1st Baron Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell


Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (22 February 1857 to 8 January 1941), or Sir Robert Baden-Powell was a British Army Lieutenant General (with over 30 years of service and the founder of the modern Scouting movement.  He was also an actor, writer and artist.  He was son of Professor (of natural science) H.G. Baden-Powell (father) and Henrietta Smyth (mother).



Henrietta was H.G. Baden-Powell’s third wife and mother of seven children.  They raised them and three other children from a previous marriage.  Robert was the fifth child from their marriage.  H.G. Baden-Powell died shortly after their seventh child was born when Robert was only three years old.  In 1869, the family name was changed to Baden-Powell by Henrietta out of respect for her late husband.  It was Henrietta that chose to educate her children in the outdoors.  She did this through long walks in the country where she taught her children about the plants and animals.  Henrietta encouraged her children to make their own fun.  They also read books from their father’s collection on natural history, built boats and sailed them and went on long learning journeys to look after themselves.


Roberts education started with a Dame’s School (small private school for young children run by women) in Kennington Square.  Two years later Robert won a scholarship to study at the Charterhouse School in London. In 1972 the school moved to Godalming, where it was surrounded by woodlands known as “the Copse.”  The wilderness was an important part of Baden-Powells childhood, as he did not excel in athletics or academically.  He was mainly interested in the outdoors and theatre. 


After not receiving admission to Balliol College in Oxford, where his two older brothers attended, he decided to take an open examination for a commission in the British Army.  He placed second in in Calvary and fourth for infantry out of 700 candidates.  On September 11, 1876, he joined and became a sub-lieutenant in the thirteenth Hussars.  On 6 December 1876 he joined his unit in India.  In two years he earned the rank of captain and in 1884 the regiment returned to England.  This is where he wrote his book called Reconnaissance and Scouting and became noted for his use of observation balloons in warfare in Bechuanaland (now Botswana).  In 1887 his uncle General Henry Smyth, was appointed Governor and commander-in-chief in South Africa.  He asked Robert to be part of his staff in 1889.  In 1893, Baden-Powell was anxious for combat and resigned from his position as military secretary in Malts.  He participated in several non-combatant missions with the Zulu and was promoted in recognition to the rank of brevet-major.  General Sir Henry Smyth was sent to Malta as governor and took his nephew with him again as staff.  In 1895, Baden-Powell was sent to Command the campaign against the Ashanti, whose king had broken treaties with the British.  His success resulted in a promotion to the rank of brevet-lieutenant-colonel at age 39.  Despite success, he was disappointed that he had not yet experienced combat.  He felt that combat experience was key to his own command in Africa.  In 1896, Baden-Powell wrote a book based on his experience with the Ashanti called The Downfall of Prempeh, and in 1889 he wrote his book called Pigsticking or Hog Hunting about boar hunting.  He later served in Rhodesia as chief of staff, where he served as a scout since there was not a corps of scouts present.  This would be the foundation of his book called The Matabele Campaign.  He was then assigned to command the Fifth Dragoon Guards in India.  There he dedicated much of his time to teaching his troops tracking and surveillance techniques.  In 1899, he published the book Aids to Scouting, originally intended for the military.  However this book gained much attention back home among the general public.  That same year the Commander and Chief sent Baden-Powell back to South Africa to deal with a war between the British and the Boers.


The Boer war was a struggle between English-speaking Afrikaans-speaking whites for control of South Africa’s mineral wealth.  It was the world’s richest gold reefs.  The Chief of the British Army, Lord Wolseley wanted to send 10,ooo troops to Africa.  The British Cabinet disagreed and instead sent 20 special service officers to organize the defenses of the frontiers, Baden-Powell was among them.  He was assigned to a small regiment assigned to the protection of Rhodesai and to deceive the Boers in thinking the British forces were on the way.  The Boers surrounded Baden-Powell and his men in Mafeking (now Mafikeng), a small town around 175 miles west of Johannesburg.  Baden-Powell and his men managed to defend off the town against over 7,000 Boers for 217 days (from October 12, 1899 to May 17, 1900).  Some saw this as one of the first real victories against the Boers.  They considered Baden-Powell a national hero.  This was important to Baden-Powell in two ways.  First, he had earned the first real military action he had longed for and it gave him the respect and recognition from the military he was working for as a leader.  Second, Mafeking was the beginning of Baden-Powell’s idea for Boy Scouts.  Because the men were busy protecting the city, Baden-Powell had organized the boys into Mafeking Cadet Corps to take care of smaller tasks around town.  Mafeking later, in 1907, became the subject of a book called Sketches in Mafeking and East Africa.   In 1900 Baden-Powell was appointed head of the newly created South African Constabulary, a military police force, for three years.  He was named inspector general of the cavalry from 1903-1907.  It was during this last assignment that he began to develop his ideas about the scouting movement.  An in 1906 he wrote a short paper where he put some of his ideas called “Scouting for Boys.” 



His ideas were strongly influenced by three of his contemporaries, William Smith, Ernest Thompson Seton and Dan Beard.  Seton and Beard had started a similar organization in the United States.  This small paper turned into a six-part series called Scouting for Boys, published in march of 1908.  The series covered the first publication of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.  This series led to the creation of a magazine called “The Scout.”  In the summer of 1907, after learning of the success of Aids to Scouting, is where Baden-Powell acted upon his ideas for scouting.  Baden-Powell organized a trial scouting camp to be made up of 20 boys, ages 10 to 17 and from many backgrounds, in August 1907. 



They spent a week on Brown Sea Island on camping, cooking, tracking, singing and storytelling, which proved to be a great success. After he wrote his Scouting for Boys issue in 1908, Scouting troops sprung up all over Britain and then took off internationally.  He and his sister Agnus also founded the Girl Guides (Girls Scouts in the US).  In 1909, Baden-Powell was given the title of knight by King Edward VII for his outstanding military career and especially for founding Scouting.  In 1910 Baden-Powell resigned from the Army and became Chairperson of the Executing Committees of the scouting movement.  By this time, over 8,000 girls had registered with the Girl Guides. 




In 1912 Baden-Powell had met his wife Olave St. Clair Soames on a voyage to the West Indies, she was 23 and he was 55.  They were married on October 30, 1912 and went on to have three children together.




 His wife also did much to promote the Girl Guides.  That same year Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes published the Handbook for Girl Guides.



In 1916 he organized the Wolf Cubs (Cub Scouts in the US).  However, World War I put a stop to many of the international activities.  During this time, Baden-Powell published the books Quick Training for War, The Adventures of a Sky, Young Knights of Empire and The Wolf Cub’s Handbook.    After the war ended he created a third group for boys called river scouts (ages 16 and older).  In 1920, the first international scouting convention was held in London to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Scouting.  This is where Baden-Powell was acclaimed Chief Scout of the World.  Baden-Powell acclaimed that the jamboree was


"to make our ideals and methods more widely known abroad; to promote the spirit of brotherhood among the rising generation throughout the world, thereby giving the spirit that is necessary to make the League of Nations a living force."




Baden-Powell was declared a baronet in 1922 at the third World Scout Jamboree.   Baden-Powell was created Baron in 1929.  Baden Powell spent the later years of his life traveling and supporting the Scouting movement.  He continued to write throughout the remainder of his life.  These works included Birds and Beasts in Africa (1938), Paddle Your Own Canoe (1939) and More Sketches of Kenya (1940).  He retired from the scouting movement in 1937.  His last letter read:


“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.”  - Lord Baden-Powell


After retirement he returned to Africa in Nyeri, Kenya.  This is where he passed away in 1941 at the age of 83.  He was buried on the 8th of January of 1941.  On his headstone are the words: “Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World,” surmounted by the Boy Scout and Girl Scout Badges. 



The following article was published in the October 2001 issue of Scouting Magazine.





What Scouting Has Become, A Legacy


In 2007, the centennial of scouting, scouting had grown to an estimated 38 million members of scouts and guides in over 216 countries.


Quotes of Lord Baden-Powell


 “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.”


"The Scout, in his promise, undertakes to do his duty to his king and country only in the second place; his first duty is to God. It is with this idea before us and recognizing that God is the one Father of us all, that we Scouts count ourselves a brotherhood despite the difference among us of country, creed, or class. We realize that in addition to the interests of our particular country, there is a higher mission before us, namely the promotion of the Kingdom of God; That is, the rule of Peace and Goodwill on earth. In the Scouts each form of religion is respected and its active practice encouraged and through the spread of our brotherhood in all countries, we have the opportunity in developing the spirit of mutual good will and understanding.


"There is no religious "side" of the movement. The whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.


"Let us, therefore, in training our Scouts, keep the higher aims in the forefront, not let ourselves get too absorbed in the steps. Don't let the technical outweigh the moral. Field efficiency, back woodsmanship, camping, hiking, Good Turns, jamboree comradeship are all means, not the end. The end is CHARACTER with a purpose.


"Our objective in the Scouting movement is to give such help as we can in bringing about God's Kingdom on earth by including among youth the spirit and the daily practice in their lives of unselfish goodwill and cooperation."






Biography Online (n.d.) Lord Baden Powell Biography, ref. http://www.biographyonline.net/humanitarian/baden-powell.html


Boy Scouts of America (2017) Statements by Lord Baden Powell, ref. http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/Media/Relationships/ScoutSabbathServices/badenpowell.aspx


Encyclopedia of World Biography (2010) Robert Baden-Powell Facts, ref. http://biography.yourdictionary.com/robert-baden-powell  


The Scouting Pages (n.d.) Baden Powell- His History, ref. https://www.thescoutingpages.org.uk/bpstory.html


The editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (12 January 2000) Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, ref. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-Stephenson-Smyth-Baden-Powell-1st-Baron-Baden-Powell


Wiki Commons (8 November 2005) File: Baden Powell Grave.jpg, ref. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABaden_Powell_grave2.jpg  


Order of the Arrow (n.d.) First Scouting Handbook, ref. http://history.oa-bsa.org/node/3019