Remarkable People

ID #5196

Robert Baden-Powell, Soldier and Founder of the International Scout Movement, South Africa.

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (1857–1941) was a lieutenant-general in the British Army, writer, and founder of the international Scout Movement.

He was born Robert Stephenson Smyth Powell and named after Robert Stephenson, the railway and civil engineer, who was his godfather and namesake. His father was a professor at Oxford University. He had four teenage children from the second of his marriages. In 1846 he married Henrietta Smyth, daughter of Admiral William Smyth and 28 years his junior. Soon afterwards Warington, George, Augustus and Francis were born. After another three children (all of whom died when young) they produced Stephe, Agnes and Baden. After his father died, his mother changed the family name to Baden-Powell.

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

He enhanced and honed his military scouting skills amidst the Zulu in the early 1880s where his regiment had been posted, and where he was mentioned in dispatches. During his travels, he came across a string of beads worn by the Zulu king Dinizulu which was later incorporated into the Scout Movement’s Wood Badge.

In 1896 Baden-Powell returned to British South Africa Company colonials under siege in Bulawayo during the Second Matabele War. He commanded reconnaissance missions in the Matobo Hills and many of his Boy Scout ideas took root here.

He returned to South Africa and was engaged in further military actions against the Zulu. While organizing of a force of frontiersmen to assist the regular army he was surrounded by a Boer army during the Siege of Mafeking (Makikeng). Although outnumbered, the garrison withstood the siege for 217 days. Much of their success is attributed to military deceptions instituted by Baden-Powell. He did most of the reconnaissance work himself. Fake minefields were planted and his soldiers were ordered to simulate non-existent barbed wire while moving between trenches. During the siege, a cadet corps of boys below fighting age was used to stand guard, carry messages, assist in hospitals and so on, freeing the men for military service. Although Baden-Powell did not form the cadet corps, he was impressed with their courage. The siege was lifted on 16 May 1900 and Baden-Powell became a national hero. After organizing the national police force, he returned to England and took up the post of Inspector-General of Cavalry in 1903.

On his return from Africa in 1903, Baden-Powell found that his training manual, Aids to Scouting, had become a best-seller, and was being used by teachers and youth organizations. He decided to re-write Aids to Scouting to suit a youth readership. Scouting for Boys was published in six installments in 1908. It has sold approximately 150 million copies and is the fourth-bestselling book of the 20th century.

In a letter to the Scouts, Baden-Powell wrote:

“...I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely 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 you 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 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.

Baden-Powell died in 1941 and was buried in Nyeri, Kenya. His gravestone bears a circle with a dot in the centre, which is the trail sign for "Going home", or "I have gone home" Kenya declared his grave a national monument. RSARBP

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:18
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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