Scouting History

In The Beginning
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was born on Feb. 22, 1857, in London. He was educated at Charterhouse, a public school for boys. After joining the Army, he served in India and Afghanistan. He won fame during Boer War as the mastermind behind the defense of Mafeking between 1899 and 1901. He returned to the UK in 1903 after establishing the South African Constabulary, and was appointed inspector-general of the cavalry. It was here that his ideas took shape for the youth organization to which he was to devote the rest of his life.

On returning to England he found that many boys were reading his book Aid to Scouting, which was intended as a military training manual. He was persuaded to write a version aimed at teenager boys. This was published as Scouting for boys in 1908, a fortnightly publication that caught the imagination of boy’s throughout the UK.

Its impact was phenomenal – with four reprints in the first year and well over 60,000 copies sold in its second year. Part one dealt with scoutcraft and scout law; part two with observation and tracking, woodcraft and knowledge of animals. Part three looked at campaigning and camp life, pioneering and resourcefulness; part four with endurance and health, chivalry and brave deeds, discipline; part five with saving life and first-aid, patriotism and loyalty. Finally, part six dealt with scouting games, competitions and plays, plus words to instructors.

Baden-Powell had originally intended the scheme outlined in Scouting for Boys to supplement the programmes of youth organisations that were in existence at the time, like the Boys Brigade and the Boy’s Clubs. But boys not in other youth movements bought the book, and set themselves up as Patrols of Scouts, and quickly found themselves leaders to train them.

The first ‘Scout’ camp for boys was held at Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in 1907. He placed a special value on adventure; on children and young people working together – and taking responsibility (his ‘six’ building on the idea of ‘natural’ friendship groups and ‘gangs’); on developing self-sufficiency; and on ‘learning through doing’ (he was deeply suspicious of curriculum forms). After the camp he tried out his ideas on four patrols of boys from London and Bournemouth.

The Movement slowly evolved with the Scout Leaders having a fairly free reign with what they did, as long as it was within the ideals of Scouting.

B-P retired from the army in 1910


The Movement Spreads
In 1909, an American business man, William Boyce, was lost in the fog of London, when a small boy approached him, and offered to take him to his hotel. Once there, the boy refused any offer of money for the service, saying that it was his good turn as a Boy Scout. Joyce was intrigued by this and tracked down B-P. before he left London to discover more of this. When he got back to the U.S.A. he went about setting up the Boy Scouts of America. By 1918, its numbers had risen to 300,000, and had reached the million mark before the end of the twenties. The Movement spreads. Scouting now has twenty-five million members world-wide (not counting Guides and Girl Scouts) and is still growing .Approximately four million of those are from the United States, the largest single Scout Association.


After B-P
B-P.’s health deteriorated to the point that in 1938 he moved to Kenya to spend the last days of his life in Africa. He finally passed away on January 8th 1941. In his belongings was his last message to Scouts throughout the world:

To Boy Scouts:

Dear Scouts,
If you have ever seen the play Peter Pan you will remember how the pirate chief was always making his dying speech because he was afraid that possibly when the time came for him to die he might not have time to get it off his chest. It is much the same with me, and so, although I am not at this moment dying, I shall be doing so one of these days and I want to send you a parting word of good-bye.

Remember, it is the last you will ever hear from me, so think it over. I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have as happy a life too.

I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn’t come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when you are a man.
Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. “Be Prepared” in this way, to live happy and to die happy – stick to your Scout promise always – even after you have ceased to be a boy – and God help you to do it.
Your Friend,

Baden-Powell.

A B-P Yarn – The Left Handshake – by Lady Baden-Powell.
This traditional Scouting and Guiding sign of friendship is used by members of both Movements in all countries where custom accepts a handshake as a form of greeting.
Robert Baden-Powell told many yarns to his contemporaries and to the boys and girls who were in Scouting and Guiding during his life time. As often, with stories which are passed from one to another by word of mouth, they are embellished or changed slightly, according to the whims of the teller. So if research is done on the origin of the Left hand shake, various versions will be discovered.


The following was published in “Matilda” in October, 1970, as a reprint from the “Waratah”LADY BADEN-POWELL

“When my husband was in West Africa on that campaign in 1895-96 he heard of the legend of two tribes who lived next door to one another and were always having trouble and even wars between them. This was very bad and disastrous for both, with cattle thieving and so on.

“Then the very fine Chief of one of them realising how wrong it was, gathered his councilors together and they then decided not to have fighting again, but to try to come to terms with their warrior neighbours.
“So when, after a time, the enemy came advancing towards them expecting them also to advance and start fighting, this good army stood still instead of advancing to attack back.

There was a code of honour which said that an un-armed man who could not defend himself was never attacked, so this good chief of the peace-loving tribe dropped his arms and walked slowly out ahead of his men and after standing alone for a moment walked towards the enemy (who had stopped with surprise at this unexpected turn of events) and, holding out his left hand after flinging down his shield and spears, said:

“I come unarmed and I hold out my left hand to you as a sign of friendship and trust. We are neighbours and should not live in emnity. From now on we wish to live in peace and we trust you do do the same and to be friends.”

“Well, all those years later when my husband founded the Boy Scouts he knew that boys and girls like secret signs and so he suggested that we should have and use this “secret sign” of shaking hands differently from the ordinary way. As we all in our Movement truely trust each other, this method of our own shaking with the left hand instead of the right, would be used throughout the movement.

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