Thomas Henry Gem (Harry Gem)

Thomas Henry Gem, known better as Harry Gem, was born in Birmingham on 21 May 1819. He attended Kings College London, and began practicing as a solicitor back in Birmingham in 1841. and then marrying Ellen Maria Wilcox in 1852.

Gem was a keen sportsman and a member of Bath Street Rackets Club, where he was also club secretary. It was at this rackets club where Gem, most likely met Juan Bautista Augurio Perera, a Spanish born merchant. Perera and Gem created a new set of rules for a rackets game, known as pelota, lawn rackets or lawn tennis. The game was reportedly first played by Gem and Perera on the croquet lawn at Perera’s Edgbaston home as early as 1859.

Meanwhile, following his father’s death in 1856, Gem had become a magistrate’s clerk, a position his father had held before him. He had also encouraged the creation of a volunteer corps for Warwickshire, through which Gem eventually gained the title of Major of the 1st Warwickshire Rifle Volunteer Corps.

Both Gem and Perera moved to Leamington Spa where they established the world’s first lawn tennis club in 1874. The club consisted of Gem, Perera and two local doctors; Dr. Haynes and Dr. Tompkins. The club played on the lawns of the Manor House Hotel, on Avenue Road near to Perera’s new abode.

Gem had also been a member of Edgbaston Archery Society, and whilst there is no proof lawn tennis was introduced there by Gem, it had developed in popularity to the point that the society was renamed Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society in 1877.

On 4 November 1881 Major Thomas Henry Gem died from paralysis at number 21 Portland Place, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

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