Bowls historians believe that the game developed from the Egyptians. One of their pastimes was to play skittles with round stones. This has been determined based on artifacts found in tombs dating circa 5,000 B.C.
The sport spread across the world and took on a variety of forms, Bocce (Italian), Bolla (Saxon), Bolle (Danish), Boules (French) and Ula Miaka (Polynesian). The sport of Lawn Bowls is also the fore-runner of Curling, a popular winter version played on ice.
The oldest green still played on is in Southampton, England. Records show that the green has been in operation since 1299 A.D. There are other claims of greens being in use before that time, but these are unsubstantiated by proper or sufficient documentation.
Certainly the most famous story in lawn bowls is with Sir Frances Drake and the Spanish Armada. On July 18, 1588, Drake was involved in a game at Plymouth Hoe when he was notified that the Spanish Armada were approaching. His immortalized response was that "We still have time to finish the game and to thrash the Spaniards, too." He then proceeded to finish his match and the British Navy soundly defeated the Armada.
There is a lot of controversy as to whether this event actually took place. Nevertheless, this story has been forever tied to the sport of lawn bowls.
King Henry VIII was also a lawn bowler. However, he banned the game for those who were not wealthy or "well to do" because "Bowyers, Fletchers, Stringers and Arrowhead makers" were spending more time at recreational events such as bowls instead of practising their trade.
Henry VIII requested that anybody who wished to keep a green pay a fee of 100 pounds. However, the green could only be used for private play and he forbade anyone to "play at any bowle or bowles in open space out of his own garden or orchard".
King James I issued a publication called "The Book of Sports" and, although he condemned football (soccer) and golf, encouraged the play of bowls.
In 1845, the ban was lifted, and people were again allowed to play bowls and other games of skill.
Lawn Bowls was first played in North America in the early 1600's in the United States. Records also show that President George Washington played bowls on his estate.
In Canada, the sport was introduced around 1730 at Port Royal in Nova Scotia. In Australia, bowls first was played in Sandy Bay, Tasmania in 1844. The game next appeared in New Zealand sometime during the next 30 years.