Baden-Powell, Robert Stephenson Smyth, first Baron Baden-Powell 1857-1941, lieutenant-general, and founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, was born in London 22 February 1857, the sixth son among the ten children of the Rev. Baden Powell [qv.], Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford, by his third wife, Henrietta Grace, eldest daughter of Admiral William Henry Smyth [qv.], who claimed collateral descent from John Smith of Virginia [qv.] and was a great-niece of Nelson. Robert was named after his godfather, Robert Stephenson [qv.], the engineer. His father died in 1860, and Mrs. Baden-Powell had to bring up a large family on moderate means. She encouraged the children to study natural history, and, when they were old enough, allowed the boys to go camping and boating in their holidays.
In 1870 Baden-Powell went as a gown-boy foundationer to Charterhouse. He owed much to the influence of the headmaster, William Haig Brown [qv.]. Although pre-eminent neither as scholar nor as athlete, Baden-Powell took his share in all activities. His triumphs were gained in theatricals and as a cartoonist. His love of outdoor life led him to break bounds and spend hours in the woods increasing his knowledge of woodcraft. In 1876 he entered for an army examination before going to Oxford where his brothers, George (Sir George Smyth Baden-Powell, qv.) and Frank, had been at Balliol College; but Benjamin Jowett [qv.] did not think Robert up to Balliol form. The search for another college ended when the results of the army examination were announced; Robert was placed second on the cavalry list and was thus excused Sandhurst. He was gazetted sub-lieutenant, and sailed for India to join his regiment, the 13th Hussars.
After his general training he specialized in reconnaissance and scouting. His technical knowledge was set down in two books, Reconnaissance and Scouting (1884) and Cavalry Instruction (1885). He was promoted captain in 1883, and served as adjutant from 1882 to 1886. He was a keen polo player, and in 1883 won the Kadir Cup for pigsticking, a sport on which he wrote a standard book, Pigsticking or Hoghunting (1889). Lighter diversions were theatricals and sketching.
In 1884 the 13th Hussars left India, but disembarked in Natal to be in reserve should Sir Charles Warren [qv.] need support in Bechuanaland. Baden-Powell surveyed the lesser-known passes of the Drakensberg; disguised as a reporter, he gained important information and corrected the maps. When the crisis passed the regiment sailed for England, but he remained for a hunting expedition in East Africa. In 1888 he was appointed aide-de-camp to his uncle, (Sir) H. A. Smyth [qv.], who had been made G.O.C. in South Africa. Baden-Powell took part in the Zululand campaign of 1888; in 1889 he was secretary to the mixed British and Boer commission on Swaziland, and in 1890 he joined Smyth as his assistant military secretary and aide-de-camp at Malta, where Smyth had been appointed governor. The formal official life was little to Baden-Powell's liking and he welcomed his appointment in 1891 as intelligence officer for the Mediterranean. In the course of his investigations he had some of the experiences afterwards recorded in My Adventures as a Spy (1915). He was promoted major in 1892 and in the following year rejoined his regiment in Ireland.
Baden-Powell's next task was to organize and train a native levy for the Ashanti expedition of 1895-6; pioneering the route and scouting for the enemy were his responsibility. For his services he received the brevet of lieutenant-colonel, and he wrote an account of the expedition in The Downfall of Prempeh (1896). It was during this bloodless war that he first wore the cowboy hat associated with him; by the natives he was known as Kantankye—he of the big hat. Within a few months, in May 1896, he was called again for special duties, this time as chief staff officer in Matabeleland where a native rising necessitated the use of imperial troops. It was mainly through his night scouting that the positions of the natives in the fastnesses of the Matopos were discovered; they called him Impeesa—the wolf that never sleeps. After the war Baden-Powell received the brevet of colonel, and during his leave he wrote The Matabele Campaign (1897).
In 1897 at the age of forty Baden-Powell was appointed to the command of the 5th Dragoon Guards, then stationed in India. He now had full opportunity to develop training in scouting as part of a soldier's work; for this he instituted a special badge (the first of its kind) for efficiency. He described the course of instruction in Aids to Scouting (1899). Great stress was put on developing the powers of observation and of deduction, and by organizing the men in small units he emphasized the need for initiative.
While home on leave in 1899, Baden-Powell was again gazetted for extra-regimental employ. The tense situation in South Africa made war likely; he was therefore sent out to raise two regiments for the defence of Bechuanaland and Matabeleland. When war broke out he was at Mafeking. General Piet Cronje at once invested the town. The total defence force was 1,251 men; equipment was inadequate and much of it antiquated.
The romance of the siege gave Mafeking an exaggerated value in popular opinion; nevertheless, this small town was of strategic importance, for the defence held 9,000 Boers inactive at a critical period. It was Baden-Powell's own genius for organization and improvisation which sustained the siege for 217 days. The deterioration in food supplies, the constant bombardment, and the series of British defeats might well have disheartened the people in Mafeking, but Baden-Powell was resourceful in schemes to puzzle the besiegers and in devising ways of keeping the besieged busy and cheerful. One improvisation gave some offence at home. Postage stamps were needed; the first design, printed without Baden-Powell's knowledge, bore his head; he had these withdrawn at once and there was substituted a new design showing a boy on a bicycle, recording thus the work of the cadets whose efficiency made a lasting impression on him. Mafeking was relieved 17 May 1900; the news was received in London with such wild rejoicing that a new verb was added to the language (to maffick). Baden-Powell was rewarded by promotion to the rank of major-general at the age of forty-three.
After the relief he was in command of a force attempting to capture General Christiaan De Wet [qv.] until in August 1900 Sir Alfred (later Viscount) Milner [qv.], having decided to establish a constabulary to police the country after the war, chose Baden-Powell for the task of raising and training the force. This was a congenial duty, for it was without precedent and gave full scope for his special method of training men in small units. The prolongation of war meant that the South African Constabulary took service in the field. After the war their work to which Joseph Chamberlain referred as a great civilizing and uniting influence showed how well they had been trained for a delicate task.
Sick leave at home in 1901 gave this country an opportunity of hero-worshipping Baden-Powell. He took such demonstrations as they came but did not seek them. When, for instance, he was summoned to Balmoral to be invested as C.B. by King Edward VII, he took a circuitous route to avoid the crowds. Early in 1903 he was appointed inspector-general of cavalry. After studying cavalry training in other countries, he established the Cavalry School at Netheravon in 1904, and in the following year founded the Cavalry Journal. During 1906 he accompanied the Duke of Connaught [qv.] to South Africa and afterwards travelled north to Egypt, a tour which gave birth to his book Sketches in Mafeking and East Africa (1907); an exhibition in 1907 of the original water-colours and sketches for this book, and the acceptance in the same year of a bust of John Smith by the Royal Academy displayed his considerable talent as an artist. His term of inspector-general ended in 1907, but he was persuaded by R. B. (later Viscount) Haldane [qv.] to take command in 1908 of the Northumbrian division of the newly formed Territorials. Haldane and he had frequently discussed the Territorial scheme together. Baden-Powell ceased to hold this command in March 1910, and on 7 May he retired from the army, at the age of fifty-three. He had been promoted lieutenant-general in 1907.
Baden-Powell gave up the prospect of higher rank in order that he might devote himself to the interest which came to fill his life—the Boy Scouts. On his return from South Africa in 1903 he had been surprised to learn that his Aids to Scouting was being used by teachers. His interest in boys had been roused by the success of the cadets in Mafeking, and by the many letters he received from young hero-worshippers. At an inspection of the Boys' Brigade in 1904 he was greatly impressed by their bearing and efficiency, and he wondered how more boys could be attracted. He discussed the question with (Sir) William Alexander Smith, founder of the Brigade, who suggested that Aids to Scouting should be rewritten for boys. Baden-Powell's thoughts turned to his camping days with his band of brothers and his own delight in woodcraft. With these in mind he drew up a preliminary scheme which he discussed with friends and experts. Amongst his sympathizers was (Sir) C. Arthur Pearson [qv.] who encouraged and initially financed the separate organization of Boy Scouts. A trial camp was held on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in July and August 1907, for which Baden-Powell tried the experiment of selecting boys from varied social classes; he found that they mixed happily together and thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor activities of backwoodsmen, explorers, and frontiersmen. The key to success lay in the patrol organization by which the boys were divided into small units of five, each unit having its own leader with responsibility for maintaining keenness and a high standard of behaviour. As an aid to the latter, he framed a scout law setting out in positive terms the code of conduct a scout promises to observe.
Scouting for Boys was published in parts in 1908. Boys bought them eagerly and within a few weeks Boy Scout troops sprang up all over the country. The same result came when copies of the book reached the Dominions and Colonies and some foreign countries. A rally at the Crystal Palace in 1909 brought together 11,000 Boy Scouts. Girls demanded that they too should have the same fun, so the parallel scheme of Girl Guides was framed with Baden-Powell's sister, Agnes (died 1945), as first president of their council. It soon became clear that this rapidly spreading movement would need careful guidance, so the founder decided, with the approval of King Edward VII, to leave the army and give all his time to the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. In 1910 he made the first of many extensive tours of the Empire and other countries to ensure that the main principles of his scheme were observed.
Opposition came from those who saw in the Boy Scouts a subtle attempt to give military training under another name; Baden-Powell replied that the aim of the movement was to develop those qualities of character which serve the country best in peace or in war. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he wrote a small manual, Quick Training for War, which had enormous sales. The Boy Scouts were soon familiar figures in public offices, in hospitals, during air raids, and in the harvest fields. Their most sustained effort was undertaken at Kitchener's request: Sea Scouts (started in 1909) replaced coast-guardsmen and during the war over 20,000 scouts were so employed. Baden-Powell made many visits to the western front, and took an active part in organizing recreation huts provided by the Young Men's Christian Association and by Boy Scouts. There is no foundation for the popular belief that he was engaged in secret-service work.
In spite of the loss of scoutmasters, the movement expanded; patrol leaders carried on until they too were called up. There was a demand for training for boys below Boy Scout age. After a period of experiment, the Wolf Cubs were started in 1916. Baden-Powell made use of the stories of Mowgli from the Jungle Books to give these young boys an imaginative world of their own. The scheme was explained in The Wolf Cub's Handbook (1916). To meet the needs of those above Boy Scout age a scheme of Rover Scouts was developed after the war, and for the guidance of these youths Baden-Powell wrote Rovering to Success (1922).
A rally of scouts was arranged for 1920. To this Baden-Powell gave the name of ‘Jamboree’, a word of uncertain origin but now with a new meaning. What at first was planned as a British gathering was expanded to include scouts from many countries. At the final rally, Baden-Powell was acclaimed as Chief Scout of the world. There were four other Jamborees during his lifetime: 1924 in Denmark, 1929 in England, 1933 in Hungary, and 1937 in Holland. On the occasion of the Jamboree of 1929 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Baden-Powell, of Gilwell, in the county of Essex, taking his territorial title from the training camp for scoutmasters which he had established in 1919; this soon became an international centre from which trained men carried Baden-Powell's interpretation of scouting to many lands. He left the detailed conduct of the movement to his headquarters commissioners; he was opposed to too great a centralization of direction, and wished those training the boys to have wide liberty within the scheme. As the years passed, so his interest became more concentrated on the international development of the scouts and guides; in this he saw a means of furthering friendliness amongst nations. His work for peace was recognized by the award of the Carnegie Wateler peace prize in 1937.
Baden-Powell spent his eightieth birthday in India in a farewell parade with his old regiment of which he had become honorary colonel in 1911. In the same year (1937) he was appointed to the Order of Merit; this was the last of a long series of honours from many countries. Honorary degrees were conferred on him by the universities of Edinburgh (1910), Toronto, McGill, and Oxford (1923), Liverpool (1929), and Cambridge (1931). He had been appointed K.C.V.O. and K.C.B. in 1909, created a baronet in 1922, G.C.V.O. in 1923, and G.C.M.G. in 1927. In 1913 he was master of the Mercers' Company.
In the autumn of 1938 Baden-Powell went to Kenya in the hope of regaining health. To the last he was fertile in ideas and suggestions for the development of scouting. He found his pleasure in sketching and painting. His doctors forbade his return to England when war broke out in 1939 and he died at Nyeri, Kenya, 8 January 1941. A stone to his memory was unveiled in Westminster Abbey in 1947. He was succeeded as second baron by his son (Arthur Robert) Peter (born 1913).
Baden-Powell was of medium height and slender build; he was sandy-haired and freckled. He was a man of simple habits and of the friendliest disposition. He was little affected by the hero-worship to which he had to submit during the greater part of his life. His chief recreation after leaving India was fishing; this gave him the solitude he needed and the joys of river and mountain scenery. His sketch-book was seldom out of reach.
He wrote some thirty books; nearly all were illustrated by himself. In addition to those mentioned above, two should be noted: Indian Memories (1915) and Lessons from the 'varsity of Life (1933); both are autobiographical. His plain style was lightened by many touches of the humour which characterized his talk and his speeches.
During one of his world tours Baden-Powell met Olave St. Clair, younger daughter of Harold Soames, a retired business man, of Lilliput, Dorsetshire. They were married in 1912, and had one son and two daughters. Lady Baden-Powell showed that she had gifts of her own to bring to the Girl Guide movement, and she was elected Chief Guide in 1918. She was appointed G.B.E. in 1932.
There are painted portraits of Baden-Powell by G. F. Watts (1901) at Charterhouse School; by (Sir) Hubert von Herkomer (1901) at the Cavalry Club; by Harold Speed (1905) in the possession of the family; by David Jagger (1929), two versions, one at the Mercers' Hall, the other at Boy Scout headquarters; by Simon Elwes (1930) at Girl Guide headquarters. The first three show him in the uniform of the South African Constabulary and the last three as Chief Scout.
E. E. Reynolds, Baden-Powell, 1942; records at Boy Scout headquarters; private information; personal knowledge.
Contributor: E. E. Reynolds.