Much has been written about Harry Gem but of his friend and co-pioneer in lawn tennis not much is known.
He was described thus in a newspaper report entitled ‘THE OLD RACQUET CLUB, BATH STREET – A BIT OF BIRMINGHAM HISTORY’
“…..then an older supporter of the house came forward. He remembered the starting of a racquet club.
The game was expensive and consequently exclusive. The leading spirit of the club was Harry Gem, the Magistrates’ Clerk of Birmingham, and a famous player named Young, who, he believed, had been champion of England, was engaged. For a time the club prospered. Young was nearly equalled as a player by Periera, the merchant, of Great Charles Street, a very fine all-round athlete, and the real inventor of lawn tennis.”
So who was this ‘fine all-round athlete? Dr. Kirsty Hooper, Associate Professor & Reader in Hispanic Studies, University of Warwick became interested in the subject recently and undertook research and published a fully sourced working paper. She has very kindly given us permission to reproduce her introduction from her blog with links to her paper:
An Anglo-Spanish Victorian in the Midlands: Augurio Perera, co-founder of lawn tennis
August 12, 2013 · by Kirsty · in Anglo-Spaniards, Ephemera, Midlands
Those of you who have been following our adventures on Twitter will know that this summer, the Booksonspain family moved from Merseyside to the Midlands. Being used to the multicultural port-city history of Hispanic Liverpool,* I wasn’t sure how much Hispanic history I’d find in the landlocked Midlands, but thanks to last week’s Kenilworth Weekly News and a nostalgia story about lawn tennis in Leamington, I’ve discovered one very prominent Anglo-Spanish connection, and so rather excitingly, this blog now has its very own ‘Midlands’ category.
The line that caught my eye was the statement that ‘Major Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Batista Pereira, a Spanish merchant, invented lawn tennis in the 19th century, playing on a lawn in Edgbaston.’ A bit of judicious googling, and I discovered that the Major and his Spanish friend, real name Juan Bautista Luis Augurio Perera,** are now widely credited with inventing lawn tennis in around 1859 on the lawn at Perera’s villa Fairlight, on Ampton Rd in Edgbaston (left), which even has a blue plaque commemorating the event. In the last couple of years, a Birmingham-based charity called The Harry Gem Project has been set up, with objectives including: (1) To celebrate and publicise the life of Thomas Henry Gem (1819 – 1881) through publications, exhibitions, community events and a dedicated web site, and (2) To publicise his role as the originator, with his friend JBA Perera, of lawn tennis here in Birmingham and the creator of the world’s first lawn tennis club in Leamington Spa. Continue reading