GONE! Is it possible? Thus do the years

   Steal from us all we could wish to retain.

All that is pleasant in life disappears,

   Only the sorrows and worries remain.

What though a church on the spot where it stood,

   Methodist church, be erected instead?

What that the object's undoubtedly good?

   Weep, for the Royal Aquarium's dead.

Many's the time I have pored o'er its sights,

   Sights of which I at least could not tire;

Watched on a dozen consecutive nights

   BLONDIN the Great as he strode on the wire.

Here was variety Time could not stale;

   Oft and again have I eagerly run.

Now to set eyes on the Labrador Whale,

   Now on the lady they shot from a gun.

Here I marked SLAVIN’S and SULLIVAN’S skill,

   Notable experts in “counter” and “fib”,

Watched with a relish their world famous “mill”,

   Cheered when the cæstus came home on a rib.

Here, too, I learned that to some kangaroos

   Skill has been given to spar with the hoof.

Here of an evening I quake in my shoes,

   Watching Miss LUKER dive down from the roof.

HOBSON his seal, Pongo's Simian face,

   ZÆO (the bane of a shocked L.C.C.),

SANDOW the feminine bicycle race –

   These were the sights that ecstaticised me.

Here saw I Roberts, the king of the cue,

   Gazed on him daily, nor found it a bore,

Envied an eye so unerringly true.

   Ah, that such visions shall charm me no more!

Still, when the logs are heaped cheerily high,

   And in the chimney is howling the blast,

And when the beaker stands handily by,

   I shall revisit the scenes of the past,

Muse o'er a pipe of the days that are dead,

   Dream that once more I am able to scan

Closely the bird with the duplicate head,

   Live once again with the Petrified Man.

First published in Punch, January 21, 1903.


  1. -Vale: farewell.

  2. -The Royal Aquarium: This is how it was described in 1879 by Charles Dickens (Jr.) in his Dickens's Dictionary of London: “This handsome building was erected from the designs of Mr. Bedborough by the Royal Aquarium Society, and opened by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh in 1876. Unfortunately the desire of the directors to obtain an immediate return for the large sums invested in the undertaking unduly precipitated the beginning of the campaign. Not only were the plans of the managers in an inchoate state, but the tanks were not only without fish became a standing joke, and the dissension which arose among the discontented proprietors further tended to create distrust of the enterprise in the public mind. After some time, the tanks were filled and energetic management provided attractive entertainments of a superior music hall type. The extraordinary success of Zazel's performances attracted large audiences, and the Aquarium now takes high rank among the successful exhibitions of London.”   –   By the 1890s the Aquarium had become “a sort of magnified 'music hall' in which scantily clad females go through 'exciting' acrobatic performances, or are shot out of cannons, 'genuine Zulus' dance and female swimmers exhibit 'aquatic feats' in the great tank, or fasting men are exhibited to a gaping crowd.” The Methodists bought the site in 1903 and all but the theatre was demolished. Even that was pulled down in 1906.


  1. -Slavin and Sullivan: sporting men, practitioners of ‘ruffianism’ as it was sometimes called at that time, or as we would call them now, boxers.

  1. -cæstus:  or cestus; a covering for the hand made of thongs of bull-hide loaded with metallic strips, used by boxers in ancient Rome.

  1. -ZÆO: “As an equestrienne, trapeze artist, high wire performer, and daredevil, the acrobat Zæo embodied courage, athleticism, and vigour combined with Venusian beauty – all characteristics that women were not supposed to flaunt in public. The conclusion of her most famous act, a back somersault and fifty-four foot free fall from a flying trapeze, further communicated her self-control and disturbed her critics. This was performed at numerous London music halls, but it only prompted objections at the Aquarium. There, the audience’s perspective on the act was crucial: one LCC [London County Council] inspector remarked that the architecture of the hall necessitated that Zæo perform her entire act directly over the heads of the audience. ‘It is,’ he admitted, ‘not altogether desirable to place a female in this indelicate position’, probably because it highlighted the whole female body in space from all possible angles of view. ... Zæo’s exposed armpits were a cause célèbre in 1890 when featured on posters advertising the gymnast’s performance at the Westminster Aquarium.” – (From Actresses as Working Women: Their Social Identity in Victorian Culture, by  Tracy C. Davis)

The Penance of Zæo in the presence of some Members of the County Council.

P.H. Calderon, R.A., in Punch, May 9, 1891.


The Royal Aquarium