J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Hockey Game Broke Out

Since it’s mid-May, it’s still hockey season. The Canadian news media is bubbling with the news that a couple of Swedish researchers—Dr. Carl Gidén and Patrick Houda of the Society for International Hockey Research—have identified two of the earliest images and descriptions of the game of hockey.

Of course, those scholars are the first to say that hockey evolved out of older ball-and-stick games with other names. But the first recorded time that the word “hockey” was applied to the game was in a 1776 London publication called Juvenile Sports and Pastimes, by “Master Michel Angelo” (a pseudonym for Richard Johnson). That booklet also included the illustration above, showing boys playing a form of what we’d call field hockey.

The book’s description of the game concludes:
…tho’ you are allowed to push either of your antagonists aside, yet it is considered not only as foul play, but as very ungenteel also, to strive either to throw another down, or to trip up his heels. Such proceedings always produce ill-will, quarrelling, and sometimes fighting: but every young gentleman will wish to make his companions as happy as himself, since, without mutual harmony, the finest sport in the world will be rendered dull, insipid, and disgustful.
Gidén and Houda also recently reported that a collector in Maine bought the colored print reproduced below, published in London in September 1797. It shows two young men strapping on skates, one of them holding a hockey stick as in the earlier woodcut with a flat puck or cork “bung” on the ice before him. The collector posits that the spire behind the young men was the obelisk at George III’s Kew Observatory, and that the scene was inspired by the freezing of the Thames in 1796. This is now the earliest visual depiction of ice hockey.
Finally, while looking into this matter I came across this 1835 image of ice hockey by Virginian artist John Toole, held by the U.S. National Gallery and reproduced courtesy of the Windsor Star. Apparently the proceedings have produced ill will, quarreling, and fighting.

1 comment:

Mark B. said...

From the 1906 book Old Boston Boys and the Games They Played:

"Jamaica Pond was, far and away, the favorite and fashionable skating ground. Here, almost any afternoon or evening, when the ice was good, could be seen hundreds of skaters. Skating parties of Boston's elite were formed for visiting the pond, both by day and on moonlight evenings, and this custom remained popular for years. Here also was the boy's paradise for ice hockey; the boys frequently lined up fifty or more strong on a side, and the constant "mix-ups" that occurred, in which a hundred or more hockeys were flying about in reckless confusion, gave onlookers the decided impression that "something was doing." Surely those of us now living who took part in them will feel our pulses beat a trifle quicker as we recall those hard fought contests on Jamaica Pond."

Not as early as the references above, but this is an effort to look back at the past, so it may go back at least a generation.