I have not seen early editions of the Aquarist but thanks to an article in the April 1966 issue of the magazine by P.M. Fuller and the Silver Jubilee edition of 1949, I have been able to trace its early history.
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, the magazine was founded by Albert Ernest Hodge (1877-1936) in 1924 as The Amateur Aquarist. The first issue of 12 pages was in May 1924; it was priced at 6d. Publication was monthly. Each issue became 16 pages from July 1924 and in August it was retitled as The Amateur Aquarist and Reptilian Review.
It is apparent that not only were finances tight from the start, with appeals throughout the 1920s and 1930s for subscribers to pay more than the minimum (those making such donations were listed in each issue), but that Hodge was having difficulty managing a monthly publication. He announced that from September 1924 it would be published quarterly. In 1925, as initial subscriptions expired, he had a ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ offer to new subscribers.
Spring 1928 and volume 2 brought a change in title, to The Aquarist and Pondkeeper; that title lasted almost until the end.
After Hodge’s death, a friend, Frank Austin Watson (1903-1942) took over as editor. In 1941 the offices and printing works were destroyed by bombing. With the shortage of paper, readers, advertisers and staff, publication was suspended. Watson died in 1942, as a result of injuries sustained during Civil Defence duties.
A letter from Frank Tomkins in the Golden Jubilee edition of the Aquarist in October 1974 states that Hodge’s daughter, Violet, took over as publisher of the magazine, with the then printers, The Buckley Press, eventually acquiring it. Whether this change in ownership was before publication was suspended for the rest of the War is not stated.
After the war, the magazine was resurrected in 1946. The new editor was another friend of A.E. Hodge, Alec Frederick Fraser-Brunner (1906-1986). The Natural History Museum has biographical details, and he was the author of a number of books on fish. He made models and produced artwork for the new Fish Gallery in 1931. He was then employed part-time to work on the Plectognathi or Tetraodontiformes (trigger fish, puffer fish, molas etc) and he worked with the evacuated collection kept in the tunnels of Godstone Quarry from 1941 to 1944 during the Second World War. After his spell as editor of the Aquarist, he worked for the Colonial Office on a survey of the fish in the Gulf of Aden and then for FAO. He was appointed Director of the Van Kleef Aquarium (now demolished) in Singapore in 1956; in 1970 he became Curator of the Carnegie Aquarium (now also demolished except for a wall) at Edinburgh Zoo.
As Editor of the Aquarist Fraser-Brunner wrote to J.B.S. Haldane on 6 November 1946:
Could I prevail upon you to give me a little advice, and possibly help, on a matter which I feel is of some importance in my own field?
This journal [The Aquarist] caters for those people who try to keep fishes and other creatures alive in aquaria and ponds — a hobby which has provided science with much valuable data, and at the same time presents many interesting technical problems. So far most of the results have been achieved by empirical means, and it seems to me that the time is more than ripe to introduce more scientific methods.
I have in mind what may be termed a Hydrobiological Society, consisting of zoologists, botanists, ecologists, biochemists, hydrologists, electrical and other engineers (for apparatus), geneticists, and other specialists whose work is in any way linked to aquarium-keeping. Such a Society could act in an advisory capacity to the Federation of British Aquatic Societies in which most aquarists are organised, and I am sure that both the hobby and science would benefit greatly by such co-operation.
My aim in writing to you is to ask whether you can suggest any likely people to approach for such a purpose, since you have such wide contacts and are most likely to recommend the right kind of specialist.
Trusting this is not too much to ask,
The reader of this blog will recall that Haldane had also been approached by Margery Elwin (Mrs Mandeville) of the rival publication, Water Life, earlier in 1946 and links were being established both scientifically and politically between the Mandevilles, Haldane and his new wife, Helen Spurway. Fraser-Brunner got what could be described as a polite brush off in a reply from Haldane’s secretary:
Professor Haldane was very interested in your letter of Nov 6th. He suggests that good people to approach would be 1) on the physiological side, Professor Munro Fox F.R.S. Bedford College 2) on the genetical side, Dr Helen Spurway, University College, Mrs Mandeville, 79, Eastcote Rd, Ruislip, Middx.
Professor Haldane thinks they they all would be interested.
(There is a handwritten note to show that this letter was retyped with Lantz of Manchester added)
The lack of enthusiasm is evident in the fact that had he been really keen he would surely have passed the letter to his wife, rather than simply suggesting that Fraser-Brunner get in touch with her.
Nothing seems to have come of Fraser-Brunner’s initiative.
Fraser-Brunner is remembered by his lasting legacy to Singapore. He designed the Merlion logo for the Singapore Tourist Board which has become symbolic of Singapore since a statue of the beast was constructed in 1972.
Anthony Evans was editor from 1948 to 1966. He had a letter in the Times on 2 June 1951 on the tortoise trade:
Sir,—The report in The Times of the discovery of “about 1,500 dead tortoises” abandoned at Barking comes but a few months after another large batch of these animals was reported found on a London bombed site. Tortoises are now being imported in their thousands, and it is unfortunately true that the great majority of them have a very short life in our climate. Whether or not their natural reproduction can keep up with this pillage of their numbers is a matter for conjecture, and I suggest that the time has come for the question to be asked: “Is the further importation of these doomed creatures really necessary?”
He left the Aquarist in January 1966 to become editor of the new magazine, Pet Fish Monthly. That magazine became the still extant Practical Fishkeeping.
Lawrence E. Perkins became editor from the February 1966 edition. His had appeared in the magazine earlier mainly as a photographer but also as an author. From the index of births, marriages and deaths, I am pretty sure that he is Lawrence Edgar Perkins (1915-1987). His photographs often illustrated articles by his brother, Norman E. Perkins; there is a Norman E Perkins born in 1914 and died in 1966 (a note in the magazine by the owner of Tachbook Tropicals records his death).
That is as far as I am going. The Aquarist continued but eventually lost out to Practical Fishkeeping (no herpetology there). The title was sold, became Today’s Fishkeeper and eventually closed in the 1990s, I think.
For those with herpetological interests, coverage of the topic was always by and for a minority. Fish keepers became less interested in other forms of aquatic life in the wild, and the market became dominated by the tropical fish importer and retailer, together with the trade that supplied the often unreliable equipment.
UPDATED 23 April 2016