Ray’s attempts to complete his first book on fish were hampered by the loss of access to Willughby’s notes and collection when his widow remarried and Ray had to leave Middleton Hall. He finally published Historia Piscium with the aid of the Royal Society whose president Samuel Pepys personally contributed £50 to pay for 79 plates to make the illustrations. Many other illustrious men including Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, John Evelyn and Elias Ashmole also contributed – an early example of sponsorship. The book was a huge undertaking dividing fish into ‘spinous fish’, the eel tribe, sharks and whales. Many examples had been studied on his European travels where he visited markets and ports looking for new species, over 230 of which, he finally identified.


Ray wrote: ‘We have attempted only to record the observations of ourselves or our friends or of reliable authorities. We shrink from unnecessary multiplication of species and to avoid it have visited almost all the chief fishing ports of England and the markets of Belgium, Germany, Italy and France, and have bought all the species new to us and described them so that the reader can easily recognise them …’

Following in his footsteps …

Many people now keep fish in garden ponds or in an acquarium. Fish, like birds, are adapted to their environment whether river, pond or sea. Pollution throughout the world is destroying the foods fish eat and over-fishing may mean we have less types of fish.