This book explores the vogue for home aquaria that spread through Great Britain around the middle of the nineteenth century. The marine tank, perfected and commercialised in the early 1850s, was advertised as a marvel of modernity, a source of endless entertainment and a tool providing useful and edifying knowledge; it was meant to surprise, bringing a profoundly unfamiliar experience right to the heart of the home and providing a vista on the submarine world, at the time still largely unknown. Thanks to an interdisciplinary approach, this book offers an example of how the study of a specific object can be used to address a broad spectrum of issues: the Victorian home tank became in fact a site of intersection between scientific, technological, and cultural trends; it engaged with issues of class, gender, nationality and inter-species relations, drawing together home décor and ideals of domesticity, travel and tourism, exciting discoveries in marine biology, and emerging tensions between competing views of science; due to the close connection between tank keeping and seaside studies, it also marked an important moment in the development of a burgeoning environmental awareness. Through the analysis of a wide range of sources, including aquarium manuals, articles in the periodical press and fictional works, The Victorian aquarium unearths the historical significance of a resonant object, arguing that, for Victorians, the home tank was both a mirror and a window: it opened views on the underwater world, while reflecting the knowledge, assumptions, and preoccupations of its owners.
felt free to invoke “deep-sea” as a sales tactic’. 29 The sea started to become less feared, and more consumed , and the aquarium offered the opportunity to enjoy it in exciting new ways. The development of seasidetourism also brought about a change in the activities pursued: the stroll on the beach, formerly prescribed by doctors as a cure, acquired other, more pleasant functions. In fact, it combined the enjoyment of scenery and fresh air, healthy exercise, and an opportunity to pursue an amateur interest in science while collecting much-prized souvenirs. 30
amount of attention devoted to the seaside experience should be read in two ways: the aim was indeed to make tank keeping popular by recommending it as the best way to enrich a seaside vacation, but also to distance the hobby from the growing trend that equated true science with a professional enterprise to be performed in specific institutions, mainly as a form of lab research.
In presenting seasidetourism and natural history as an ideal combination, aquarium manuals also stressed other ways in which a passion for collecting could shape, and
1 examines the context in which tank keeping developed. After a brief discussion of how marine tanks were perfected in the early 1850s, it considers some of the cultural factors that helped make tank keeping so popular: these included a new interest in the sea (stimulated by dredging expeditions and by the laying down of telegraphic cables), the expansion of seasidetourism, and the increasing popularity of amateur science and collecting. I then discuss how tank keeping was materially accomplished, the technical difficulties it entailed, and the market it
and indeed in ideas about the morality of landscape; but it was certainly, as
Pimlott noticed, an essential element in the English invention of seasidetourism as a commercial proposition and an engine of urban growth and revival.
The internationalisation of the resort
The rise of formal commercialised sea-bathing and coastal tourism became a
pan-European transformation, which did not occur everywhere at once and
had its origins in the transmission of changing ways of seeing, responding
and articulating from intellectual and artistic elites to the broader