The SEASIDE YEARS of Philip Henry Gosse.
Philip Henry Gosse 1810-1888.
London life - Preparatory Work - South Devonshire - Success at Ilfracombe - Collecting for Warington - Factitious Seawater - Collecting in Weymouth - Disputed payment - Elevated Reputation - Kingsley's treasures - Visiting Tenby - Z.S.L. and Warington - Seashore classes - Return to London - New Aquarium.
By the time the Gosse family arrived at the seashore in 1852, where he would pen his Naturalist's Rambles on the Devonshire Coast, both he and his wife Emily were not enjoying the best of health. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Gosse did not have a private income and was reliant upon his writing and artistic skills to support his family. Without the services of an editor, when composing his seashore books, although never being untruthful, he was adept at relating only the information he thought would be of interest to his readers. In this case he used his poor health as reason enough to leave the city for the fresh air of the seaside, associating himself with the fears and hopes of most middle class city dwellers.
In the early 1850's, London was not a healthy place to live. Not only was this a period of political and scientific development, but the fabric of the city was also in transition to accommodate the rapidly expanding population and the problems this incurred. Buildings were being demolished to improve arterial roads, whilst Railways Companies let nothing stand in their way as their railway lines crashed through the suburbs of the city to build stations as close as they could to the Centre. On the river Thames precariously overloaded paddle steamers used old un-supervised landing stages to collect and dispatch their human cargo with scant regard for their safety. Public health was also in crisis as the private water companies continually resisted capital expenditure to improve the lot of the poor whilst the Worshipful Societies aggressively protected their vested interests, all of which was by this time beginning to impinge into the lives and wellbeing of even the City's wealthiest citizens.
Disease and illness was a constant fear with only the wealthy able to afford the services of a doctor, but this was of little consequence as it was still believed cholera was spread by miasma. With the sewers and drains unable to cope, some of the old open street sewers were nothing more than overflowing cesspits. In the summer this combined with the stink of stables, cow houses and abattoirs, created unbearable smells in various parts of the city, whilst in the winter smoke and fumes belched remorselessly into the sky from every chimney allowing the soot to fall from the atmosphere at the will of the wind, whilst on the damp and misty days of winter and spring it combined to create the infamous London fog.
"It [the sun] turns its back upon the wealthiest city in Christendom; and, in the presence of the most splendid capital of Europe, it insists on remaining veiled in steam, fog, and smoke.
Twice in the last week did the sun appear for a few minutes. It was late in the afternoon, and looked out from the west, just above Regent's Park, where the largest menagerie in the world may be seen for one shilling, and on Mondays for sixpence. All of the animals, from the hippopotamus down to the beaver, left their huts, where they were at vespers, and stared at the sun, and wished it good morning."
In a fog, the air is hardly fit for breathing; it is grey-yellow, of a deep orange, and even black; at the same time, it is moist, thick, full of bad smells, and choking. The fog appears, now and then, slowly. Like a melodramatic ghost, and sometimes it sweeps over the town as the simoom over the desert. At times, it is spread with equal density over the whole of that ocean of houses on other occasions, it meets with some invisible obstacle, and rolls itself into intensely dense masses, from which the passengers come forth in the manner of the student who came out of the cloud to astonish Dr. Faust. Sauntering's In And About London, Otto Wenckesternp. 1853, p82-85.
Journals and newspapers of this time are littered with accounts of the London fog and its disrupting influence upon city life, no more so than when it conspired to appear at dawn on market days, when livestock was herded through the streets to be sold and slaughtered, causing havoc to the throngs of horse drawn carriages trying to pick up their regular early morning middle class customers.
London society was also strictly divided, both politically and socially, with everybody from the aristocracy to the homeless knowing their place, but the Charter for political equality published in 1838 was a direct challenge to this ancient order. Chartist publishers were also distributing poetry, literature, and Christian doctrines, in an effort to persuade the church to support their cause, but the authority of the Anglican Church was beginning to experience problems of its own with the theory of Evolution as ever more palaeontologists questioned the biblical theology of a fixed Creation. Edwin Chadwick's Paper entitled The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population, which prompted The Public Health Act of 1848, promoted the belief that a "miasma" transmitted cholera. The smell of overflowing cesspools and rotting swill pervading the ill ventilated cramped conditions of the slums and labouring-class lodging houses only confirmed social differences. Amongst this chaos, and possibly because of it, affirmation of the social status became ever more important.
A Home of Taste is a tasteful home, wherein everything is a reflection of refined thoughts and chaste desires. It is a school of the heart, in which human sympathies teach profounder lessons than are found in books, and the ornaments of walls and windows suggest a thousand modes of being cheaply happy. In such a home Beauty presides over the education of the sentiments, and while the intellect is ripened by the many means which exist for the acquisition of knowledge, the moral nature is defined by those silent appeals of Nature and of Art, which are the foundation of Taste.
Rustic Adornments For Homes of Taste, and Recreations for Town Folk in the Study and Imitation of Nature. S. Hibberd. 1856. Page 3.
In this, his first seaside book, Gosse introduces his readers to the fresh air of the Devonshire countryside by describing the delights of the hedgerows and blossoming flowers, before gently taking them down to the beach – to the heady fresh air gently blowing in from the distant clear horizon. With his reader's attention grasped he introduces them to the wonders to be found upon the seashore.
It is not until chapter nine that he reveals the prominent reason for this visit; to discover the secret of creating and managing a marine aquarium, which once perfected, could be displayed in London or other inland cities. Once disclosed, he mentions it no more, but continues with details of the experiments he performed whilst trying to keep his valuable captures alive and thriving in jars and bowls of seawater. What he never mentions is his connection with James Scott Bowerbank, or David William Mitchell, both Fellows and Council members of the London Zoological Society (L.Z.S); who nurtured a proposition to build a fish house in the Regent's Park Zoological Gardens.
Through his study of rotifers, Gosse had struck up a friendship with Bowerbank a year or so earlier and had on occasions visited him at his home. During the same period, Edward Newman and a group of his friends were also regularly visitors, gathering to discuss their interest in sticklebacks, which most of them, including Bowerbank, kept alive in a variety of glass containers. Another visitor during this period this was Mitchell, secretary of the L.Z.S., who had corresponded with Gosse since the publication of The Birds of Jamaica in 1847. It would seem highly improbable that Gosse was not aware of the existence of the stickleback group or of Bowerbank and Mitchell's intended fish house proposition. Indeed, might I suggest Gosse's subsequent actions indicate he had more than likely reached a tentative agreement with them that, should he be successful in his marine endeavours, a tank in the new fish house would be made available for him to set up such a display.
Giving no mention of Robert Warington's achievements published in a number of journals in 1850 regarding his successful miniature pond created in a large glass receiver, using living vegetation to re-vitalising the water, Gosse accounts his desire to discover the secret of maintaining the life and vigour of marine creatures in confinement to his own experience; keeping rotifer. It was then he discovered the same principle as Warington, suspecting seaweed would also maintain the vitality of the water. Furthermore, his reason for choosing Torquay may well have been related to his earlier investigation of the seashore surrounding the Isle of Wight where, upon the advice of his doctor to ease a perpetual headache, he had chosen to take his family for a short break over the Christmas period of 1851. Perhaps finding the low tide occurred late in the afternoon and discovering nothing of exception to excite him on the seashore, with little improvement in his health, he instead chose to investigate the coast of South Devon. Gosse also knew the volume of information he could gather on a prolonged field trip could well provide him with enough material for more than one book.
Accompanying him on this sojourn was his wife of three and a half years, Emily, and their son of just over two years, Edmund. Alighting the train from Bristol at Torre station on the afternoon of Thursday the 29th January 1852, they took a horse drawn carriage to the nearby village of St Marychurch, a mile or so away set atop the high cliffs to the east of Torquay; taking lodgings at Bank Cottage. With marine specimens gathered the day after his arrival he began his first tentative experiments keeping them alive and in health; making profuse notes and sketches of his new captives habits and appearance. Others were dissected under his microscope, whilst making detailed drawings of their anatomy, often sharing his discoveries in correspondence with Alder and Hancock.
In April, after settling into the more gentle ways of village life, much to his wife's disappointment, showing little improvement in his health and with a constant easterly wind blowing onto the shore, Gosse removed himself and family to Ilfracombe; admitting there were many coves around Torquay he had not explored. Again there is no mention of the visit he made to Ilfracombe within weeks of his arrival in South Devon, when, after meeting a small group of devout bible reading non-conformists in St Marychurch, he must have made the acquaintance of Captain Harding who lived with his spinster sister in the High Street of Ilfracombe. Harding, a retired master mariner aged 61, must have been interested enough in Gosse's quest to extoll the virtues of the Devon seashore, encouraging Gosse to contact him; should he feel inclined to investigate the North Devon seashore for himself. Unable to resist the temptation of discovering richer shores, Gosse arrived in Ilfracombe on February 12th 1852 and immediately contacted Harding, who insisted he should lodge with them for the duration of his stay. Accepting his kind offer, Gosse was delighted by the variety and profusion of shore life exposed by the huge low spring tide and decided this was where he could best continue his experiments.
Upon his return to St Marychurch he purchased a hammer and chisel to begin collecting specimens in earnest, spending many hours every day chipping off fragments of rock bearing fine seaweeds and delicate animal forms for his experiments. Invigorated by the fresh sea air and the prospect of his imminent departure for Ilfracombe, he took up his pen to compose the last in a series of five books to be published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K.), which he would entitle Mollusca. On the 20th April 1852, which was to be his last visit to Babbacombe beach, he noticed for the first time a large ledge exposed by the low spring tide at Petit Tor. After climbing around the rough rock face to access the ledge, much to his delight his efforts were rewarded by the discovery two beautiful unrecorded varieties of the anemone Sagartia elegans, which, after much closer inspection in his jars at Bank Cottage, he classified as varieties rosea and nivea.
On the 1st May 1852, taking lodgings with Mrs Williams at Northfield, the Gosse family settled in into their new surroundings. Ilfracombe was then a popular middle class holiday resort with a regular paddle steamer service to Bristol and South Wales. With a tidal range of over 30 feet during the spring tide, Gosse discovered an abundance of anemones at the low water mark, and immediately set about collecting, identifying, and illustrating, the different species, submitting some of the specimens to his first serious attempts to create a marine aquarium.
Using a confectioners show glass, without changing the water, it was kept fresh and its variety of occupants healthy from 3rd May until the 28th June; the experiment ending upon his return from a short visit to Lundy Island with his brother-in-law. Confident he could keep specimens alive indefinitely, he pondered upon the question of how to bring his scheme to perfection. By now his experiments had also revealed that marine animals in captivity, when confined together, had a serious propensity to eat each other at the first available opportunity.
Driven by the excitement of his success, he collected more specimens than he would ever need, unless he already knew he would be taking them back to London to set up a large display; concentrating his efforts on those creatures which had proved not only to be most hardy, but also docile. Whilst busy collecting specimens on the afternoons of the low spring tide, during the periods of neap tide he would journey around the surrounding countryside, enquiring and investigating local dark legends which, much to the delight of his readers, he included in the finished book. Time was also spent on family days out, including a trip to Lynmouth and Lynton later described and illustrated for publication as a series of articles in the Home Friend; and as an anonymous book published by the S.P.C.K. entitled Seaside Pleasures. The final chapter, The Valley of Rocks, being accredited as the prose of Emily Gosse who, as well as regularly submitting gospel tracts, was also planning the composition of a series of articles about the Christian care of poor children.
On scrambling down to the water's edge, an operation much more difficult and dangerous than on the South Devon Coast, owing to the rock here universally being grauwacke, a grey, friable slate, which stands up in sharp, almost perpendicular, ridges, - the first thing that caught my attention was an Actinia, which I at once saw was new to me. It was projecting expanded front a crevice in the rock, just below the surface, in a little pool. A few minutes' labour enabled me to open a passage for the draining of the water, so far as to expose my Anemone, which I then soon dug out of his retreat by means of the chisel and hammer. On examination at home it proved to be Act. gemmacea, a fine species apparently rare, since Dr. Johnston seems not to be personally acquainted with it. He gives only Gaertner's specific character and locality, and old Ellis's description, and for his figures he is indebted to Mr. Cocks. Mr. Ralfs, however, had given in the Guide to North Devon this very locality for the species, and I afterwards found it not uncommon on this coast. A Naturalist's Rambles on the Devonshire Coast, p107.
Submitting monographs to the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, The Zoologist, and Annals & magazine of Natural History, as well as corresponding with Bowerbank about his discoveries, in September, knowing his time at Ilfracombe would soon be over, Gosse submitted another monograph to the Annals regarding the success he had achieved keeping marine animals alive in un-changed seawater. By coincidence, published in the same October issue and submitted on the same date, was a similar paper by Robert Warington, which in the closing paragraph disclosed his success keeping some anemones in health for 5 weeks in perfectly clear seawater, even though hampered by the difficulty of obtaining suitable specimens whilst living in London. Immediately responding to his thinly veiled request, on October 1st Gosse corresponded with Warington, both complementing him on his success and offering to collect the specimens he needed; with the proviso he send a suitable receptacle; which was received and duly dispatched. In November, Gosse corresponded with Mitchell and again using his deteriorating health and cold weather as reason enough, decided in the last days of that month the family should return to London for the winter.
Taking residence at 16, Hampton Terrace, Camden Town, which was within walking distance of the Zoological Gardens, Gosse carefully set out the large collection of jars, pans and glazed foot baths holding the specimens collected in Devonshire. On December 3rd and 4th, he visited Warington at Apothecaries Hall, presenting him with another small jar of specimens on the second day. Early in the new year, with the co-operation of Mitchell, one of the large glass tanks was at last set up in the nearly finished fish house in the Zoological Gardens; stocked with Gosse's marine animals and algae.
Keeping a number of anemones for his own study, Gosse soon encountered the problems of not having the readily available supply of fresh seawater he had enjoyed in Ilfracombe, which turned his attention to Anna Thynne's discovery that repetitively pouring seawater from one container to another re-instated its vigour. After experimenting and discovering its chemical value, Gosse contrived a simple solution, which could be mechanised for a larger installation. With the aquarium filled to the required level, an amount of water would be removed and poured into a header tank from where, under regulation, it would drain through a narrow pipe to a position some inches above the surface water back into the aquarium; a sequence which would be repeated throughout the day. The action of the water falling through the atmosphere from the narrow pipe into the aquarium, as well as re-invigorating it, would also, as it burst through the surface of the aquarium, drive small bubbles deep below the surface, thus aerating the whole.
By the last days of 1852 A Naturalist's Ramble on the Devonshire Coast was ready for the printers. The culminations of his aquarium experiments were noted in the appendix, including his conclusions concerning re-vitalising seawater by passing it through the atmosphere. In February of 1853, upon being asked to lecture, although never having attempted it before, said he would willingly make a few remarks about sponges, the siliceous skeletons of which he was studying at that time in correspondence with Bowerbank, accompanying the lecture with large chalk drawings. Although perhaps novel at that time, the experience he had gained as a schoolmaster served him well and such was his success, he then determined it to be another branch of his professional labours.
In the early spring of 1853, Gosse was informed by Mitchell the marine display had proved to be such a success with inquisitive members, in preparation of the grand spring opening, he wished to have more tanks set up in the same manner. Having decided the outdoor life better suited his health and without a formal contract, the Gosse family arrived in Weymouth, taking lodging on the 8th April 1853, with local Apothecary, Mr William Fowler at The Lookout. Taking up the task of collecting more specimens for the Zoological Society also presented Gosse with the opportunity of not only continuing his seashore studies throughout the summer, but would also of writing another seashore book in which he could elaborate upon his aquarium success.
His lodgings on the Nothe presented uninterrupted views of Weymouth Bay and Portland, with immediate access to Newton's Cove and its sloping, weed covered, ledges, whilst to the rear, within a short walk was the quayside of Weymouth harbour. Although not the best of sailors, Gosse, who often felt queasy or seasick, nevertheless decided the best way of collecting the volume of animal specimens required by the Society would be by the dredge. It offered the advantage of keeping large numbers of animal specimens alive in storage vessels that would be impossibly heavy to carry along the shoreline, whilst the water within them could be easily changed; keeping those from the first haul as fresh as those from the last. Upon landing, with boxes of weed prepared beforehand, the catch could be immediately packed and dispatched to the railway station for transportation to London.
Within days of his arrival Gosse's late afternoon activities on the quayside, ably assisted by local fisherman Jonas Fowler, who had also been employed by Bowerbank in the past, must have attracted the attention of William Thompson, a local businessman and naturalist. Thompson, was already aware of the marine display in the Regent's Park, and on the day of Gosse's arrival, had submitted a paper to the Annals & Magazine of Natural History (Annals) revealing his own experiments with a marine aquarium and of his desire to send live fish by rail for display in the Zoological Gardens fish house. A month later, unknown to Gosse, Thompson also wrote a letter of support to Warington, complimenting him on his achievements published in the October issue of the Annals, according Gosse little honour for the originality of his paper. For him to write such a patronising letter so late after publication, I assume Gosse must have unknowingly either said or acted in a manner that had in some way irritated Thompson.
The new fish house in the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park opened with much pomp and ceremony on Saturday, 22nd May 1853, attracting a record number of visitors. The marine aquariums were reviewed in great wonder with Mitchell taking the major credit. Gosse's Naturalist's Rambles, was released in the same week, in which he encouraged his readers to visit the Regent's Park Gardens to view the success of his adventures on the Devonshire seashore.
Presenting the Zoological Society with a bill for his labours in Weymouth, on July 20th the Council instructed Mitchell to return it to Gosse with the suggestion it be reduced; inferring he had not been entirely honest. Giving vent to his anger and frustration Gosse informed Mitchell that under the circumstances, he could no longer continue collecting and dispatching specimens in their service. Moving his family into lodgings at 14 High Street, Weymouth, Gosse set about ratifying an anemone earlier discovered by Thompson, whom Gosse by now regarded as a friend, who in turn satisfied his own ambition, albeit at a lower rate, by supplying the Society with specimens to complete their marine displays.
Thompson's anemone, published in the Zoologist in 1851, under the name of Actinia clavata, was based upon a single specimen he had found but could not identify in any of the scientific literature available to him. Thus it was regarded as a new species even though not ratified by an expert in the field, nor had any other specimens been discovered to support its continued existence. Pleased to be returning to that which satisfied him most, Gosse soon found more examples of the anemone, indeed, so many he was able to identify the species as being of two distinct varieties, brown as identified by Thompson and rosea, which was accredited to Gosse. In his Actinologia Britannica, Gosse would later identify the anemone as Bunodes Ballii, already attributed to Cocks in 1849; by the time of Gosse's re-classification it was already generally known as the Weymouth Anemone.
Although Gosse's Devonshire Rambles had been released in time for the public opening of the Zoological Gardens fish house, it was a few weeks later that it was most favourably reviewed generating many complimentary letters, with questions and suggestions, mostly concerning his references to his contribution to the invention of the marine aquarium; which in a stroke elevated his reputation as a writer, and marine naturalist. Amongst the flood of correspondence, in July he received a letter from Mitchell informing him the Council insisted he re-negotiate his account, but more to his delight, he also received a letter from the Rev. Charles Kingsley, of Clovelly, full of infectious curiosity, suggesting they should meet in his Devonshire parish, to which Gosse enthusiastically responded.
During this early period in Weymouth, Emily Gosse continued to submit her religious tracts and using the experience she had gained bringing up her own child, albeit with the assistance of a young maid, began composing the series of articles to be published in Mother's Friend; to aid and encourage those mothers who had little money to spend to gain some satisfaction in their life. Her studies and writing were supported by Philip Gosse who, whilst searching for Thompson's anemone was also using his time writing a series of notes on marine animals, published in the Annals, as well as papers published in the Zoologist and Excelsior.
In the early August of 1853, receiving another letter from Mitchell, Gosse replied directly to the Council, only to receive their acknowledgment. Frustrated by their indifference, Gosse approached his cousin, Thomas Bell, a fellow of the London Zoological Society and close friend of William Yarrell, (who was at that time an influential Council member,) to present his case directly to the Council at their next meeting on 17th August; but the Council remained adamant. Again frustrated with the unsatisfactory outcome, in desperation Gosse wrote to Mitchell proposing Bell, who had agreed to represent him again, should meet an elected member of the Council and the case be settled by their arbitration; but received no reply.
In September, Gosse ordered a small glass aquarium built to his own design; having hopes that he might in some way devise a method of bringing the marine aquarium into the homes of the wealthy. Eagerly setting it up after its delivery, he also began assembling the many notes and sketches generated during his stay in Weymouth into the form of another book, which he would entitle The Aquarium. With his time now fully occupied collecting specimens for his new aquarium and assembling his notes, in November 1853, deciding nothing more could be achieved in Weymouth, made arrangements to return with his family to London on the first day of December.
Taking residence at 58 Huntingdon Street, Barnsbury Park, Gosse immediately contacted Van Voorst to discuss the publication of his Weymouth exploits. At the meeting Van Voorst handed him a letter from Kingsley informing him he had taken up residence in Torquay and would be happy to both collect and dispatch marine specimens to him in London. Accepting this kind gesture Gosse put into action his plans to set up his own parlour aquariums in the conservatory, immediately ordering another glass parlour aquarium to be manufactured. Until its arrival, he would continue to use the single parlour aquarium he had brought up from Weymouth along with his other vases and glazed footbaths. Explaining his plans, he made detailed arrangements with Kingsley, recommending where and how the specimens should be collected and transported; sending down his own hamper of jars and tools for Kingsley's man to use. On the 4th of January 1854, Gosse confirmed the first of Kingsley's treasures had safely arrived and set about putting them into his display vessels.
Throughout the last months of winter and into spring of 1854, Kingsley continued to send specimens, providing a welcome break from the long hours Gosse was spending writing for the popular market. With no immediate plans to return to the seashore, the circumstances of receiving fresh specimens whilst living in the city determined Gosse to turn his mind once again to address the practical problems of keeping marine specimens without the convenience of a readily available supply of seawater; which also related to his own ambitions for the parlour aquarium.
Knowing Warington had encountered the problem for a prolonged period; he visited him on two occasions at Apothecaries Hall, on January 16th, soon after the first specimens from Kingsley had arrived, and again on the 30th March, discussing amongst other things the possibility of using factitious seawater to keep his specimens alive.
Receiving a letter from the Zoological Council on 17th May 1854, Gosse cancelled his intended family holiday to Weymouth; the Society Council agreeing to Gosse's proposal and representative, also informing him Bowerbank would represent the interest of the Society. Staying in London gave Gosse the opportunity of meeting with his cousin to discuss the arbitration and to sort out the problems he was having getting his latest seaside book printed. On May 30th, after arranging another authors risk publication agreement with Van Voorst, Gosse informed Kingsley The Aquarium; an unveiling of the wonders of the deep sea, would soon be readily available.
With everything settled to his satisfaction, on 22nd June 1854, the Gosse family left London to holiday in Tenby and within days of his arrival The Aquarium was released and was selling like wildfire. The last chapter being devoted to a detailed explanation every stage of setting up and managing a vessel, which from that time forward would be called an AQUARIUM. The universal adoption of this single word established Gosse as both its inventor and the most respected seashore naturalist of the day. In the following months issue of the Annals, Gosse's paper On manufactured seawater was published, but completely out of character, he slighting those who had found it to be unsuitable, although Gosse, supported by William Alford Lloyd, had found the opposite to be true.
Alighting the train at Narberth station in the late afternoon, the Gosse family took the horse drawn coach destined for the Coburg Hotel, Tenby, from where he found lodgings in Cumbrian House, situated in the lower part of St. Julian Street. The first floor bay window giving views of the harbour quayside whilst the rear window presented a magnificent sea view from Caldey Island to the west to the cove of South Sands in the east, dominated by St Catherine's Island directly in front the steep sloping garden path which gave Gosse his own private access to the beach.
Taking the first opportunity to search the caverns of the island, Gosse soon confirmed with Bowerbank that the Tenby seashore was indeed rich with all manner of marine specimens, in such quantity, as he had never met before. Enjoying their best health for over two years, the family actively searched the seashore in their usual manner, whilst Gosse studied and noted the characteristics of the specimens they discovered, continually making additions to the existing knowledge of seaside zoology. During this visit Gosse made firm friendships with Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Wilberforce, with whom he corresponded, keeping him up to date on his latest discoveries, and also zoologist Dr. F. D. Dyster, buying his microscope for £30, which Gosse used for the rest of his life.
Fredrick Daniel Dyster, M.D. F.L.S., was by then a prominent citizen of Tenby and well known to many visiting naturalists, which included Bowerbank, Huxley, and Darwin; who sought him out for his extensive knowledge of natural history. Dyster's speciality was in the seashore, with a particular interest in Annelidae; marine worms.
Returning to London on 18th August 1854, enthused by the instrument acquired from Dyster, Gosse returned to his study of rotifer and on September 30th received a letter from Bowerbank that included a cheque for the value of £150 in settlement of his disputed bill. At the centre of the dispute was the claim by the Council that during his time in Weymouth, Gosse had also collected and supplied the Surrey Zoological Gardens and the Crystal Palace aquariums with marine specimens. Although true, Gosse's frustration can be better understood by the statement on pages 22-23 of the first Crystal Palace Catalogue, published whilst Gosse was in Weymouth in the September of 1852, - that owing to the difficulty of exhibiting living marine animals in sea-water, they would be shown dead, but -
"on a plan not hitherto tried, that of making them appear to be swimming in very large glass vessels containing a sufficient quantity of some preservative fluid having the appearance of water."
Without warning, Warington attacked Gosse's seawater formula to such an extent in the December issue of the Annals, he felt obliged to reply in a terse manner, explaining his simple formula quite adequately served its purpose which was to support marine life, whilst Warington's more expensive simulation was based upon replicating the constituent elements of real seawater; Warington and Gosse never communicated again.
By the January of 1855, with Kingsley's consignments from Torquay and the specimens brought back from Tenby, on the shelves of Gosse's now completed fish-house in Huntingdon Street, were three parlour aquariums, two show glasses and one glazed pot footbath; three were filled with natural sea water, the others filled with factitious sea water to his own prescription. In a letter to Kingsley, Gosse fondly called one of the aquariums, which held only anemones, his actinarium. In February, with her religious tracts becoming ever more in demand, Emily Gosse's book, Abraham and his Children was published; although by now her efforts to support her husbands continual study and the ever growing needs of their growing child was taking its toll on her stamina.
Gosse in the meantime was already planning to put together from his large collection of notes, a two-volume work, which he would entitle the Manual of Marine Zoology. On the 20th March 1855, the Gosse's sojourned again in Weymouth and were pleased to be joined for a few weeks by Bowerbank; who accompanied Gosse on more dredging trips. Returning to London on the 13th May, Gosse worked tirelessly on his comprehensive work listing the marine fauna of the seashore, the first work of its kind, with each genus briefly described and its species illustrated with Gosse's own line drawings. The first volume, A Manual of Marine Zoology being released in July, again under author's risk, which by now Gosse had adopted as the most profitable way of selling his books.
The success he had achieved lecturing on seashore topics was probably responsible for the once shy and retiring Gosse to anticipate holding seashore classes, when under his supervision, paying students would be taken to the seashore at low tide to collect specimens, then transporting them back to a classroom for further study, Gosse would communicate their wonders in a more practical manner. With Gosse's consent, Kinglsey encouraged the readers of his small book Glaucus, first published as a series of articles, to contact Gosse to join the class, the first expedition gathering in July at Ilfracombe. It was on this occasion Emily Gosse first befriended Anna Shipton who was chaperone to some of Gosse's younger students. With the summer courses proving to be successful Gosse made plans to hold more the following year in Tenby.
Returning to London in early September, Gosse turned his attention to the notes he had made in Tenby and began assembling them into his third seaside book, which would be written in the style of a series of letters to a fictitious uncle; also assembling and working on the second volume of Marine Zoology; being by now quite practised in the art of writing two or more books at once.
In March 1856, Tenby, a seaside holiday, was published and although popular, it did not receive the immediate attention of the reviewers as that of his previous two seaside books; the last chapter being concerned with his sub division of the genus Actinia; extracted from a paper he read to the Linnaean Society on March 20th of the previous year.
Feeling quite unwell in the spring of 1856, Emily Gosse visited the doctor on May 1st, to be told she had breast cancer, beginning treatment on May 12th. With the release of the second volume of Marine Zoology at the end of May, in July Gosse briefly visited Deal for more dredging, his wife being supported at home by Anna Shipton and other friends. Although Gosse's books were printed at his own risk, Van Voorst was still publishing them, but in an effort to maximise his sales, Gosse was by now supplying copies to William Alford Lloyd to be displayed upon the shelves of his Aquarium Warehouse. Their mutually beneficial agreement later became an enduring life-long friendship. Being unable to cancel the Tenby classes and with his wife feeling a little stronger, with the consent of her doctor, on August 29th 1856, the Gosse family again took lodgings at Cambrian House in Tenby; a few doors down from Dr. Dyster.
"P.H. Gosse, F.R.S. P. H. Gosse, F.R.S. announces that he will be at Tenby on 1st September to open a class of Ladies and Gentlemen for the out-of-door study of Marine Natural History. Particulars may be learned at R. Mason's Library". Tenby Observer, August 22/29.
Although Tenby; a seaside holiday, had not been received in London with the same enthusiasm as his other seashore books, he was delighted to discover its success in the small Welsh town, with Mason's bookshop advertising his books for sale in the Tenby Observer –'Natural History for Summer Recreation' - Tenby 21/-; A Handbook of the Marine Aquarium, 2nd edition, 2/6; A Manual of Marine Zoology in two volumes with 700 engravings 15/-; The Natural History of Mollusca 3/6; The Natural History of Fishes at 2/6.
Not fit enough to clamber amongst rocks with her husband and son on the seashore, as the students searched the caverns around St. Catherine's Island, Emily Gosse sat by the steps carved in the sloping rock at the edge of South Beach Cove, reaching out to both the Welsh middle class holidaymakers and local residents with her religious tracts. On other occasions she would remain resting at the lodgings as the class explored the shores of Sandersfoot, or the Monkstone peninsular at low tide. Even with the constraints placed upon him by his seashore classes and of looking after his ill wife, Gosse's appetite for work was not diminished as he continued to correspond with Alder and Battersby, and answer the unexpected letters of Charles Darwin. During this visit Dyster also introduced Gosse to Huxley, who would some years later, as 'Darwin's bulldog' have a well-recorded clash with Wilberforce, with whom Gosse had met and corresponded after his last visit to Tenby.
Completing his last commitment in Tenby, a series of religious lectures on Prophecy, the Gosse family returned to London on the 2nd October, never to visit again. The stress of traveling from Tenby to London had left the now fragile Emily so exhausted she was unable to complete the arduous daily journey between her home in Huntingdon Street and the treatment clinic. With her husband committed to working during the weekdays to raise the funds for his wife's treatment, on the 10th of November, accompanied by her young son Edmund, she took lodgings close to the treatment clinic in Cottage Road, Pimlico. Convincing her husband the treatment was proving more distressing and painful than the disease, on December 24th the Gosse family were reunited at Huntingdon Street, where they put themselves in the care of the Almighty. With the help of her cousin from Bristol and Anna Shipton, Emily Gosse survived until the early hours of February 9th 1857.
After Emily's death, Gosse continued to write for periodicals and lecture as far afield as Scotland and the midlands, and in June was offered the chair of Natural History in the proposed University of Wales, which he provisionally accepted. In July he published the first of his two self-revealing works, A memorial of Emily Gosse, in the July of 1857 and after this started work on the second, Omphalos; in which he would endeavour to explain his belief in the biblical account of Creation. Realising the Welsh project would not materialise, in September he returned with his son to St Marychurch in Devonshire, where he purchased the lease of a nearly completed villa. It was on the 23rd September 1857, that they settled into their new home. Visiting the seashore at Petit Tor with his young son on Friday October 10th 1857, Philip Gosse noted in his journal –
"It was with mournful gratification that I looked on the familiar scene, remembering my loved companion then, who now gazes on higher scenes."
The publication of Omphalos was a complete failure which in the eyes of many, isolated Gosse and his religious beliefs, although Kingsley, better understanding Gosse's intent, remained a sympathetic friend. In the scientific community however it was in 1857 that Gosse began to write his most enduring work, Actinologia Britannica, published in 1860, regarded as the reference book for British sea anemones and soft corals until the publication of Stephenson's British Sea Anemones in 1928. In the December of 1860 Gosse re-married and his interest in the seashore began to wane as he turned his studies and activities to other things, although publishing amongst his other works, two more seashore books in 1865, Sea & Land, and A Year at the shore, compiled mostly by articles previously published in a variety of monthly journals between the years 1853 to 1863. Closing his last seashore book, A Year at the Shore, he informed his readers "This will be, in all probability, the last occasion of my coming in literary guise before the public," which it was, although he continued to have a number of religious and other books published. In the January of that same year Gosse's son Edmund, then seventeen years of age, left home to take up the position of Junior Assistant at the British Museum in London, gained with the help of Kingsley; which resulted in Gosse writing profound, long letters to his son, warning him of the dangers and temptations that city life would put in his way and how a Righteous path could be found in the scriptures.
In the spring of 1876 with his interest in the sea unexpectedly revitalised, Philip Gosse contacted Lloyd in London, to seek his advice on installing a new marine aquarium in his home at St Marychurch. Immediately responding, Lloyd who was by now the supervisor of the Crystal Palace public aquarium, visited Gosse and explained how a circulating aquarium system could be installed by Leete, Edwards, & Norman, previously contracted by Mitchell to install the aquariums at the London Zoological Gardens and by Lloyd to install the circulating system in the Crystal Palace Aquarium. Although starting work almost immediately, the aquarium was not operational until the October of that year.
The system was much the same as Gosse had hastily sketched in 1852, but with the addition of a sump tank. The header tank was in the loft; the aquarium on the ground floor in an apartment that was the lumber-room, and beneath the floor, sunken into the ground was the sump tank, with a tight fitting lid providing access. All of the tanks were of slate with large cast iron bolts holding them together, the aquarium being 42 inches long, and 18 inches square at the ends, with a glass front topped by a polished wooden edge; the system capacity being around 210 gallons. It was operated with a glass cylinder hand pump, given to Gosse by Lloyd as a token of their friendship, which Gosse repaid by taking Lloyd dredging from Babbicombe Beach.
In operation, Gosse's man would pump the water from the sump up into the header tank, from where it would flow under the force of gravity, into the aquarium through a fine jet positioned in close proximity to the surface of the water, driving a cloud of fine bubbles deep into the aquarium, before overflowing through a concealed drain back into the sump; the capacity of the header tank allowing the system to run day and night. Unlike his previous experiments, this system was employed purely for his pleasure, once successfully keeping a small octopus alive for some weeks. 12 years later, at the age of 78, Philip Henry Gosse died in his home in Sandhurst, St Marychurch, and was buried in the grounds of Torquay Cemetery, attended by his friends and large congregation.
Two years later Gosse's second wife Eliza, died in the October of 1900, and seven days later Edmund Gosse sold by auction the great majority of his father's belongings, including his microscope, notes, books, sketches and paintings. Although urged by friends to keep the house with the leasehold valued at £800, it was sold for £260; Edmund commenting, "the little house which has been home for 43 years will pass out of my life". However, keeping the long desultory letters his father had sent him after he left home as a teenager, in 1907 Edmund Gosse used them anonymously in his most successful work Father and Son, which was for years to besmirch his father's religious beliefs and reputation. It was soon forgotten Philip Henry Gosse belonged to a generation weakened when the pervading power of their church was diminished with the introduction of civil registration, then cast adrift as it enthusiastically embraced evolution and modern science.
This paper was originally designed to enlarge the detail of chapter IX – Work at the Seashore, pp235, The Life of Philip Henry Gosse, 1890, Edmund Gosse. Bob Alexander Jan 2012.
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