Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Aquarists and Fish-keeping in the 20th Century. Part 6: Charles Schiller and the Hispaniola at Scarborough

British seaside towns in the 1950s were in the business of attracting holidaymakers and animal exhibits of one kind or another often filled the bill. Aquariums were (and still are popular) especially on wet days in towns where boarding house landladies turfed their inmates out after breakfast and locked the door until 'tea' time, sometime after 5 pm. Scarborough, a Yorkshire town on the east coast of England, always competed hard to attract the holiday pound. In 1949, the town corporation had built a boat with a pirate crew to sail across the freshwater mere to an islet covered in sand from the beach. Once there the children carried with their parents could dig for buried treasure. How do I know this? Well, I was one of the children but I apparently refused to dig for treasure; I was not going to be shouted at by some piratical slavedriver and join a bunch of thugs throwing sand everywhere. So, with the full dignity of a five-year old I withdrew my labour. The whole venture was an enormous success for Scarborough, if not for me, and ran in the holiday season for many years. The pirate 'ship' was called the Hispaniola. However, Scarborough then acquired another Hispaniola, an ocean-going vessel built in the 1880s and named Ryelands that had starred in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. This one was moored in the harbour and this is where Charles Schiller appears in the story.

Charles Schiller's company, Aquarium Supplies, built a public aquarium in this second Scarborough Hispaniola in 1950. This is from Water Life and Aquaria World of August-September 1950:

...Internally, the ship's structure has been considerably altered to accommodate the large tanks in which fish from all parts can be seen in surroundings made to represent as near as is possible their natural haunts.
     Largely responsible for the co-ordination of the work of setting up the tanks is Miss Joyce Noble who comes from Durban, South Africa and who, with the advice given by technologists from laboratories and research stations, took steps to ensure that the correct effect was achieved in each separate section. The photograph below shows her on the deck of the vessel where only a short while ago fierce mock fights and walking the plank episodes were undertaken. Miss Noble was carrying out the more peaceful task of selecting samples of rockwork and is seen holding a particularly fine piece of pure white coral from the Great Barrier Reef, presented by the local museum. The other picture shows that Miss Noble herself gets into appropriate dress to seek out suitable material from stretches of the coast.
     From what I hear of the project, I think that the Scarborough authorities are to be congratulated on the venture and Aquarium Supplies, Ltd, on the way they have made a first-class job of the conversion and setting-up. I have no doubt that aquarist's [sic] societies from all over the country will be keen to arrange day outings to this well-known Yorkshire seaside resort and to make a visit to the Hispaniola the chief event of the day.
     For those unable to make a trip there for the time being, I am hoping to be able to give a description of the aquarium in a later issue, detailing the construction of the tanks and listing the creatures to be seen.
     Incidentally, whilst mentioning Aquarium Supplies, Ltd. it was this firm which set up the aquarium in the Ideal Homes Exhibition, Berg House illustrated in the last issue.
     Mr. Schiller, assisted by Miss Joyce Noble, was responsible for designing the layout of aquariums in the homes of a number of well-known people, including Lord Rothermere, Miss Gracie Fields, and the Western Brothers. Another achievement of the firm was to secure the commission to install a tank in Buckingham Palace.

It is not surprising that Charles Schiller had a full-page back-cover advertisement in the same issue:

The floating aquarium was called the Hispanioquarium. The ship then apparently soon moved to appear as Moby Dick to Morecambe, another town trying to attract holidaymakers, but was destroyed by fire in 1970. There is no mention of the aquarium still being present.