The True Origins of Real-Tennis...


James Cartledge, The Queen's Club 12th April 1986

"The purpose of this visit to Queens Club by a delegation from the Hobart Tennis Club is not as you had expected, primarily for the celebration of the centenary of Queens but to reveal to the players and followers of the game a most radical and fundamental error in the popularly accepted notions of the history of the game.

These notions have been put about by many authors who quote repeatably and extensively from each other, thus on each occasion cementing further each others' half truths or downright falsehoods, mistruths which have been created in order to conceal the embarrassment which may have been forthcoming.

However it is my duty as President of the Hobart Tennis Club leading my team not so much of players but of surveyors, archaeologists, teachers, learned doctors, dealers in fine antiquities and anthropologists, a solid phalanx of science and art, to present to you recently discovered evidence which will reverse the thought processes customarily associated with tennis and its place in history.

Those of you who understand the long and deep felt mistrust between the French and the English will appreciate that during the 17th & 18th centuries every effort was made by disagreeing parties to gain ascendancy over the other.

They had tried wars but this had proved desperately expensive on Oak trees, pitch, lemon juice and the youth of the land. They had tried dealings in wine from the French and gin from the English, but the shippers developed cerebral cirrhosis from excessive sampling. They tried music, poetry, plagiarising each others language in an effort to render the tongue unintelligible to natives and foreigners alike. At last a satisfactory method of competition was discovered. Sport: But what sport? So a search was begun for a new game suitable for the aristocracy.

Now it was reported that a great 16th century French explorer, Louis Dechioneux, had witnessed a strange spectacle on his journeys to Terra Australia. These reports had been made to the authorities in Paris but had been filed and forgotten. Likewise in London the English spies had seen and reported, but official eyes were blind. Until - the need for the new game. Memories strained on both sides of La Manche. Files emerged and were re-read.

It is now known to us from our current archaeological studies that the spectacle witnessed by Dechioneux was a game whereby a sphere made of human hair covered with dog skin called a "bezoar", later given the diminutive "ball", was struck by the aborigines from one person to another, using a wooden object in the shape of a palm frond or "paume" as it became, making a loud noise or "racket" as the English claimed, over a suspended line made of lengths of bark so knotted together as to resemble one continuous knot, or "net" as it came to be called.

The game was considered to be sacred, no women being permitted to play or even see the game.

It was therefore played in an area adjacent to the sacred burial place, the "ghat" or "ghort", later becoming "the court". When the ball was forcefully driven beyond a player it would enter the graveyard and became unplayable amongst the "dead'n's". Winning was rewarded by the loser having to forfeit conjugal rights for a short period, and, of course, the winner would boast to further the gall or "gallery" as some would have it, claiming fifteen, thirty or even forty loves, as the English euphemistically put it, before the sun set.

This was just the thing to settle the Anglo-French hot blood, so immediately expeditions were dispatched at great but secret public expense to capture the chief exponents of the game as it was played in Australia. Now the greatest of these players were the Hobart tribesmen, Drinkatinny and his brother Rollatinny.

It must be said that the French having the best of the weather arrived first and captured Drinkatinny who was brought to Paris where he established the new game Jeu de Paume. Due to an unfortunate Gallic cock-up the French government insisted on the game being played in an art gallery near the Louvre. The presence of paintings and sculpture provided amazing difficulties for the players who sometimes could not even see each other and would frequently get mixed up with coach loads of tourists or "hazards" as they became known, which accounts for the reason why the French have such appalling return of serve.

Meanwhile the intrepid English not to be outdone seduced the young Rollatiny to return with them to London, promising him a large piece of real estate in Kensington. His wife or queen as she was called, was asked to measure off the desired area by casting a wooden weapon in various directions and the ground so encompassed became the "Queens Club", later dividing off another bit by the same method, using a small pig in place of the club, calling it "Hurlingham".

The bribery and corruption was soon noticed at that other large slab of down stream real estate with water views and a huge long case clock on the roof, so to cover up the scandal of squandered public monies, an elaborate hoax was constructed even to the extent where a hurried visit was made to America so that a court could be knocked up over Easter in Jay Gould's ballroom. The Americans have been smarting under this ever since, and will not even allow people in aeroplanes, birds or women, to fly in the airspace above their courts for fear that the English will realise that they are not courts at all but merely large dining rooms.

So the truth is out. Royal Tennis got its name from King Rollatinny the Tasmanian aboriginal whose Hobart tribe invented the game and introduced it to Europe in 1776.

I thank you for your indulgent attention."

JAMES CARTLEDGE, The Queens Club 12th April 1986

Many thanks to Alex Mac Cormick for the above information.