Shell nearly round, though variously shaped, inequivalve; the upper valve flat, or nearly so, with scales or laminae of a yellowish-brown; the lower valve convex, and foliaceous, of a pale pinkish-white, with streaks of purplish-pink; transversely striated. Hinge toothless; ligament internal, of an olivaceous-brown; beaks small. The interior of the shell white and polished, sometimes the purplish-pink colour of the margins showing through.
The edible oyster of Great Britain is supposed to be superior to those of other European countries, and to attain to a greater degree of perfection on our coasts; and it was much valued by the Romans, who transplanted numbers from our shores, and placed them in artificial beds in the Lucrine Lake. Sergius Orata is said to have first invented the artificial oyster-beds, "not for the gratification of gluttony, but of avarice, as he contrived to make a large income by this exercise of his ingenuity".* M. Dabry de Thersant in a number of the 'China Review,' as quoted in the 'Flight of the Lapwing,' states, that artificial oyster-beds were formed in China long before they are known to have existed amongst the Romans, and, while in Europe essays and pamphlets are being written on the theory of the subject, the practical Chinese have been obtaining good results for the last 1800 years, notwithstanding the fact that they have no clear ideas as to the nature of the oyster or its means of reproduction.
Ostresi edulis. Oyster.
del__G.B. Sowerby, lith. Vincent Brooks, Imp.
Apicius first discovered the art of preserving oysters fresh for a considerable time, and sent some from Italy to the Emperor Trajan, while he was on an expedition against the Parthians, which were found on their arrival to be as good as on the day they were gathered.† This mode may possibly have been the same as that which is practised in Italy at the present day, where, as Poll tells us, they are carried from Tareatum to Naples, in bags, tightly packed with snow, which not only by its coolness preserves them, but also, by preventing them from opening their bivalves, enables them to retain in the shells sufficient moisture to preserve their lives for a long period.*
* Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.' vol. ii. bk. ix. chap. 79. † Daniel's ' Rural Sports,' vol. iv. p. 194.
There were other places from whence oysters were procured, and Mucianus speaks with rapture of those found at Cyzicus, a town in Asia Minor,† on the shores of the Sea of Marmora, the ruins now called by the Turks, Bal Kiz. He describes them as larger than those of Lake Lucrinus; fresher than those of the British coasts; sweeter than those of Medulae (the district in the vicinity of Bordeaux, now called Medoc); more tasty than those of Ephesus; more plump than those of Lucus; less slimy than those of Coryphas (a town of Mysia, opposite Lesbos); more delicate than those of Istria, and whiter than those of Circeii (a town of Latium). Pliny mentions that according to the historians of Alexander's expedition, oysters were found in the Indian Sea a foot in diameter, ‡ and Sir James E. Tennent unexpectedly attested the correctness of this statement, as at Kottiar, near Trincomalee, enormous specimens of the edible oysters were brought to the rest-house. One shell measured more than eleven inches in length, by half as many broad.§
The Greeks preferred the oysters of Abydos, and Archestratus, in his 'Gastronomy,' says: -
Ambracia in all kinds of fish abounds,
And the boar-fish sends forth; and in its narrow strait
Messene cherishes the largest cockles.
In Ephesus you shall catch chemae, which are not bad,
And Chalcedon will give you oysters".*
* Poli, 'Testacea Utriusque Sicilian'.
† Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.' vol. vi. bk. xxxii. ch. 21.
§ See note, 'Nat. Hist, of Ceylon,' p. 371.
Mr. Sharon Turner, in his 'History of the Anglo-Saxons from the Earliest Period to the Norman Conquest,' tells us that in the dialogues composed by Elfric to instruct the Anglo-Saxon youths in the Latin language, which are yet preserved to us in the MSS. in the Cotton Library, there is some curious information concerning the manners and trade of our ancestors. In one colloquy the fisherman is asked, "What do you take in the sea?" - "Herrings, and salmons, porpoises, sturgeons, oysters, and crabs, muscles, winkles, cockles, flounders, plaice, lobsters, and such like".
Great Britain is still celebrated for its oysters, and large artificial beds are formed for the better rearing and breeding of these shell-fish, besides the natural oyster-beds which are found on many parts of our coasts. The artificial beds require much labour to keep them in order, and free from shells and rubbish. The mussel is an enemy to the oyster, as I have already observed, as it causes mud to collect; and the star-fish and whelk feed upon them, as do crabs, shrimps, and other shell-fishes. Dr. Paul Fischer states that the oyster-beds at Arcachon have suffered considerably from the havoc caused by Murex erinaceus, which has appeared in great numbers within the last few years; and it has been suggested by the Commissaire de I'Inscription Maritime, at Ile d'Oleron, that when laying down a fresh supply of young oysters on the beds, a certain quantity should be provided for their enemies to feed upon, and thus save the others.* Incessant war is waged against the dog-whelk, but the numbers do not decrease. It is known by the name of Cormaillot, or Perceur. Again, cold weather has a most pernicious effect upon the spat, for if the water is not warm enough the spat dies. Oysters will not even spawn if the weather is too cold. Some of our principal beds are those of Whitstable, Rochester, Colchester, Milton, Faversham, Queenborough, and Burnham. Colchester has been celebrated for its oysters from a remote period, and they were deemed an appropriate present from the authorities of the town to ministers of state, and other eminent persons. We hear of their having been sent, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, to Leicester and Wal-singham.† At the annual Colchester Oyster Feast, held in the Town-hall, October, 1862, Mr. Miller, M.P., mentioned that Mr. Goody, clerk to the Colne Fishery Company, with himself and a few other gentlemen, had appealed to the Treasury, because it was apprehended that Belgium, to which a large number of oysters are sent, was about to impose a duty which would inflict a serious injury upon the town. However, it was found from the interview that there was no immediate prospect of the anticipated danger, and a treaty was concluded with Belgium, in which a special reservation had been made in respect to oysters.‡ The oysters sent to Belgium are fattened in the Ostend beds, and then called "Ostend oysters". They are very plump and small, and were at one time highly thought of by the oyster-eaters in Paris; but I believe that they have nearly disappeared from the Parisian markets (except the green-bearded oysters, such as are found in the River Crouch, which are all sent to Paris, and known there as Les huitres verts d'Ostend)* and are now sent to Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Moscow.† Their flavour is certainly quite equal to our "natives," at least I thought so, and the shells appeared thinner. Oysters, mussels, and periwinkles, with shrimps, are the fisheries which engage a good number of fishermen at Leigh, near Southend. The Leigh shore has been found particularly well adapted to grow and fatten oysters.‡
* Athenaeus 'Peipnosophists,' vol. i. bk. iii. p. 154.
* 'Report on Oyster Fisheries of France,' by Major Hayes, 1878. † Cromwell's 'History of Colchester,' vol. ii. ‡ The 'Times,' October, 1862.