but the building is so constructed as to be capable of being enlarged, and the Society does not despair of exhibiting some of the more striking tropical and intertropical forms of invertebrate animals. Let us imagine for a moment the classical appearance of a fleet of argonauts with their embracing membranes, or a tank of cuttles with their arms and suckers, voraciously at war, illustrative of the battles of the cephalopods, or the brilliant purple janthina, with its floating vesicle, or the angry panopaea spouting mimic cataracts from its huge siphon. We must not, however, anticipate too largely.
The most complete portion of the collection are the Actinias, among which the specimens of A. dianthus, parasitica, crassicornis, are truly magnificent. The rare Adamsia palliata, Actinia nivea, and A. miniata, are also objects which merit more than passing attention. The tank in which they are grouped together presents a splendid harmony of colour hardly to be surpassed by the hues of a skilfully dressed flower-garden. The shelled molluscs are at present indicated rather than represented, but the vivacity displayed by the pectens and littorinae are a sufficient guarantee for what may be done with them hereafter. The star-fish appear to be rather more difficult in treatment, but among those displayed in the tank appropriated to them are two fine specimens of palmipes membranaceus, which occasionally fix themselves against the glass walls, and exhibit their exquisite structure and bright crimson margin most admirably. Behind are not unfrequent, and gorgeously coloured ophiocomas and saasters brighten up the dark stones and shaded recesses of the algae with an effulgence which is irresistibly charming. A few holothurias complete the series of this division of the British radiata, which the work of Professor Edward Forbes has rendered more popularly known than any other. The crustacea, too, which occupy the adjoining tank, are as numerous in species as they are lively in action, although the secluded habits of many of them prevent more than a small number being visible at, one time.

One of the most interesting features its this novel exhibition is the restless change of position among the several creatures. The visitor may occupy the whole day in passing inside and outside the building from tank to tank, and yet every time see something new. The tanks, visible on both sides, afford 390 square feet of view, and contain seven tons of sea-water. Of the marine fish, of which the blennies and cotti are almost always at the
bottom, it may be said that their habits are being now, for the first time, investigated with success; and their activity and rapacity present effects so curious that the most casual observer cannot help being struck with them. This exhibition of living fish and invertebrates, besides exciting much curiosity, will be of most impressive usefulness to the student, to whom they have been only known hitherto by books and dried remains. The public has thronged to it astonishingly during the past week, exceeding 40, 000 in number; and greatly are they indebted to Mr. Mitchell, the active secretary of the society, for his zeal and admirable taste in the matter.

New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. 22nd October 1853, page 4. Also published in The Times.

© Nothing from this site may be used for commercial purposes or financial gain.  Anything downloaded for distribution or display must be attributed to