Fish have been kept in people’s homes since ancient times and remain a popular pet choice today. Early cultures such as the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks were known to have kept fish for entertainment rather than just food. However, the Chinese are the most significant contributors to the popularity of keeping fish. They started breeding and keeping carp for ornamental purposes back in the 10th century. Through this breeding they created the goldfish, which would not be introduced to Europe until the 18th century. This small fish captured the imagination of the rich and scientifically inclined and quickly became a must-have item.
The First Public Aquarium
Small aquariums and ponds began appearing in homes and garden as this intrigued into the aquatics grew. But they remained an item only for the privileged. In 1852, the London Zoological Society began work on the first public Aquatic Vivarium, which was an early name for a fish tank. This opened in 1853 and encouraged the public to come and see local fish in their natural habitats. Philip Henry Gosse was an English naturalist, who designed and created the Aquatic Vivarium. It was considered revolutionary for it’s time. He also coined the name aquarium. Which was then popularised by the zoo making it a world-recognised term for a fish enclosure. This was the first time fish had been kept and cared for in large glass tanks and the zoo had over 300 fish and invertebrates on display. The popularity of the aquarium spread and even led to enclosures being built at zoos in Paris and Hamburg soon after.
While the goldfish was still a popular choice for those who could afford them, people wanted to see fish from other parts of the world. London Zoo housed primarily local fish that were caught from local rivers, lakes and the ocean. People began to look towards foreign waters for more tropical fish they could include in the aquatic collections. The Paradise fish began being imported from Asia in 1869 and became an instant hit. This started a catalyst effect that soon saw more tropical fish being caught, sold and transported to Europe. Koi fish, for example, became increasingly popular as they made a colourful addition to ponds and water features. However, many fish died during the trip, and insufficient heat and filtration meant it was harder to keep these exotic species.
It was not always apparent that fish needed cycled water and oxygen to survive. In 1805, Robert Warrington built the first aquarium. Unlike the glass sealed options we have today they were sheets of glass held together with steel. They had no heating, light or filters like modern day tanks. This often meant fish would not live for long due to the unsuitable conditions. The first under gravel filter was not introduced until the 1950s, which also saw the introduction of flake food rather than live food. With better tanks, more filtration and longer life expectancies, it became easier to breed fish in captivity.
A greater understanding of fish, breeding and filtration make fish keeping is as stress free and as enjoyable as ever. What was once only for the privileged is now accessible to all.