I wonder if you've thought much about an Aquarium in your historical novel. If not, here are some tidbits from The Detroit Free Press ©1881 about Aquariums
FOR THE SITTING-ROOM.
The fresh-water aquarium, or drawing-room fish pond, is a pleasing and interesting ornament for a city or suburban town. It is cheaply and easily made, and requires but little care. Comparatively tew persons can adorn their homes with costly pictures and statues, but almost anyone with a love of nature and art can have an aquarium, fulfilling in miniature realities the glowing and poetic water legends of Northern and Oriental climes. It is the expression of the cultured taste, more than the embellishment of wealth, that makes a charming home.
A tank for a fresh-water aquarium may be constructed of four plates of glass, with a large piece of slate, marble or metal for the bottom; or the tank may be made wholly of metal and set like a large sink in a bay or oriel window; or one may be constructed of a seamless bowl or tub, either earthen or wooden; if the latter, all seams (providing a seamless one cannot be obtained) must be made water-tight by the use of a cement manufactured for the purpose, and sold as "aquarium cement." No lead or paint must be where the water can touch it. The placing of this bowl will call into use your artistic fancies; it may be surrounded upon a stand with earth and rocks, among which may be planted the drooping vines of the house plants and others that may suggest themselves, though not surrounded with plants so thickly as to darken the pool, for fish enjoy a little sunlight—but do not broil them.
SELECTION OF WATER PLANTS.
These can be procured from brooks and ponds near at hand. A good way to plant them is to tie a small pebble to the roots or base of stems and sink them below the surface of the bed. The arrangement of the plants should be made with regard to the best effect, the smallest plants being placed in front and the tallest in the center or at the back of the tank.
A tank of water-plants can be made quite as ornamental as a fernery, while the fish, snails and mussels prove very attractive to all beholders, old as well as young.
Among the best varieties of water-plants are: Arrowhead, a very common plant in brooks and creeks, which has white flowers with golden centers and arrowhead-shaped leaves; eel-grass is a very popular plant for aquaria, as its habitat is in slow-moving waters; waternymph, a slender, thread-like plant, with knot-like lobes ; water-feather, a lovely little plant, a gem for the aquarium; water-cress, water-millfoil. After all the plants are arranged, throw in a few lemna minor, or duckweeds, which are tiny, stemless, floating plants that harbor minute insects that are delicacies for the fish.
The plants should be planted in good soil, in saucers or similarly low dishes, then procure some coarse gravel, sand, fine sand, white gravel or pebble stones, a few common rough stones, and three or four larger ones, with which to construct a miniature arch, placing the closed ends of .the arch toward the ends of the tank, in order that the fish may not hide themselves beneath, as they will be sure to do. Place a layer of the coarse sand over the bottom, then the saucers containing the plants upon the sand; construct the arch firmly by the use of a little cement, and so arrange the balance of material that when finished the bottom will be one of apparent sand and gravel, with mounds, ridges, etc. A few small shells of the most ordinary kind will add to its picturesqueness.
The tank is now ready for the water. Fill about one-quarter full and let it stand for a day, then dip out a part of the water and replace with fresh. This treatment must be continued from day to day until the water in the tank shall be clear and clean; ordinary soft water—brook, spring or pure cistern—required. Fill the tank within about two inches of the top, and it is ready for the fish. The smaller they are the larger the number that may be put together.
SUITABLE FISH FOR WATER LIFE.
After the plants and rocks are arranged the former must have time to become accustomed to their new home before the fish are put in. A fortnight is none too long for the aquarium to remain tenantless. If a green film overspreads the glass it shows there are too many plants for the water, and they have had too much light, It is a good plan to paste thin green paper on all sides of the glass up to the water-line, excepting in front, even when the fish are put in, because it subdues the light, and gives the fish a more natural home, and makes it more healthful.
In selecting fishes for the aquarium, gold and silver fish will of course have the first choice, and after that the minnows. The beauty of these fish, their habits and the management they require are too well known for an extended notice in a necessarily brief article. The perch is a suitable fish for a fresh water aquarium, for a reason that may not be well known. It is one of the few fishes that may be trained, and made to show its docility by taking food from the fingers. The pike, which is the shark of fresh water, may be put into an aquarium with gold fish and perch, but not with other fishes. Even with the gold fish it is not fully to be trusted, as when hungry it has been known to eat its own species.
The trout is a handsome fish, with its crimson, spotted sides, but, like the pike, it must be well fed and kept away from smaller fishes. The eel may be used with safety—a small one, and frogs may be kept with larger fish.
The merot may also be added to the happy family, notwithstanding the antipathy against it on account of its resemblance to the lizard; it is perfectly harmless. During the breeding season it exhibits a variety of shining colors—orange, olive, green, with a mottling of brown and scarlet. The water spider is a curious insect, and, if possible, should be secured for the aquarium. It spends the greater part of its time beneath the water, coming to the surface to seize its prey, and to obtain a fresh supply of air for its sub-aquatic home. Reclining figures of plaster may be added, and if the tank be a large one, an artificial island of stones, mosses and ferns, with a siphon fountain, may be in the middle.
Feed your fish all the worms, meat or fish spawn that they will eat. Take great care to take all that they do not eat out of the aquarium; any decayed meat or vegetables in water have the same smell to fish that it has to you in the air. Two snails added will act as scavengers.
Do not handle the fish, but take them out with a net made of mosquito netting. An aquarium properly stocked and managed is hardly any trouble, and it affords a great deal of pleasure.
Never feed the fish crackers or other food, for it fills their gills and suffocates them. With the above hints, nearly every one can make a home for the fish and keep them, if they do not neglect them, for many years.
The best position for an aquarium is in a window looking towards the east, where it will not have more than two hours of the morning sun. If such a location cannot be given, put it in a southern window, but shade from the noonday sun. A western or northern aspect is never desirable for an aquarium. The temperature is also of importance. It should range from 45 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water becomes too warm the fish will die. If it freezes, the tank may burst.
CARE OF GOLD AND SILVER FISH.
Take a bell glass that will hold about two gallons of water , and set it into a box two feet long, twelve inches wide, and eight or ten inches high, or of any dimensions desired. Fill the box with a mixture of silver sand, leaf mold and earth, placing your inverted glass in the center of the box; around this place ferns and lycopodium; cover the box with glass, so that it will be nearly air-tight, to retain the moisture. The plants will require water about once a month; in the bell glass make a thick bed of sand, pebbles and small shells, and fill with perfectly pure water, and two gold fish or minnows, and a few aquatic plants, as they, under the action of the light, consume the carbonic acid gas given forth by the fish, and restore to the water the oxygen necessary to the maintenance of life. Snails are useful also to act as'scavengers to consume the vegetable matter thrown off by the plants, and render it unnecessary to change the water so frequently, which would otherwise become greenish and untransparent. A change once a week will keep the fish in good health ; but an aquarium fairly established with a proper proportion of plants and fish will preserve its healthfulness without change of water, more than to fill it upas the water evaporates. A still more desirable plan is to invert the bell glass in a thick block of wood, in any way that will hold it firmly; the block may be planted, and decorated according to taste, and may be made very ornamental; then for "stocking" follow the directions given above.
For a marine aquarium the "sea coast" affords many a "treasure trove," the sea anemones, those strange and fascinating existences, half fish and half blossom, may be found on the coast of Maine. Each shore has its specialty. The bay abounds in sea weeds of a lovely tint. while the beaches are rich in shells—all of which contribute to make an aquarium an object of interest and source of enjoyment. They should be kept in a cool place—never exposed to a burning sun or the heat of a fire. Too many should never be crowded into one glass. A few branches of box should be kept in the globe for them to rub against, which should be changed once a week. Many persons fancy that gold and silver fish need no food. It is true that they will subsist for a long time with nothing but-water when it is pure and frequently changed. They are best pleased with such diet as bread or biscuit; but these should be given sparingly, lest, turning sour, they corrupt the water. They will also feed on the aquatic plant called lemna, or duckweed, and also on small fry. Fine gravel should be strewed at the bottom of the vessel that contains the fish; and they should be fed on bread and gentles, and have their water frequently changed.
You can easily tell when a fish is falling off in his health by observing him frequently coming up to the surface of the water for air. This shows he has not sufficient power in his gills to extract the air from the water. He also looks dull, and his motions are languid; a hazy or cobwebby appearance likewise seems to envelop his body, and perhaps some of the scales will drop off. When a fish goes into this unhealthy state, he should be immediately removed from the others, who should have fresh water given them several days in succession. The best remedy for diseased fish is to put them into a pond for a few weeks; and it is especially necessary for female fish, which, if not so treated, frequently die for want of spawning. A fish is sometimes saved by being placed in a little artificial dam, made from some running stream in a garden, for two or three days; but their diseases are at all times very difficult to remedy. The best way is to prevent them by precautionary measures—plenty of room and pure water.