The Idea of Scouting

The Idea

The man was Robert Baden-Powell and the idea was scouting for boys. It was born from the stern necessities of war, but transformed into a game with an aim - the training of young people for good living and good citizenship while enjoying themselves. It swept round the world

The Man

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was born in London in 1857, fifth in a family of seven children. His father, the Reverend H.G. Baden-Powell, a professor at Oxford University, died when Robert was only three. Young "Stephen", as his family called him, was fortunate in that his mother, Henrietta, was a woman of very advanced ideas for her time. He and his brothers were encouraged to enjoy the out-of-doors, follow their own inclinations, and find their own amusements.
Early in life Robert developed a talent for sketching, equally well with either hand. He won a scholarship to one of the great schools of England, Charterhouse, which was also ahead of its time. There he developed initiative in the woods and fields, and skills as an actor and entertainer, though outstanding neither in scholarship nor sport.

An Exceptional Soldier

He was accepted into the army at the age of nineteen, and proved an exceptional soldier. He was soon off to India as a sub-lieutenant, and rose to the rank of colonel during his ten years' service there. During this time he learned the elements of practical scouting, and later devised and tried out many methods of training the army scouts and Guides. He even published a booklet entitled Aids to Scouting.

Baden-Powell had many adventures in India and later in South Africa, culminating during the Boer War in the famous Siege of Mafeking, which lasted for 217 days. He returned to London a national hero, and was promoted major-general.

Boys of all ages began to write to their idol, "BP", as he had become known. They wanted advice and help on all sorts of things, because his military manual, Aids to Scouting, was now being used by groups of boys who wanted adventurous activities. He suggested to the founder of the Boys Brigade, Sir William Smith, that some scouting activities would make the physical training for the boys more attractive and encourage new members. He drew up a short scheme for training, and a publisher agreed to print it.

BP was now over 50, and his current army appointment had ended. He felt the time had come to leave the army and devote himself to his new interest, scouting for boys. He was encouraged to do this by King Edward VII, who was most impressed with the scheme.

Brownsea Island Camp

BP did not, however, want to put his scheme on paper until he knew that it would work, so he organised a camp to try out his ideas. This was the Brownsea Island camp of 1907, famous as the beginning of scouting. What happened there seems like normal scout camping today, but at that time it was very novel to the 20 boys from all walks of life who attended. They sat around the campfire listening to the yarns of adventure which, next day, would be put into practice as patrol games, with their own elected leader responsible for the discipline and success of the activities.