Baden-Powell - British Empire 1815-1914

British Empire
1815-1914
Go to content


Robert Baden-Powell

Baden-Powell was a British army officer and writer of the seminal work Scouting for Boys who founded the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides. He was born in 1857 in Paddington, London and attended Charterhouse School before joining the 13th Hussars in India as an officer. He specialized in reconnaissance and scouting and developed these skills in Natal in the 1880s. His work in reconnaissance led to him being promoted in 1890 to become an aide de camp to the commanding officer in Malta where he also worked for the Director of Military Intelligence as an Intelligence Officer. He returned to Africa in 1896 where as part of the expedition to relieve Bulawayo during the Matabele War, he commanded scouting missions in the Matopos Hills. After the Matabele War, Baden-Powell served in the Ashante War on the Gold Coast after which he was promoted to Colonel and sent to India in command of the 5th Dragoon Guards. His experience in scouting led to his writing a little manual, Aids to Scouting, which he hoped would encourage soldiers to think a little more independently and use their initiative much more.
Mafeking was beseiged by the Boers for 216 days between October 1899 and May 1900. Baden-Powell had 745 soldiers under his command against Cronjes 9000 Transvaalers. The defence of the town came to symbolise British pluck at a time when the British had suffered a number of reversals.
In 1899 Baden-Powell was sent to South Africa to raise two regiments to help defend the border railway town of Mafeking. He took charge of the defending forces during the thirty one week siege of the town by Boer forces and consequently was promoted to Major-General. At the end of the Second Boer War Baden-Powell helped to form the South African Constabulary before returning to England where he became Inspector General of the Cavalry.
Boy Scout movement
Baden-Powell was knighted in 1909 and retired from the army in 1910 by which time he was heavily involved in the Boy Scout movement which he had grown following he first camp on Brownsea Island in 1907. When Baden -Powell returned form South Africa in 1903 he discovered that his book on scouting, Aids to Scouting, was being used by teachers and youth leaders. He wanted to encourage boys to use their initiative in their leisure time activities so to test his idea he held the camp on Bownsea.
Some of the defenders of Mafeking
He regarded the venture as a success and so rewrote his earlier manual with a younger audience in mind. The resultant book was published as Scouting for Boys in instalments in 1908. The book laid emphasis on individual responsibility, fitness, the outdoors – particularly camp routine and the development of a community spirit. It was an instant success and led to the formation of scouting groups all over the country. The Girl Guides were subsequently formed in 1910 by Baden-Powell’s sister Agnes but following his marriage to Olave St Clair Soames, his wife organized the Girl Guides. Following retirement in Baden-Powell moved to Kenya where he died in 1941.
Some of the early scouts
Back to content