Robert Baden-Powell

From New World Encyclopedia

Robert Baden-Powell on patriotic postcard from 1900

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell OM, GCMG, GCVO, KCB (February 22, 1857 – January 8, 1941), also known as B-P, was a lieutenant general in the British Army, writer, and founder of the World Scouting Movement.

Baden-Powell joined the British Army in 1876. He was posted in India and Africa, serving three years in the British Secret Intelligence Service (later known as MI6). In 1899, during the Second Boer War in South Africa, Baden-Powell successfully defended his fortress and the surrounding city during the long Siege of Mafeking.

Several of Baden-Powell's books that were written for military reconnaissance and scout training were also used by boys. Based on earlier books, he wrote Scouting for Boys, for youth readership. It was published in 1908 by Cyril Arthur Pearson. While writing Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell tested his ideas during a two-week camping trip with about two dozen boys on Brownsea Island in 1907. This camping trip is now seen as the beginning of scouting. After his marriage with Olave St. Clair Soames, he, his wife and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell actively guided the Scouting Movement and the Girl Guides Movement.

Baden-Powell had a vision of a peaceful world of brotherhood. In fact, in 1939, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, due to the onset of World War II, no Nobel Prizes were awarded that year. In his closing address at the Third World Jamboree in Arrowe Park on August 12, 1929, Baden-Powell said:

From all corners of the earth, you have journeyed to this great gathering of World Fellowship and Brotherhood, Today I send you out for Arrowe to the World, bearing my symbol of Peace and Fellowship, each one of you my ambassador bearing my message of Love and Fellowship on the wings of Sacrifice and Service, to the end of the Earth. From now on the Scout symbol of Peace is the Golden Arrow. Carry it fast and far so that all men may know the Brotherhood of Man.


Early Life

Baden-Powell was born at 9 Stanhope Street, Paddington in London, England in 1857. He was the seventh of eight sons among ten children from the third marriage of Reverend Baden Powell (1976–1860), a Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford University. His father died when he was three, and as tribute to his father, the family name Powell was changed to Baden-Powell.

Baden-Powell was raised by his mother, Henrietta Grace Powell née Smyth (1824–1914). She was a strong woman who was determined that her children would be raised according to her deceased husband's plan and prepared to succeed. She taught Baden-Powell to read and write and stressed the importance of honor, duty and self-reliance.

After attending Rose Hill School of Tunbridge Wells, Baden-Powell was awarded a scholarship to Charterhouse, a prestigious public school. Robert's first introduction to scouting skills was through stalking and cooking games while avoiding teachers in the nearby woods, which were strictly out-of-bounds. He also played the piano, violin and flugelhorn, was an ambidextrous artist, and enjoyed acting. Holidays were spent on camping, yachting or canoeing expeditions with his brothers.

As Baden-Powell was finishing his studies at Charterhouse School, his mother and siblings decided on a plan for him to attend Oxford University. To their dismay, he failed the entrance exams. This was hard on him, as his older brothers had been honors students at Oxford.

Baden-Powell determined to take the exams for officer training in Her Majesty's Army. He studied diligently for the twelve-day exams and placed second for the cavalry.

Military Career

In 1876 Baden-Powell joined the 13th Hussars in India. In 1895 he held special service in Africa and returned to India in 1897 to command the 5th Dragoon Guards.

Baden-Powell enhanced and honed his scouting skills amidst the Zulu tribesmen in the early 1880s in the Natal province of South Africa, where his regiment had been posted. During this post, Baden-Powell was awarded for his commendable service, also referred to as “Mentioned in Despatches.”

During one of his scouting missions, Baden-Powell came across a large string of wooden beads, worn by the Zulu king Dinizulu. The beads were later incorporated into the Wood Badge training program for Boy Scout leaders that he started after founding the Scouting movement.

The scouting skills that Baden-Powell had acquired impressed his superiors. He was subsequently transferred to the British Secret Service. Baden-Powell was posted in Malta for three years as an intelligence officer covering the Mediterranean. He frequently traveled disguised as a butterfly collector, incorporating plans of military installations into his drawings of butterfly wings.

Baden-Powell led a successful campaign in Ashanti, Africa. In 1897, at the age of 40, he was promoted to lead the 5th Dragoon Guards. A few years later he wrote a small manual, entitled "Aids to Scouting." The manual was a summary training lectures for recruits he had given on the subject of reconnaissance and military scouting. Using this and other methods he was able to train recruits to think independently, use their initiative, and survive in the wilderness.

He returned to South Africa prior to the Second Boer War and was engaged in a number of actions against the Zulus. By this time, he had been promoted and become the youngest colonel in the British Army. He was responsible for the organization of a force of frontiersmen to assist the regular army. While arranging this, he was trapped in the Siege of Mafeking, surrounded by a Boer army of more than eight thousand men. Although wholly outnumbered, the garrison withstood the siege for 217 days. Much of this is attributable to cunning military deceptions instituted at Baden-Powell's behest as commander of the garrison. Fake minefields were planted and his soldiers were ordered to simulate avoiding non-existent barbed wire while moving between trenches. Baden-Powell did most of the reconnaissance work himself.[1]

During the siege, a Mafeking Cadet Corps (consisting of white boys below fighting age) was used to stand guard, carry messages, assist in hospitals and so on, freeing up the men for military service. Baden-Powell did not form this cadet corps himself, and there is no evidence that he took much notice of them during the siege. But he was sufficiently impressed with both their courage and composure while performing their tasks to use them later as an object lesson in the first chapter of Scouting for Boys.

The siege was lifted on May 16, 1900. Promoted to major general, Baden-Powell became a national hero.[2] After organizing the South African Constabulary (police), he returned to England to take up a post as inspector general of the cavalry in 1903.

Although he could have doubtless become field marshal, Baden-Powell decided to retire from the Army in 1910 with the rank of lieutenant general on the advice of King Edward VII, who suggested that he could better serve his country by promoting Scouting.[3]

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Baden-Powell put himself at the disposal of the War Office. No command was given him, however. As Lord Kitchener said: "he could lay his hand on several competent divisional generals but could find no one who could carry on the invaluable work of the Boy Scouts." It was widely rumored that Baden-Powell was engaged in spying, and intelligence officers took great care to foster the myth.[4]

Family Life

In January 1912, Baden-Powell met for the second time the woman who would be his future wife, Olave Soames. The two met on the ocean liner Arcadian on the way to New York City as Baden-Powell was starting one of his Scouting World Tours. [5] Soames was a young woman of 23 and Baden-Powell was 55 when they met. They shared the same birthday. The couple became engaged in September of the same year, causing a media sensation, probably due to Baden-Powell's fame. The age difference between the two was not uncommon at the time. To avoid press intrusion, the couple married in secret on October 30, 1912.[6] The Scouts of England each donated a penny to buy Baden-Powell a car as a wedding gift.

Baden-Powell was a friend of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts of the United States. Low was an adventuresome woman who had a genuine appreciation for the Boy Scout and Girl Guide programs. Powell encouraged her to bring the Girl Guide movement to America.


The Baden-Powells had three children—one son and two daughters, who gained the courtesy titles of ‘Honourable’ in 1929.

  • Arthur Robert Peter, later 2nd Baron Baden-Powell (1913–1962).[7] He married Carine Crause-Boardman in 1936, and had three children: Robert Crause, later 3rd Baron Baden-Powell; David Michael (Michael), current heir to the titles, and Wendy.
  • Heather (1915–1986), who married John King and had two children, Michael and Timothy.
  • Betty (1917–2004), who married Gervase Charles Robert Clay in 1936 and had three sons and one daughter: Robin, Chispin, Gillian and Nigel.

Soames’ father gave the couple their home, Pax Hill, in 1918. The Baden-Powells made Pax Hill their family home for 20 years (from about 1919 until 1939).[8] Soon after he had married, Baden-Powell began to have health problems and suffered bouts of illness. He complained of persistent headaches, which were considered by his doctor to be psychosomatic and treated with dream analysis. The headaches subsided when he ceased to sleep with Olave and moved into a makeshift bedroom on his balcony. In 1934, his prostate was removed.

In 1939 Baden-Powell moved to a house he had commissioned in Kenya, a country he had visited previously to recuperate from health challenges. He died on January 8, 1941, and is buried in Nyeri, Kenya, near Mount Kenya.[9] His gravestone bears a circle with a dot in the centre, which is the trail sign for "Going Home," or "I have gone home":   I have gone home

When Olave died, her ashes were sent to Kenya and interred beside her husband. Kenya has declared Baden-Powell's grave a national monument.

Founder of Scouting

Pronunciation of Baden-Powell
['beɪdʌn 'pəʊəl]
Man, Nation, Maiden
Please call it Baden.
Further, for Powell
Rhyme it with Noel
Verse by B-P

Upon his return from military assignment in Africa, Baden-Powell found that his military training manual, Aids to Scouting, had become a bestseller, and was being used by teachers and youth organizations.

Following a meeting with the founder of the Boys' Brigade, Sir William Alexander Smith, Baden-Powell decided to rewrite Aids to Scouting to suit youth readers. In 1907, he held a camp on Brownsea Island for 22 boys of mixed social background to test out the applicability of his ideas. Baden-Powell was also heavily influenced by Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the Woodcraft Indians, whom he had met in 1906. Seton gave Baden-Powell a copy of his book The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians.[10][11] Scouting for Boys was published in six installments in 1908.

Boys and girls spontaneously formed Scout Troops and the Scouting movement had inadvertently started. It was first a national, and then an international obsession. The Scouting movement was to grow up in a friendly parallel relationship with the Boys' Brigade. A rally for all Scouts was held at Crystal Palace in London in 1908. It was at this rally that Baden-Powell discovered the first Girl Guides. The Girl Guides movement was formally founded in 1910 under the auspices of Baden-Powell's sister, Agnes Baden-Powell.

In 1920 the first World Scout Jamboree took place in Olympia, London. Also, Baden-Powell was acclaimed “Chief Scout of the World.” Baden-Powell was made a Baronet in 1922 and was created Baron Baden-Powell, of Gilwell in the County of Essex, in 1929. Gilwell Park is the International Scout Leader training center.

Baden-Powell had a positive impact on improvements in youth education. Under his dedicated command, the world Scouting movement grew. By 1922 there were more than one million Scouts in 32 countries; by 1939 the number of Scouts was in excess of 3.3 million.

February 22, the joint birthday of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, is marked as World Thinking Day or Founder's Day by Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Girl Scouts to remember and celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World as well as build awareness of scouting around the world.

Prolific artist and writer

Throughout his life, Baden-Powell has done many paintings and drawings and written many articles, monographs, letters, and over thirty books. The most famous of his works is the book, Scouting for Boys.

Military books

  • 1884: Reconnaissance and Scouting
  • 1885: Cavalry Instruction
  • 1889: Pigsticking or Hoghunting
  • 1896: The Downfall of Prempeh
  • 1897: The Matabele Campaign
  • 1899: Aids to Scouting for NCO's and Men
  • 1900: Sport in War
  • 1901: Notes and Instructions for the South African Constabulary
  • 1914: Quick Training for War

Scouting books

  • 1908: Scouting for Boys
  • 1909: Yarns for Boy Scouts
  • 1912: Handbook for Girl Guides (co-authored with Agnes Baden-Powell)
  • 1913: Boy Scouts Beyond The Sea: My World Tour
  • 1916: The Wolf Cub's handbook
  • 1918: Girl Guiding
  • 1919: Aids To Scoutmastership
  • 1921: What Scouts Can Do
  • 1922: Rovering to Success
  • 1929: Scouting and Youth Movements
  • 1935: Scouting Round the World

Other books

  • 1905: Ambidexterity (co-authored with John Jackson)
  • 1915: Indian Memories
  • 1915: My Adventures as a Spy[12]
  • 1916: Young Knights of the Empire: Their Code, and Further Scout Yarns<refYoung Knights of the Empire: Their Code, and Further Scout Yarns, available for free via Project Gutenberg</ref>
  • 1921: An Old Wolf's Favourites
  • 1927: Life's Snags and How to Meet Them
  • 1933: Lessons From the Varsity of Life
  • 1934: Adventures and Accidents
  • 1936: Adventuring to Manhood
  • 1937: African Adventures
  • 1938: Birds and beasts of Africa
  • 1939: Paddle Your Own Canoe
  • 1940: More Sketches Of Kenya


In 1937 Baden-Powell was appointed to the Order of Merit, one of the most exclusive awards in the British Honours System. He was also awarded 28 decorations by foreign states.

The Bronze Wolf, the only distinction of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, awarded by the World Scout Committee for exceptional services to world Scouting, was first awarded to Baden-Powell by a unanimous decision of the International Committee on the day of the institution of the Bronze Wolf in Stockholm in 1935. He was also the first recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award in 1926, the highest award conferred by the Boy Scouts of America.

In 1931 Major Frederick Russell Burnham dedicated Mount Baden-Powell in California [13] to his old scouting friend from forty years before.[14][15] Today, their friendship is honoured in perpetuity with the dedication of the adjoining peak, Mount Burnham.[16]

Baden-Powell was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1939, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided not to award any prize for that year due to the start of World War II.


  1. Conan-Doyle, Arthur. 1901. The Siege of Mafeking. Lewis P. Orans, Pine Tree Web. July 21, 2002. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  2. “Robert Baden-Powell: Defender of Mafeking and Founder of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides." Past Exhibition Archive, National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved November 17, 2006.
  3. “Lord Robert Baden-Powell ‘B-P’ – Chief Scout of the World.” The Wivenhoe Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  4. Baden-Powell, Robert. 1915. My Adventures as a Spy. Pine Tree Web. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  5. Baden-Powell, Olave. Window on My Heart. Pine Tree Web. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  6. Olave St. Clair Baden-Powell (née Soames), Baroness Baden-Powell; Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell. National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  7. Mosley, Charles (ed.). Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 106th edition. Crans, Switzerland: Burke Peerage Genealogical Books. Ltd., 1999.
  8. Wade, Eileen K. Pax Hill. Pine Tree Web. Retrieved November 16, 2006.
  9. “B-P – Chief Scout of the World.” World Organization of the Scout Movement. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  10. Woo, Randy. 1996. Ernest Thompson Seton. The Ultimate Boy Scouts of America History Site. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  11. Ernest Thompson Seton and Woodcraft. InFed. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  12. My Adventures as a Spy, available for free via Project Gutenberg
  13. Mount Baden-Powell Mapping Service. USGS. Retrieved April 17, 2006.
  14. Dedication of Mount Baden-Powell. The Pine Tree Web. Retrieved April 23, 2006.
  15. Burnham, Frederick Russell (1944). Taking Chances. Haynes Corp, xxv-xxix. ISBN 1879356325. 
  16. Mount Burnham Mapping Service. USGS. Retrieved April 17, 2006.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barrett, C. R. B. History of The XIII. Hussars Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1911.
  • Brendon, Piers. Eminent Edwardians. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980. ISBN 039529195X
  • Brower, Pauline York. Baden-Powell Founder of the Boy Scouts. Chicago, IL: ChildrensPress, Inc, 1989. ISBN 0516041738
  • Courtney, Julia. Robert Baden-Powell: The Man Who Created the International Scouting Movement That Gives Young People Opportunities to Excel (People Who Have Helped). Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 1990. ISBN 0836802144
  • Hillcourt, William. Baden-Powell: The Two Lives Of A Hero. New York: Gilwellian Press, 1992. ISBN 0839535945
  • Kiernan, R. H. Baden-Powell. New York: Argosy-Antiquarium, 1939 (Reprinted 1977). ISBN 0872660451

External links

All links retrieved December 14, 2022.


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