The First Scout Camp
By Robert Peterson
In 1907 Robert S. S. Baden-Powell organized a special nine-day outing to test his ideas for training boys. The ideas worked - and the Scouting movement was launched.
Historians agree that the worldwide Scouting movement evolved from many sources. But if Scouting as we know it had an official birth date, it would be Aug. 9, 1907.
That was the end of the camp for 22 English boys at which Robert S. S. Baden-Powell tested his ideas for training boys. After nine days, Baden-Powell knew his ideas worked.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Baden-Powell, a lieutenant general in the British Army and hero of the Boer War in South Africa, had a dim view of the moral fiber and physical condition of British youth. He lamented that 1.75 million young Britons were "at present drifting into hooliganism for want of guiding hands to set them on the right road."
B-P had been mulling over ideas for training young citizens since 1904. He had studied the work of several youth organizations in Britain as well as Ernest Thompson Seton's Woodcraft Indians and Dan Beard's Sons of Daniel Boone in the United States.
Other training ideas came from B-P's own book, Aids to Scouting, a small manual for army scouts he had written while serving in Africa. The book included games and contests to help improve memory skills and powers of observation and deduction; and when he returned to England, B-P found that it was being used by youth leaders as well as military men.
Putting a 'scheme' to the test
To find out whether his methods (what he called his "scheme") would work with teen-agers, Baden-Powell set up a nine-day summer camp on Brownsea Island, a 500-acre, windswept tract in Poole Harbor off England's southern coast. He planned a full program of activities, including campfire stories to teach such abstract concepts as honor and loyalty, and games and contests on such practical skills as tracking, signaling, pioneering, and first aid.
Scouting's patrol system was established at Brownsea. In the army, B-P had found the best way to train scouts was in small groups. So the Brownsea campers were divided into four patrols, with the oldest boy as patrol leader.
For patrol identification, the boys were given long, wool streamers in different colors to pin on their left shoulder - green for Bulls, blue for Wolves, yellow for Curlews, and red for Ravens. Each boy also had a small fleur-de-lis badge to pin on his cap.
Each patrol was assigned an army tent for sleeping quarters. A fifth tent held B-P; his 9-year-old nephew, Donald Baden-Powell, who served as his orderly; and his assistant Scoutmaster, an old Army friend named Kenneth McLaren. Also on the campsite were an army cook tent and an open-sided marquee tent for shelter in a storm.
It was early to bed, early to rise at Brownsea. The boys were awakened at 6 by the mournful notes of a kudu horn, an instrument made from an antelope horn which Baden-Powell had brought from Africa. Cocoa and cookies were served, followed by instruction in the Scouting project of the day.
Then came physical drills, prayers, and camp cleanup-all before breakfast at 8. (Campers only cooked one meal themselves, on the night their patrol bivouacked away from the campsite.)
From 8:30 to 4:30, the program alternated between activities and rest periods (no talking was allowed during the latter). Tea was served at 5, supper at 8, followed by a campfire and prayers, the day officially ending at 9.
Some 74 years later, Arthur Primmer, one of the original campers, vividly recalled the evening campfires.
"Baden-Powell used to tell us about his adventures in Africa and India..." he said. "And on a nice summer night, with him standing in the center of the ring and telling these tales...that was the highlight of the camp."
The days were crammed with contests - Kim's Game, Hunt the Whale, Deerstalking, Follow the Trail, Knot-Tying Race, Bear Hunt, Tug-of-War.
Wearing a trilby hat, drooper drawer shorts, and knee-high golf stockings, Baden-Powell was in the middle of everything.
When camp ended, B-P could look back with much satisfaction. For one thing, his hunch that boys from different economic levels would get along had proved to be true. "Discipline was very satisfactory indeed," he wrote.
He also predicted that his "scheme" would find favor among youth organizations and others "interested in the development of manliness and good citizenship among the rising generation." It was "adaptable and inexpensive" and also "popular and attractive to the boys" while being "intensively interesting to instructors."
Boy Scouting was on its way.
Contributing editor Robert Peterson is the author of The Boy Scouts: An American Adventure.
The First Campers
The 22 boys who attended the Brownsea Island camp ranged in age from 9 to 17.
Thirteen were from upper-class families and attended such exclusive boarding schools as Eton, Harrow, and Baden-Powell's alma mater, Charterhouse.
The other nine were working-class boys from Poole and Bournemouth, across Poole Harbor from Brownsea Island. They were selected by leaders of the Boys' Brigade, a youth organization that featured marching, drill, and military lore.
Despite the sharp class divisions of Edwardian England, the boys got along well. Years later, Arthur Primmer, who was one of the working-class boys, remembered: "Here's something that will give you an idea of the atmosphere there. One of the upper-class boys in my patrol put up his hand one day and said, 'Please, sir, can I leave the room?' and one of the town fellows said, 'Silly fool, doesn't he know he's in a tent?'"
September 1999 Table of Contents
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