Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell

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Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell,
1st Baron Baden-Powell
22 February 1857 – 8 January 1941

Founder of Scouting
Nickname B-P
Place of birth Paddington (London), England
Place of death Nyeri, Kenya
Allegiance British Army
Years of service 1876 – 1910
Rank Lieutenant-General
Unit 13th Hussars in India (1876);
Assignments and commands in Southern Africa and as an Intelligence Officer, British Secret Service, based in Malta (1880s to 1897);
Inspector General of Cavalry, England (1903)
Commands Chief of Staff, Second Matabele War (1896-97); 5th Dragoon Guards in India (1897)
Battles/wars Anglo-Ashanti Wars; Second Matabele War; Siege of Mafeking; Second Boer War
Awards British South Africa Company Medal (1897)
Boy Scouts Silver Buffalo Award(1926)
World Scout Committee Bronze Wolf (1935)
Order of Merit (1937)
Order of St Michael and St George
Royal Victorian Order
Order of the Bath
Other work Founder of the international Scouting movement; writer; artist.

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

After having been educated at Charterhouse School, Baden-Powell joined the British Army in 1876, and was posted in India and Africa, and served three years in the British Secret Intelligence Service. In 1899, during the Second Boer War in South Africa, Baden-Powell successfully defended his fortress and the surrounding city in the Siege of Mafeking. In 1910 he retired from the Army.

Baden-Powell was a prolific painter and writer. Several of his military books, written for military reconnaissance and scout training in his African years, were also used by boys. Based on those earlier books, he wrote Scouting for Boys, published in 1908 by Pearson, for youth readership. During writing, he tested his ideas through a camping trip on Brownsea Island in 1907, which is now seen as the beginning of Scouting. After his marriage with Olave StClair Soames, he, his sister Agnes Baden-Powell and notably his wife actively gave guidance to the Scouting Movement and the Girl Guides Movement. Baden-Powell is buried in Nyeri, Kenya.


Early life

Baden-Powell was born in 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 ( 1796- 08-22 – 1860- 06-11), 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. Subsequently, Robert Baden-Powell was raised by his mother, Henrietta Grace Powell née Smyth ( 1824- 09-03 – 1914- 10-13), a strong woman who was determined that her children would succeed. Baden-Powell would say of her in 1933 "The whole secret of my getting on lay with my mother."

After attending Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, Baden-Powell 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 on yachting or canoeing expeditions with his brothers.

Military career

Baden-Powell on patriotic postcard in 1900
Baden-Powell on patriotic postcard in 1900

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, and where he was mentioned in dispatches. During one of his dispatches, he came across a large string of wooden beads, worn by the Zulu king Dinizulu, which was later incorporated into the Wood Badge training program he started after he founded the Scouting movement. His skills impressed his superiors and he was subsequently transferred to the British secret service.

Baden-Powell was posted for three years as intelligence officer for the Mediterranean based in Malta. He frequently traveled disguised as a butterfly collector, incorporating plans of military installations into his drawings of butterfly wings. He then led a successful campaign in Ashanti, Africa, and at the age of 40 was promoted to lead the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1897. A few years later he wrote a small manual, entitled "Aids to Scouting", a summary of lectures he had given on the subject of military scouting, to help train recruits. Using this and other methods he was able to train them 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 as the youngest colonel in the British army. He was responsible for the organization of a force of frontiersmen to assist the regular army. Whilst arranging this, he was trapped in the Siege of Mafeking, and surrounded by a Boer army of in excess of 8,000 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.

During the siege, a 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. Although Baden-Powell did not form this cadet corps himself, and there is no evidence that he took much notice of them during the Siege, he was sufficiently impressed with both their courage and the equanimity with which they performed their tasks to use them later as an object lesson in the first chapter of Scouting for Boys.

The siege was lifted in the Relief of Mafeking on May 16, 1900. Promoted to Major-General, Baden-Powell became a national hero. After organizing the South African Constabulary (police), he returned to England to take up a post as Inspector General of 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.

On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Baden-Powell put himself at the disposal of the War Office. No command, however, was given him, for, 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 and inculcate the myth.

Family life

Olave St Clair Soames in a picture likely taken by her husband around the time of their marriage
Olave St Clair Soames in a picture likely taken by her husband around the time of their marriage

In January 1912, Baden-Powell once again met the woman who would be his future wife, Olave Soames, on an ocean liner (Arcadian) on the way to New York to start one of his Scouting World Tours. She was a young woman of 23, while he was 55, and they shared the same birthday. They became engaged in September of the same year, causing a media sensation. However, it was perhaps due to Baden-Powell's fame, as such an age difference was not uncommon at the time. To avoid press intrusion, they married in secret on October 30, 1912. The Scouts of England each donated a penny to buy Baden-Powell a wedding gift, a car (note that this is not the Rolls-Royce they were presented with in 1929). Baden-Powell was a friend of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of American Girl Scouting and encouraged her to bring the movement founded by him and his sister Agnes, Girl Guiding to America.

Baden-Powell and Olave lived in Pax Hill from about 1919 until 1939. Directly after he had married, Baden-Powell had begun to have problems with his health, suffering bouts of illness. He complained of persistent headaches, which were considered by his doctor to be of psychosomatic origin and treated with dream analysis. The headaches subsided upon his ceasing to sleep with Olave and moving into a makeshift bedroom set up on his balcony. In 1934, his prostate was removed. In 1939, he moved to a house he had commissioned in Kenya, a country he had previously visited to recuperate. He died on January 8, 1941 and is buried in Nyeri, Kenya, near Mount 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":   I have gone home

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

The Baden-Powells had three children — one son and two daughters, who gained the courtesy titles of Honourable in 1929. The son later succeeded his father in 1941 to the title of Baron Baden-Powell.

  • Arthur Robert Peter, later 2nd Baron Baden-Powell (1913–1962). 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.

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

On his return from Africa, Baden-Powell found that his military training manual, "Aids to Scouting", had become a best-seller, 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 re-write Aids to Scouting to suit a youth readership, and in 1907 held a camp on Brownsea Island for twenty-two boys of mixed social background to test out the applicability of his ideas. Scouting for Boys was subsequently published in six installments in 1908. Boys and girls spontaneously formed Scout Troops and the Scouting movement had inadvertently started, first a national, and soon an international obsession. The Scouting movement was to grow up in friendly parallel relations with the Boys' Brigade. A rally for all Scouts was held at Crystal Palace in London in 1908, at which Baden-Powell discovered the first Girl Scouts. The Girl Guides movement was subsequently founded in 1910 under the auspices of Baden-Powell's sister, Agnes Baden-Powell.

Baden-Powell and his wife moved to Pax Hill near Bentley, Hampshire, a gift of her father in 1918. They established their family home there for over twenty years.

In 1920, the first World Scout Jamboree took place in Olympia, and 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 being the International Scout Leader training centre.

In 1929, during the third World Scout Jamboree, he received as a present a new car, which happened to be a Rolls-Royce. This car was soon nicknamed Jam-Roll. He also received an Eccles Caravan, which was nicknamed Eccles Cake, so the Scouts attending the event were treated with a Jam-Roll towing an Eccles Cake. This combination well served the Baden-Powells in their further travels around Europe. Baden-Powell also had a positive impact on improvements in youth education.

Under his dedicated command the world Scouting movement grew. By 1922 there were more than a 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 Founder's Day by Scouts and Thinking Day by Guides to remember and celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World.

Prolific artist and writer

My House in the Woods, by Robert Baden-Powell, 1911
My House in the Woods, by Robert Baden-Powell, 1911

During his whole life Baden-Powell has made many paintings and drawings and written many articles, monographs, letters, and over thirty books, of which Scouting for Boys was the most famous.

Military books

  • 1884: Reconnaisance 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
  • 1916: Young knights of the empire
  • 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

On his sexual orientation

Some modern authors have explained Baden-Powell's interest in boys as a chaste manifestation of homosexual sensibilities including Jeal and Rosenthal. Other historians have been less sympathetic, for example Morgan refers to Baden-Powell's "probable pederasty" as a character defect covered up by the media.

There is however, no evidence of his ever engaging in sexual activity with any males. He was adamant against Scoutmasters engaging in sexual contact with their charges, recommending flogging for transgressors. Baden-Powell believed strongly in the harmful effects of masturbation - a view not shared by all educators of his time - and counseled Scouts to restrain the sexual impulse as far as possible. An exhortation against masturbation, written by Baden-Powell for inclusion in an early scouting manual, was so graphic that his printer refused to print it unedited.


In 1937 Baden-Powell was appointed to the Order of Merit, one of the most exclusive awards in the British honours system, and 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 then 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 to his old scouting friend from forty years before. Today their friendship is honoured in perpetuity with the dedication of the adjoining peak, Mount Burnham.

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.


  • Lord Baden-Powell was frequently called "bathing towel" by his friends as a pun on his name.

Related readings

  • R.H. Kiernan (1939). Baden-Powell.
  • Saunders, Hilary St George (1948). The Left Handshake.
  • Hillcourt, William [1992]. Baden-Powell: The Two Lives Of A Hero year (in English). New York: Gilwellian Press d/b/a Scouter's Journal Magazine. ISBN 0-8395-3594-5.
  • Brendon, Piers (1980). Eminent Edwardians. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-29195-X.

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