William Alford Lloyd part 2.
Achievement and Failure.

image of lloyd's jar containing seawater and anemone



New business - Aquarium Warehouse - Respect from Gosse - Patent Aquarium - Work in France - Growing seaweeds - Exhibition success - Business failure.

Making another visit to the Regent's Park Zoological Gardens on a Sunday afternoon in the July of 1854, Lloyd came across a sales stand displaying Gosse's new book The Aquarium; an unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea. Eagerly picking up a copy, which was too expensive buy, he sat in the sales tent and devoured the contents in one sitting. Reaching the final chapter devoted to the practical management of marine parlour aquariums, he made detailed notes of Gosse's formula for factitious seawater. Remarkably on the last page of the book was an advertisement for Gosse's proposed work on British Sea Anemones; requesting specimens be sent to him (free of expense) to his home address at Huntingdon Street, Islington, London.

Returning the book to the stand he hurried home and with the contents of Gosse's last chapter spinning in his mind, determined he would begin keeping marine specimens. This immediately presented a number of obstacles, none more so than his city-bound lifestyle and lack of money; "shillings and sixpences were not to be thought of to be spent on aquarium matters, but pennies and halfpennies had to be laid out carefully". Giving the matter much thought, he very soon devised a simple solution.

"So with artificial sea-water made from salts prepared by a Holborn chemist - which salts he kindly gave me because I gave him the receipt for mixing them - I set up small aquaria in wide-mouthed glass bottles costing a penny or two pence each. The sea I had never seen, and was not so presumptuous as even to hope to see it, and I knew of no one living by the sea who could send me marine animals. But that daunted me not, for I used to sally forth at dead of night where heaps of oyster-shells were thrown by day from street oyster stalls in Smithfield and St. John's Street, and bring them home. The oysters devoured in such poor neighbourhoods were not the genteel little smooth "natives," eaten at luncheon bars, but big rough "commoners," with bold foliations of the upper shell, and deeply ribbed on the lower one, and in and below these hiding-places I could find many little sea anemones of several species, some hopelessly smashed, but others quite perfect (having been protected by the strong projections of the oyster shell), and unharmed by rain or other fresh water."

"It was quite a mistake of the late Dr. George Johnston, of Berwick-on-Tweed, to say as he did, in his "History of British Zoophytes," that sea anemones are instantly killed by immersion in fresh water."

"The species I found thus were Actinoloba dianthus, Sagartia viduata, S. troglodytes, S. bellis, and S. elegans, but very seldom the common Actinia mesembryanthemum. All these I used to pick off the shells with never-wearying patience and care, and drop them into the factitious sea-water, and transfer them to my bottles, to which they adhered, and made themselves happy. I used to feed them with little morsels of oyster-flesh which I found adhering to the insides of the shells, and when the water in the bottles would become offensive from the effects of the food, because the quantity of fluid was too small to hold enough oxygen in solution to decompose the dead animal matter fast enough, I poured the water from the little bottles into a great earthenware foot-pan covered with a sheet of glass to keep out dust, and standing in a dark corner of the room. The foot-pan was so very large in comparison with my small bottles, that the emptying of them periodically into the pan did not interfere with the purity of the water in the latter, so that from it I immediately re-filled the bottles one at a time, on successive days. The water in the foot-pan on the floor below thus effectually counteracted all tendency at going wrong in the bottles on the window-sill above."

A year after the publication of his first paper, having recognised the growing popularity of the parlour aquarium, Lloyd was by now franticly trying to discover the secrets and problems of successfully managing marine aquariums. Having moved a short distance to 164 St. John's Road, and confident with his ability to manage freshwater aquariums, he desperately needed to learn as much as possible about marine aquariums if he was to succeed with his plans to open his own aquarium supply business. It must have been with some surprise that he received a visit from Edward Newman, the editor of The Zoologist, who some years later wrote –

"Mr. Lloyd sent me two short papers for the 'Zoologist,' which show that his love for sea things continued in all its force. These exhibit beyond all question the deep, and I may almost say, the devout attention, with which he studied Nature at this period: his "Note on the Habits of Limnea stagnalis" (Zool. 4248) is a master-piece of descriptive writing. Of course I was anxious to know such a man, and in March 1855, I found him located at 164, St. John Street Road, in company with poverty and sea anemones, sacrificing all worldly considerations for a love of Science. I have never forgotten, and hope never to forget, that first visit to the great aquarian and the appearance of his little aquariums; glass bottles or cylindrical vessels, some on the table, some on the window-sill, some in the dark, some in the light, - all contributing to his already large stock of knowledge, all revealing secrets previously hidden."

New business.   top

Soon after Newman's visit, Lloyd sought out a number of collectors willing to supply him with marine specimens, and with his wife Amelia taking an active part in his aquarium activities; they opened their fledgling business from the downstairs front room. Unable to afford to leave the security of his job at Brown's bookshop, his able wife Amelia served behind the counter. In an effort to boost his custom in May, Lloyd again wrote to Professor Richard Owen for his help –

"I am now endeavouring to supply by entering into arrangements at the coast, to keep a stock at moderate charges in London and other inland places. In this way I have despatched consignments to Birmingham etc: with perfect success. I am sure that the private marine Aquarium would become very general if it were known that a person like myself undertakes to supply the necessary stock. Then it will be remembered that the maintenance of such an Aquarium is now a matter of very easy performance, since artificial sea-water, the materials for which may be cheaply had at any chemists, answers every purpose, even for the most delicate organisations. My object therefore, in now writing to you is to ask you whether you can assist me in the undertaking I have explained, either by having such an arrangement for yourself, or by mentioning me to your scientific friends."

Realising if the business was to succeed he needed more than the support of Owen's friend's, on August 4th, 1855, having secured the services of a number of marine collectors, advertised his fledgling enterprise in Notes and Queries. Although giving an outward appearance of confidence and well being, things were not as simple as Lloyd had expressed them to be in his letter Owen. Of this period Lloyd later said –

"But I remember, that as the summer wore on I was not so lucky with my collection as at first, and I have since ascertained, though I did not perceive it then, that this was because it had no sufficiently great reservoir - but I was too inexperienced in reasoning to see it as I now do, and too timid to apply the idea universally as I have since done, and I had too many other and more pressing cares to be able to give the matter generally more attention, as I now do. So, in consequence, I had many failures, which then seemed mysterious, as they do not now seem. Worse than that, I hopefully undertook to be successful for other people, at their cost, and failed. Sometimes the fault rested with my customers, who cared nothing for natural history, but only for the "fashion" of having an aquarium, which, for some years, was "the thing to do." But often the fault was my own, in being too sanguine. In fact, I had insufficient knowledge, and got out of my depth, as I did not get when in earlier times I attempted little with little means."

Aquarium Warehouse.   top

As always, quick to learn from his mistakes, in the October issue of Notes & Queries, Lloyd was both knowledgeable and confident enough to submit and have published, his suggestions of how a correspondent could overcome the problems he was encountering managing a marine aquarium. With the business soon becoming established, such was the success of the small shop he soon began seeking premises more suited to displaying his ever-increasing stock to his middle class clientele. Acquiring run down premises at 19 and 20, Portland Road, just off Regent's Park, occupied by an Irish Policeman and his family as well as a starving woman and her children, Lloyd used all of his capital to refurbish the premises and convert the front ground floor adjoining rooms into a shop. As soon as the first room became ready, he began moving his stock over from St John Street Road, advertising the relocation of his business in Notes & Queries on the 31 May 1856.

At last being able to leave the employ of Brown and his bookshop, Lloyd supervised the completion of the premises and in the winter of 1856, proudly ordered his own headed notepaper displaying his starfish logo followed by the name of his new venture; The Aquarium Warehouse. Thereafter he regularly advertised the businesses presence in Notes and Queries and, joining Owen as an esteemed customer and supporter was Philip Henry Gosse; who was pleased to display his books on Lloyd's well-stocked shelves.

Respect from Gosse.   top

After an initial small misunderstanding, such was the intimacy which developed between the two, Lloyd often presented Gosse with the rarer specimens his marine collectors sent; which were either new to him or to science. Their friendship was cemented when Lloyd sent Gosse a strange worm like anemone in the autumn of 1858, upon discovering it to be an unrecorded variety, before submitting a monograph about its discovery, Gosse inquired, if he would allow him to call it Cerianthus Lloydii. Gosse explained priority of discovery must rest upon Lloyd's enterprise, and it would also give him the opportunity of mentioning Lloyd's commercial undertakings; Lloyd graciously accepted the honour his friend proposed to bestow upon him. By this time Lloyd's practical ability, mostly fired by necessity, of keeping both his marine animal and seaweed stock alive and well, was now being recognised; knowledge that Gosse readily accepted, seeking Lloyd's advice on the affect light and temperature had upon the parlour aquarium.

Within weeks of opening his new venture, a letter of compliant was received from Margaret Gatty, regarding a book she had ordered, but failed to receive. Blaming the delay on his younger brother Andrew, whom he had employed to work behind the counter with him in place of his wife, Lloyd apologised for the delay; eventually entered into a lengthy correspondence with her about the growth of confervoid algæ within the marine parlour aquarium. It was not long after this that his daughter Martha Amelia, became a close friend of Juliana, the second eldest daughter of the Gatty's, often travelling to the vicarage at Ecclesfield, for her holidays. Such was their long friendship Martha, or Eleanor, as she preferred to be known, was a bridesmaid at Juliana's wedding in 1867.

Patent Aquarium.   top

With the Aquarium Warehouse fully stocked Lloyd began to assemble a catalogue of his wares eventually having it published in the early spring of 1857, advertising it for sale at one shilling. Sending a copy to Gosse, amongst its 128 illustrated pages was the latest advice on managing a parlour aquarium, including Warington's slope-back tank, which Gosse had used and criticised in his most popular book, The Aquarium Handbook. Lloyd felt obliged to discuss the topic with him and Gosse conceded by letter, dated 10 Aug 1858, that it was only his opinion; allowing Lloyd to enter a footnote on page 48 that Gosse's comments had been made some years earlier; before the design of the tank had been improved and further developed.

The idea of a slope forming a base to hold small stones and seaweed in an aquarium tank was first recorded in the Annals in the spring of 1853, with a plan submitted by William Thompson of Weymouth. His design being the first attempt to simulate the action of the tide, which he rightly thought was essential for the wellbeing of those creatures and algae that inhabited the fringes of the sea. But the plan was accompanied with a somewhat vague description of its operation and construction; being 12 feet long whilst only 2 feet deep, it attracted little attention.

It is unknown if Warington viewed Thompson's plan or communicated with him, but in the autumn of the following year, Warington published in the same journal, the description of a tank made to his own design with a completely angled base; which became recognised as the "slope back" design.

With no record of how Lloyd became acquainted with Edward Edwards, founder of an iron works at Menai Bridge, North Wales, who at that time had more than a passing interest in the rock-pools exposed by the low tide next to his iron works; upon retirement in 1864 he occupied himself more seriously in marine biology earning a reputation as a marine zoologist. I can only assume Edwards either had a paper published which is long lost, or more likely, ordered a purpose built tank from Lloyd, whichever, Edward's, incorporated Warington's sloping base within a standard rectangular aquarium. With Lloyd's expertise, Warington's design was further embellished to allow the water from the dark chamber formed by the sloping false base to readily communicate with that above which supported the aquatic life. This improvement, submitted for patent in the summer of 1858 was sealed on the 24th December 1858, to be known as The patent dark chamber tank; retailed exclusively by Lloyd. The irony of their patent was, Edwards would be recorded in history as the inventor of the slope back aquarium on a design which had evolved from ideas already explained and published by others, whilst the vague wording of the patent describing the communication of water between the two compartments as "caused by suitable means" ensured their patent improvement was future proof.

In his List with Descriptions, Illustrations, and Prices, of whatever relates to Aquaria, Lloyd describes –

"The patent slope-back tank in which the triangular space under the slope is converted into a "dark water-chamber," the fluid in which freely communicates, by holes, and by other means, with the corresponding illuminated portion in front. The animals do not obtain admission into the dark portion, though the water in it is made available for them without any increase of the area of the tank, and thus the effect is to give a large volume of fluid with no waste of the space which the construction of this form of tank would otherwise occasion. The dark chamber also effectually counteracts a tendency, which exists in spring and summer, on the part of that property in light known as "Actinism," to cause the water (especially sea-water) to become of a greenish-brown and densely opaque colour."

This being a reference to his first experiments that were witnessed by Edward Newman. Using a surplus reservoir of water had convinced Lloyd that the seawater in an aquarium was in itself never dirty, but was contaminated by particles held in suspension within its mass, and if properly removed, the water could be re-used. His method of dealing with turbid seawater had by now improved; removing it from the aquarium he sealed it in jars which he set in a dark cupboard and then, after a period of time, carefully drained off the clear water leaving the settled detritus behind; a process which would happen naturally in the dark chamber tank.

Work in France.   top

The publication of his 'List of everything' did much to both establish and enhance Lloyd's reputation as the premium aquarium supplier in London; not only were the illustrations becoming, it also contained many pages of informative text and accolades. In the autumn of 1860 Lloyd was invited by the publishers Bell & Waldy to write his own aquarium book, but with his time being stretched between dispatching items and specimens across the country whilst also trying to supervise his gang of six men who were installing aquariums in The Gardens of the Society of d'Acclimatation, Paris, he declined the offer.

Initially Mitchell had contacted Lloyd to speak with him at length regarding his patent aquarium, before resigning his secretarial position at the London Zoological Society to take up the post of Director of the Bois d'Boulogne Aquarium in Paris. As Aquarium Director, he was to be responsible for the installation of the aquariums, but within months of taking up the role he died. Lloyd was then contacted by the committee elected to take over Mitchell's role, for evermore information, whereupon bit by bit, was eventually contracted to finish the job; installing 14 tanks of his patent aquariums, four marine and ten freshwater, all of the same dimensions, 1.8m long by 1m broad, holding 200 gallons of water. Although the building had been completed, upon Lloyd's advice Mitchell's design was improved by installing underground water chambers and, on a much larger scale, the newly invented mechanical contrivance for aerating aquaria invented by G. Hurwood of Ipswich, which using waterworks water, forced compressed air to circulate the water through the aquariums. Although having initial problems with the French workmen, after the contract was completed, Lloyd did advise the committee that such a large installation would benefit from a full time curator, in the same manner as the London Zoological Gardens aquariums.

Growing seaweeds.   top

Living seaweed, an indispensable part of Warington's principle had always proved to be a problem with Lloyd, soon discovering that collecting it was the easy part, keeping it alive in an aquarium, let alone thriving, was not. He had discovered however, much to his amazement, if a marine aquarium was set up and left standing without animal life in the light in the same manner as his first freshwater globe, again there would be a spontaneous growth of fine green weed that would rapidly flourish. Although not being as pleasing to the eye as the collected seaweed, it nevertheless satisfied the scientific reasons for its inclusion. Although often preferring to use this more reliable conferviod seaweed in his marine tanks, Lloyd still had a desire to grow the more delicate attractive red seaweeds for himself. Such was his interest and enthusiasm, in the November of 1860 he undertook experiments growing them in a small aquarium 36 inches long, 11½ broad and 10 inches high set up in his bedroom, away from his customers prying eyes and fingers. Wanting specifically to study the stimulating effect water motion might have upon their growth he contrived to set a paddle wheel on the side of the tank driven by a clockwork motor. By adjusting the depth of the paddle in the water, he was able to attain from a single daily winding, a paddle speed of 25 rpm; but it did little to encourage the algae to grow.

Exhibition success.   top

In the spring of 1861 building started on a new exhibition hall in Kensington Gardens to hold the London International Exhibition on Industry and Art, whilst at the same time interest in the parlour aquarium was showing the first signs of beginning to wane. In the winter of 1860, being harassed by suppliers and not enjoying the best of health, forever ambitious even though he knew the future of his business must have been bleak, when the building of the new exhibition hall began, Lloyd determined against the odds to rent a stand in the forthcoming international exhibition to be held there; to show the world the latest advancements in aquarium design.

As much profit as he ever made had in most been ploughed back into his business enterprise, which had indeed reaped its rewards, now being the most recognised authority on aquarium principles; principles which he was now beginning to realise required an understanding and effort far above and beyond that which the public in general were prepared to aspire. This was further compounded by Lloyd's growing attitude that the parlour aquarium was not a frivolous ornament but a serious educational tool by which success could only be achieved by the understanding and application of basic scientific principles, again a topic that held little interest to his customers.

The Exhibition opened with much fanfare on the 1st May 1862, and would remain open for seven months until 1st November, with Lloyd's stand positioned on the eastern side of the Eastern Annex with the rest of the British stands in Class 4, Educational Works & Appliances; Sub Class D, Specimens & Illustrations of Natural History & Physical Science. In response to a request published in the Athenaeum of January 25th 1862, for exhibitors to furnish visitors with an article which would explain their exhibit, Lloyd produced an expensive pamphlet described by Edward Newman as "…a very clear and compendious account of the principle and construction of aquariums in general and of the Exhibition aquarium in particular."

Using the same design of patent dark chamber tank as he had installed in Paris, Lloyd's display was built in the manner of a front parlour wall with a single window adorned with long curtains and valance. Behind the curtains, but supposedly placed outside of the building, was a marine aquarium with the front viewing glass forming the window. This provided the parlour with a colourful marine vista, illuminated by its own gaslights under a sloping top, the water being circulated between the chambers by Hurwood's original small design contrivance. With the judging finished by the 15th June, on the 1st July, the midpoint of the exhibition, Lloyd received a medal with the citation "For the merit of his vivarium".

Business failure.   top

For this achievement he had to pay the ultimate price, unable to settle his accounts with his suppliers first brought to his attention at the start of the exhibition, attending Basinball Street Court, three weeks later on July 21st, he was declared bankrupt.

For Lloyd, the bankruptcy must have been particularly painful and embarrassing, having by then attained the knowledgeable reputation he had earlier so desperately sought; also being mentioned in so many of the popular aquarium books by authors of such repute as Gosse, Hibberd, Lankester, Sowerby and Kingsley. He later admitted in correspondence to Margaret Gatty, throughout the expansion of his business, his interest in displaying and developing the parlour aquarium had always overridden his desire to achieve financial stability or success; which proved to be his downfall.

References for all Lloyd pages are provided as a pdf at the top of Part 1.

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