Captain Harry Gem in his Birmingham Rifle Volunteer Corps uniform in 1868
21 May 1819|
|Died||4 September 1881
|Education||King's College, London|
Major Thomas Henry Gem (21 May 1819 – 4 November 1881), known as Harry Gem, was an English lawyer, soldier, writer and sportsman.
Highly active in local life, Gem wrote journalism and drama for several local publications, rose to the rank of Major in the 1st Warwickshire Rifle Volunteer Corps and was active in numerous sports including cricket and athletics. He is recorded as having won a bet by running the 21 miles from Birmingham to Warwick in under three and a half hours.
Invention of lawn tennis
Among Gem's sporting interests was the game of rackets, which he played at the Bath Street Racquets Club adjacent to the Racquet Court Inn in Bath Street, Birmingham with his friend Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant based in Birmingham. Frustrated at the complex and expensive facilities required for rackets, however, the two developed a simpler game that could be played on Perera's croquet lawn at 8 Ampton Road in Edgbaston, incorporating elements of rackets alongside features of the Basque game of pelota.
This game is known to have been being played by 1865, though research has suggested that experimentation may have started as early as 1859. It thus clearly pre-dates the game of sphairistikè, whose rules were published and for which equipment was sold by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield from March 1874.
Gem and Perera's game also bore a closer resemblance to modern tennis than Wingfield's in several significant respects, most notably in being played on a similarly sized and configured rectangular grass court, rather than the hourglass-shaped court with a 'waist' at the net that featured in Wingfield's sphairistikè.
Originally referred to as Lawn rackets or Lawn pelota, Gem and Perera's game was being referred to as Lawn tennis by 1872.
Early tennis clubs
By 1874 both Gem and Perera were living in Leamington Spa and formed the Leamington Lawn Tennis Club with two doctors from a local hospital specifically to play this new game. The Leamington club thus became the world's first tennis club, playing on the lawns of the Manor House Hotel opposite Perera's new home in Avenue Road.
Gem had also been a member of the Edgbaston Archery Society from 1864 to 1869 and, although there is no direct evidence to demonstrate that he personally introduced lawn tennis to the society, the game was certainly a fixture in the society's calendar by 1875, with the society being renamed the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society in 1877.
- Rowley, Andrew, "Gem, Thomas Henry (1819–1881)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 10 July 2007
- Tyzack, Anna, The True Home of Tennis Country Life, 22 June 2005
- Osman, Arthur "Lawn tennis remembers its founding fathers", The Times, Thursday 10 June 1982
- "Lawn Tennis and Major T. H. Gem" Birmingham Civic Society
- Bellamy, Ross, "Anyone for Tennis?" The Hockley Flyer, March 2005
- Tennis Encyclopædia Britannica 2007. Accessed 11 July 2007