Havre des Pas Aquarium

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Havre des Pas Aquarium


22 May 1893 saw the opening, by Sir George Bertram, Bailiff, of the Jersey Aquarium and Biological Station at Havre-des-Pas, which became well respected for scientific research in connection with the marine fauna that abounds around the Island.

The biological station that was set up by naturalist Joseph Sinel and his son-in-law James Hornell. The building was on three stories, which consisted of an aquarium that was open to the public on the bottom floor and was accessible for 6d, with offices and laboratories on the other floors.

This history, based on Jersey Heritage research, was first published in the website of Bailiwick Express

A rare photograph of the aquarium


One of the most destructive gales in living memory has wrought havoc at Havre des Pas, badly damaging one of Britain's "prettiest and best stocked" aquariums

That was the unfortunate news in 1899 that paved the way for the closure of Jersey Aquarium, which went on to become the Marina Hotel.

An exciting new attraction always draws a crowd and it was no different in 1893 when the aquarium opened, displaying marine life that many islanders would have never seen before.

The Jersey Aquarium and Biological Station was based in the building on the promenade that was to later become the Marina Hotel. It was opened by the Bailiff, Sir George Bertram, on 22 May that year. Run by naturalist Joseph Sinel and his son-in-law, James Hornell, the aquarium was intended as both somewhere for the public to see local fish close up, and a place of study for researchers to learn more about local marine wildlife.


In his remarks at the aquarium’s opening, the Bailiff said: “Henceforth young Jersey men and women who had been fired by reading of the discoveries of such men as Darwin would find the first steps of such a career within their reach.”

The aquarium had three storeys, with the first being home to nine glass-fronted tanks on three walls, filled with local sealife. The centre of the room was dominated by an enclosed pond, 20ft by 7ft, decorated with rocks and with a fitted fountain jet. The species on display included anemones, crabs, rock gurnards, squid and dogfish.

Reporting on the opening, the Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph, said: “Some of the fish rival in splendour those of tropical seas, and are but little known to the public, being never brought to the markets.” It was also noted that the ground floor was being fitted for tanks for reptiles and green tree frogs.


On the first floor, there was a series of small marine and fresh water aquaria, together with preserved specimens, as well as a library of scientific texts that could be accessed by members. The top floor was a laboratory set aside for Sinel and Hornell to continue their scientific studies, and space for nine students to research.

The aquarium proved to be popular with both islanders and visitors and it was noted in the local press on a number of occasions how busy it was on holidays and during the summer season. Sinel and Hornell also continued their research, examining local tidal flow and studying interesting species found in local waters that were passed to them.

1899 gale

The sea was to prove not only the making but also the downfall of the visitor attraction. In February 1899, one of the most destructive gales that had been known to living memory took place, causing damage along the coast.

The Jersey Independent reported that the aquarium suffered a massive amount of damage: “The big doors were broken open with the force of the huge seas driven against them; the windows were smashed and the iron hand rail leading downstairs was twisted up like a corkscrew. The fish tank was destroyed and a large number of fishes lost. The place this morning is a complete wreck.”

The aquarium never recovered. By 1901, it had been fitted out with equipment for the manufacture of aerated water. It was eventually put up for sale in 1903 and was sold to become the Marina Hotel.

James Hornell took up an appointment with the British Government in 1900 to investigate the pearl fisheries in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He remained in the region and studied fisheries, as well as becoming an expert in indigenous boats.

Joseph Sinel went on to become the curator of the Société Jersiaise Museum in 1907, and he remained as such until his death in 1929, contributing greatly in that time to local historical research.

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