The Establishment of the Boy Scout Organisation and the Camp at Brownsea Island
- 29th July 1907 -
Robert Baden-Powell was the eighth child of the Reverend Baden-Powell, an Oxford Professor, and his wife, Henrietta. Born on 22nd February in London he was christened Robert Stephenson Smyth. The second of his names was after his godfather, the famous railway engineer, Robert Stephenson, and the third was his mother’s maiden name. When he was young they called him ‘Stephe’ (pronounced Stevie). His father died when he was three and his mother had to look after 10 children. She encouraged them to make their own fun and as a result they spent a lot of time outdoors, going on journeys and having adventures. As Baden-Powell was later to say, “Life without adventures would be deadly dull.”
He went on to Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey, where he enjoyed acting, singing, art and the cadet corps. He much preferred the outdoors to the classroom where he would spend time sketching wildlife and tracking animals as well as his classmates and staff. He was encouraged by the school to take the Army exam. He surprised everyone, including himself, when he came second out of seven hundred. He joined up as a sub-lieutenant in the 13th Hussars and went to Lucknow in India for training. During his career he was also to serve in various parts of Africa, Malta and Afghanistan.
His most memorable time in the army came during the Boer War when, in 1899, he was left with 1000 men to defend the town of Mafeking from the Boers. The siege lasted seven months until re-enforcements arrived. It was during this time that he saw what boys could do when given clear instructions and responsibility and this was to frame his future – although he never knew it at the time.
He wrote his famous book, ‘Aids to Scouting’ during this war. This was a guide to soldiers and the training methods he was using. He had first tried them out with the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1897. What he found out later was that these methods were being used by youth organisations.
On his return to England in 1901 Sir William Smith, founder of the Boys’ Brigade, urged him to write a new book specifically for younger people. To try out some of his ideas for this book he organised a camp near Poole, in Dorset, on Brownsea Island. The composition of this camp has since been disputed but it included 20 boys from differing social backgrounds. E.E. Reynolds says in his book on the Scouting Organisation that; “B-P. decided that he wanted a mixed company of boys to see how they would get on together so he formed his party out of some sons of his own friends [some of these may well have scholars at Eton] and some boys selected by the Boys' Brigade of Poole and Bournemouth; in this, and in helping to organise the camp, he received great assistance from Mr H. Robson and from Mr G.W. Green both of the B.B.”
He certainly had help from two assistant Scoutmasters – Major Kenneth Maclaren, an old army friend, and Percy Everett (later Sir Percy) who was the literary manager of Pearson’s - the publishers. There was a third helper – Baden-Powell’s orderly – his nephew, Donald. Based on this camp he wrote ‘Scouting for Boys’ published in 1908. This had six fortnightly parts each costing 4d and was intended as a training aid for existing organisations but became the handbook for a new movement. In April of that year ‘The Scout’ was first published and the first ‘official’ camp took place in August at Humshaugh.
Baden-Powell retired from the Army in 1910 on the advice of King Edward VII who suggested that he could serve his country better by developing the Scout Movement and its sister movement, The Guides. The King also agreed to a King’s Scout Award and by the end of 1910 there were over 108,000 participants of which over 100,000 were young people. In 1911 the Scouts were on duty at the coronation of Edward’s successor, George V.
From that point the organisation mushroomed. Baden-Powell himself had married Olave Soames in 1912 and they had three children. 4 years later the Wolf Cubs was founded for younger people and in 1920 the Rover Scouts formed for older ones. Also in that year the first World Scout Jamboree was held at Olympia in London. By 1922 the organisation had over one million members worldwide. This doubled in the next decade and by 1939 numbered 3,305,149.
Baden-Powell was suffering from ill health and in 1938 he returned to Africa, and Kenya specifically, where he lived in semi-retirement. He died on 8th January 1941 aged 83 and was buried in a simple grave within sight of Mount Kenya. The wording on the headstone was brief but to the point; ‘Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World’ with the Scouting symbol next to it.
Baden-Powell’s legacy not only lived on but also grew. The Rover Scouts and Senior Scouts merged into the Venture Scouts and by 1964 membership reached twelve million worldwide. In July 1976 British membership reached a peak of 608,610 and in 1986 the Beaver Scouts for even younger children was started. In 1994 Colonel Brian Evans-Lombe, the last surviving member of the original camp at Brownsea died, aged 100. In 2000 the uniforms, training programme and logo were transformed and in 2007 the movement held its centenary with the 21st World Scout Jamboree in London. The Scouts hit the headlines again in 2009 when the TV adventurer, Bear Grylls, became the Chief Scout.
Baden-Powell always maintained that the Scouts was about adventure, usefulness and friendship. The promise made by UK Scouts says that; “I promise that I will do my best, to do my duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people, and to keep the Cub Scout Law.” The movement is open to all faiths however and a different promise can also be made to take into account different faiths. Their Law says that, ‘Cub Scouts always do their best, think of others before themselves and do a good turn every day.’ Their motto tells them to ‘Be prepared’.
The values and experiences that Baden-Powell had striven to inculcate in young people are as valuable now as they have ever been. The Scouting movement, set up over 100 years ago, is as strong as ever. The website gives the following as a reason to join; “Every year we help over 450,000 young people in the UK enjoy new adventures; to experience the outdoors; interact with others, gain confidence and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.” The final words should be left with the current Chief Scout, Bear Grylls, ‘Two things matter in life: following your dreams and looking after your friends. That's what I love about Scouts.'