The Origins of the Boy Scouts


These notes do not claim to be an exhaustive treatment of the origins of Scouting but they seek to shed some light on the influences that came to bear upon Baden-Powell as he developed his scheme, and to seek to account for what is seen by some as the movement's miraculous growth. According to the popular historical myth, Baden-Powell was the founder of Scouting. He ran the experimental camp in 1907 on Brownsea Island, he wrote the scout's bible 'Scouting for Boys' in 1908, he set up the Boy Scouts organisation. Some people may know further that he claimed to be the Scout movement's originator, to the point whereby he swore an affidavit - 'Deposition as to Origins of the Scout Movement' #1.

Once the scheme was underway it achieved great success, not only in the UK but in other countries also. Yet, in spite of what was world-wide acclaim for Baden-Powell, there were other individuals who laid claim to be the founders of Boy Scouting. The fact that B-P had to provide such an affidavit demonstrates that the matter was not straight forward and there was some dispute in the early period, which has received attention from authors in recent years #2. Several authors agree that in developing his Boy Scout scheme, there was a gestation period, although the length of this period varies from author to author. Rosenthal places the beginning in 1904 #3, Dedman in 1904, Springhall in 1906 #4. Tim Jeal although deciding a particular month for a determined effort to produce the scheme for the Boys Brigade (December 1905) #5, he deals with the complexity of events and influences leading to the publication of 'Scouting for Boys' (1900-1908) #6.

Although Martin Dedman and Tim Jeal tend to favour the civic aims of the movement as being the controlling factor #7 several other authors such as the late William Adams, conclude that the defence of the British Empire formed a very important motive in the creation of the Boy Scouts #8. As an example Baden-Powell was impressed by the contribution of the Mafeking Cadet Corps which features in camp Fire Yarn Number one in 'Scouting for Boys'. The Cadet Corps had been founded prior to the Boer War and was not in any way unusual. It gained fame, as B-P did, through its work during the siege. Baden-Powell's interest in Boys and the welfare of the young began before then, when in 1899 he began to take an interest in his nephew Donald, playing the part of a perfect Uncle #9.

As a hero his patronage was sought for a number of Boy's organisations; In 1900 he lent his name to the Baden-Powell League of Health and Manliness. In 1901 more 'B-P' organisations existed; The B-P Boys of Greenock, the B-P Brigade and the B-P Anti-Cigarette League #10. In 1903 he became Honorary Colonel of the Southport Cadets #11. Of interest to the beginnings of the Scout Movement is the fact that in May 1903 he accepted an invitation to become a Vice-President of the Boys Brigade #12, after he had chaired the annual demonstration at the Albert Hall. B-P was invited to review the Boys Brigade a year later at Glasgow and at Liverpool and was impressed with the numbers in the Boys Brigade (then 54,000) but felt that with a more varied programme within 20 years the number could be ten fold #13.
William Smith challenged B-P to prepare material along the lines of his popular military handbook of 1900, 'Aids to Scouting'. Apart from a report published in the Boys Brigade Gazette in June 1904 advocating the character forming qualities of scout training, nothing emerged in terms of a Boys Brigade scouting programme in that year, but invited by Dr Edmond Warre, Headmaster of Eton College, Baden-Powell gave a lecture on 'Soldiering' 24th November 1904 to an audience of Boys intending to make the army their career #14. This was followed up by a letter published in the Eton College Chronicle on the 22nd December 1904 concerning a training scheme for Boys. Baden-Powell suggested that during the Christmas holiday each of the Eton Volunteers should bring together a small squad in their town or Village, read to them books about the Knights, and teach them:-
(1) How to aim and shoot miniature rifles; (2) How to judge distance; (3) How to Scout; (4) How to drill and skirmish, take cover etc.
Members of the squad were to sign a paper containing the following:-
(1) To fear God (2) Honour the King (3) Help the weak and distressed (4) Reverence women and be kind to children; (5) Train themselves to the use of arms for defence of their country (6) sacrifice themselves, their amusements, their property, and, if necessary, their lives for the good of their fellow-countrymen. A promise was to be made; I promise on my honour, to be loyal to the King and to back up my commander in carrying out our duty in each of the above particulars. (Each member will sign his name in the space below this.)
Baden-Powell further pointed out in the letter "If two hundred volunteers carried out this idea and each trained ten boys this Christmas, we should have 2,000 retainers trained and ready to defend their country...........I shall be very glad to hear from any boy who succeeds in getting together a squad as I should like to keep a register of these. And I would gladly come and inspect the one which attains the highest strength this winter" #15

Tim Jeal dismisses the letter as amounting to the 'first version of the later Boy Scout programme' since scouting is only mentioned 'en passant' and it omits mention of character forming properties of observation and scouting, with the main aim being that of interesting young men in rifle shooting #16. Against this view, whilst the character forming stress of Scouting was absent from the Eton scheme, the scheme was being recommended to a public school - a character forming institute. Conversely the scout scheme of 1908 was offered to form a 'esprit de corps', to impart 'how to play the game', to boys at large - all part of the public school ethos. An emphasis of the Eton scheme was indeed rifle shooting, because Baden-Powell was writing for a particular audience - the Eton Cadets. Never-the-less it was intended that the Eton cadets further the scheme in their home localities. The letter does prefigure ideas which became a part of the 1908 version of Scouting for Boys.
It opens like 'Scouting for Boys 1908' with an appeal to patriotism "There is an opening for English Public School boys to do their country a good turn" (Compare "I suppose every British boy wants to help his country in some way or other"). Items 2, 3, and 4 in the Eton scheme (3 out of 4) can all come under the heading of 'boy scouting' and scouting is not therefore 'en passant'.
In comparison 'Scouting for Boys 1908' reflects some of the emphasis on rifle shooting in Camp Fire Yarn 27 'Citizenship' which devotes a chapter to marksmanship. The imposition of a moral code, whilst not unique for Victorian or Edwardian boys clubs or societies, also prefigure the moral code for Scouts. There is no evidence that any squads were formed as a result of the letter or of an abbreviated version submitted to the 'Union Jack' boys paper and 'The Marvel' boys paper in 1905 #17.

In May 1905 Baden-Powell produced a report for the army about the value of scout training in boys organisations and it was probably this report that reminded him to produce a scheme in reply to Smith's request #18. He finally submitted a scheme to the Boys Brigade which was published in the Boys Brigade Gazette of June 1906. The scheme was directed like the Eton scheme to a particular audience and was, as requested, an adaptation of B-P's 'Aids to Scouting'. The end product for the Boys Brigade was only the equivalent of a proficiency badge subject, but lacked the seriousness of a proficiency badge, as no badge was issued for the ten part test. No further encouragement appeared in the Boys Brigade Gazette (or from the Boys Brigade headquarters) to further interest in the scheme of scout training as a result of Baden-Powell's direct submission.
The introduction of the Boys Brigade Scout Badge and Certificate in 1909, came a year after the general publication of Baden-Powell's scheme sponsored by Pearson's in 1908, and was modelled on the 2nd Class and 1st Class tests of B-P's Boy Scouts 1909 and followed in the wake of popularity of the Scout Movement. The BB Scout Badge was not a development of the 1906 scheme.

Whilst some authors may argue that the Eton scheme was not a precursor to, or an early example of, the Boy Scout scheme of 1908, what is inescapable is that both the Eton scheme and the Boys Brigade scheme were attempts by Baden-Powell to promote scouting as a means of youth work with which to encourage patriotism. Both schemes bear similar hallmarks;
a) use of scouting,
b) enjoins patriotism,
c) uses existing structures through which to promote the scheme - Eton College Cadets, The Boys Brigade,
d) Seeks a wider audience through publications - The Eton College Chronicle, Union Jack and The Marvel, The Boys Brigade Gazette.
There were differences ie. in the Boys Brigade scheme no moral code was needed - the Boys Brigade had their own 'Objects', Motto and Watchword. The Eton scheme featured rifle shooting. Training in rifle shooting did not form part of the BB programme and was not therefore included. The Eton scheme included drilling; the BB already excelled in drilling. Patriotism and an outline of a person's duty was incl