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The Brownsea Island Scout camp was a boys camping event on Brownsea Islandmarker in Poole Harbourmarker, southern England, organised by Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell to test his ideas for the book Scouting for Boys. Boys from different social backgrounds participated from 1 August to 8 August 1907 in activities around camping, observation, woodcraft, chivalry, lifesaving and patriotism. Recognised as the world's first Scout camp, the event is regarded as the real origin of the worldwide Scout movement.

Up to the early 1930s, camping by Boy Scouts continued on Brownsea Island. In 1963, a formal Scout campsite was opened by Olave Baden-Powell, when the island became a nature conservation area owned by the National Trust. In 1973, a Scout Jamboree was held on the island with 600 Scouts.

The worldwide centenary of Scouting took place at the Brownsea Island Scout camp, celebrating 1 August 2007, the 100th anniversary of the start of the first encampment. Activities by The Scout Association in the campsite include four Scout camps and a Sunrise Ceremony.


Robert Baden-Powell at Brownsea Island
General Baden-Powell had become a national hero during the Anglo-Boer War as a result of his successful defence during the Siege of Mafeking of 1899–1900. During the siege, the Mafeking Cadets, boys aged 12 to 15 who acted as messengers, had impressed him with their resourcefulness and courage. Baden-Powell had also published a number of popular books on military scouting, including Aids to Scouting for NCOs and men, published in 1899, which became a bestseller and was used by teachers and youth organisations. In the years following the war, he began discussing the idea of a new youth organisation with a number of people, including William Alexander Smith, founder of the Boys' Brigade, with whom he discussed setting up a Boys Brigade Scouting achievement. To test his ideas while writing Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell conceived of an experimental camp, and organised it to take place on Brownsea Island during the summer of 1907. He invited his life-long friend, Major Kenneth McLaren, to attend the camp as his deputy.

First Scout encampment

Site and camp organisation

Postcard of first Scout encampment, Brownsea Island, August 1907
Brownsea Island covers of woodland and open areas with two lakes. Baden-Powell had visited the site as a boy with his brothers. It perfectly suited his needs for the camp as it was isolated from the mainland and hence the press, but only a short ferry trip from the town of Poole, making the logistics easier. The owner, Charles van Raalte, was happy to offer him use of the site.

Baden-Powell invited boys from different social backgrounds to the camp, a revolutionary idea in class-conscious Edwardian England. Eleven came from the well-to-do public schools of Etonmarker and Harrowmarker, mostly sons of friends of Baden-Powell. Seven came from the Bournemouthmarker Boys' Brigade, and three from the Poolemarker Boys' Brigade. Baden-Powell's nine year old nephew Donald Baden-Powell also attended. The camp fee was dependent on means: £1 for the public school boys, and three shillings and sixpence for the others. The boys were arranged into four patrols: Wolves, Ravens, Bulls and Curlews.

The question of how many boys attended the camp has been one that has been disputed. Baden-Powell, in an article in The Scout (1908), Sir Percy Everett in The First Ten Years (1948) and Rover Word (1936) and E. E. Reynolds in The Scout Movement (1950) all gave a list of 20 boys in 5 patrols with Baden-Powell young nephew, Donald Baden-Powell, as camp orderly. However, William Hillcourt in Two Lives of a Hero (1964) added the forth Rodney brother, Simon Rodney and later supported this by evidence from the oldest Rodney brother, then the 8th Baron Rodney. The reasons why Simon Rodney was not listed by the other authors is not clear, but the whole story giving evidence that he was present, as the 6th member of the Curlews Patrol, is given by Colin Walker.

As this was the first Boy Scouting event, the boys did not have uniform shirts, but they did wear khaki scarves and were presented with brass fleur-de-lis badges, the first use of the Scout emblem. They also wore a coloured knot on their shoulder indicating their patrol: green for Bulls, blue for Wolves, yellow for Curlews, and red for Ravens. The patrol leader carried a staff with a flag depicting the patrol animal. After passing tests on knots, tracking, and the national flag, they were given another brass badge, a scroll with the words Be Prepared, to wear below the fleur-de-lis.


Robert Baden-Powell with future Scouts on Brownsea Island
Site of the tent camping area on Brownsea Island
The camp began with a blast from a kudu horn Baden-Powell had captured in the Matabele campaign. He used the same kudu horn to open the Coming of Age Jamboree 22 years later in 1929. Baden-Powell made full use of his personal fame as the hero of the Siege of Mafeking. For many of the participants, the highlights of the camp were his campfire yarns of his African experiences, and the Zulu "Ingonyama" chant, meaning "he is a lion".

Each patrol camped in an army bell tent. The day began at 6:00 a.m., with cocoa, exercises, flag break and prayers, followed by breakfast at 8:00 a.m. Then followed the morning exercise of the subject of the day, as well as bathing, if deemed necessary. After lunch there was a strict siesta (no talking allowed), followed by the afternoon activity based on the subject of the day. At 5:00 p.m. the day ended with games, supper, campfire yarns and prayers. Turning in for the night was compulsory for every patrol at 9:00 p.m., regardless of age.

Each day was based on a different theme:
Day 1

(1 August)
Preliminary Formation of patrols, distribution of duties, special instruction for Patrol Leaders, settle into camp.
Day 2 Campaigning Camping skills, building huts, knots, fire lighting, cooking, health and sanitation, endurance
Day 3 Observation Tracking, memorising details, deducing meaning from tracks and signs, training eyesight.
Day 4 Woodcraft Study of animals and birds, plants, stars, stalking animals.
Day 5 Chivalry Honour, code of the knights, unselfishness, courage, charity, thrift, loyalty, chivalry to women. Doing a "Good Turn" daily.
Day 6 Saving a life From fire, drowning, sewer gas, runaway horses, panic, street accidents etc. First Aid.
Day 7 Patriotism History and deeds that won the Empire, our Navy and Army, flags, duties as citizens, marksmanship.
Day 8 Conclusion Summary of the course, sports day

The participants left by ferry on the 9th day, 9 August 1907. Baden-Powell considered the camp successful. The camp ended with a financial deficit of just over £24, with total expenditure of the camp at £55, two shillings, and eight pence. The deficit was cleared by Saxon Noble, whose two sons Marc and Humphrey had attended.

Legacy and commemoration

Sign that marks Baden-Powell's campsite
Stone on Brownsea Island commemorating the first Scout camp
Following the successful camp, Baden-Powell went on an extensive speaking tour arranged by his publisher, Pearsons, to promote the forthcoming Scouting for Boys, which began the Scout movement. It initially appeared as six fortnightly installments, beginning in January 1908, and later appeared in book form. Scouting began to spread throughout Great Britain and Ireland, then through the countries of the British Empire, and soon to the rest of the world.

A reunion of the original campers was held in 1928 at the Chief Scout's home at Pax Hillmarker in Hampshire. A commemorative stone by sculptor Don Potter was unveiled in 1967. It is located near the encampment area.

In May 2000, twenty trees were planted, one for each boys who attended. During the planting ceremony, the Scout Chief Commissioner for England, along with representatives of the Scouts and the Guides, planted the trees on the seaward side of the original site. The trees were designed to act as a permanent memorial to the camp, as well as providing a series of future wind breaks against coastal winds.

To give homage to the island the Okaw Valley Council named their NYLT program "Brownsea".

Campsite history

From 1927 to 2000

Scout signpost on Brownsea Island
After the death of Charles van Raalte in 1907 his wife Florence stayed on Brownsea until 1925, Mrs. Mary Bonham-Christie bought the island at auction in 1927. In 1932, Bonham-Christie allowed 500 Scouts to camp there to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Scouting, but shortly afterwards she closed the island to the public and it became very overgrown. In 1934, some Sea Scouts were camping on the island when a fire broke out. Mrs. Bonham-Christie blamed the Sea Scouts, although the fire did not start where the Sea Scouts were camping. The fire engulfed most of the island, burning west to east. The eastern buildings were only saved by a subsequent change in wind direction. No one really knows who started the fire, but Scouts were not allowed to camp on the island again until after her death in 1961. Bonham-Christie left the island a significant tax debt to her grandson, who could not pay the taxes. Fearing the island would be bought by developers, interested citizens raised an endowment and the government allowed the National Trust to take control of the island using this endowment in 1962.

The island was reopened to the public in 1963 by Lady Baden-Powell when it came under the control of the National Trust, which has since then continuously maintained the island as a conservation area which is popular site with visitors: including Scouts, Guides, and the general public. Soon after the National Trust took over the island in 1964, near this original campsite were set aside for Scout and Guide camping. In 1973, a Jamboree was held on the island for 600 Scouts from seven nations, along with one of the original campers, aged 81.

After 2000

Scouting and Girl Guide flags in St Marys Church
The campsite is compartmentalised, with the memorial stone, shop, flags, destination signs, all in one area on the south-west corner of the island. Radiating off from this are many small camp zones, perhaps a dozen acres each, surrounded by trees and fences. The area set aside for camping now covers and there is room for between 300 and 400 campers on the site. The Scout campsite and parts of the island have been cleared, and Scouts have been able to camp there since 1964.

The National Trust maintains the Scout and Guide campsite, South Shore Lodge and the Baden-Powell Outdoor Centre where members of Brownsea Island Scout Fellowship and Friends of Guiding, Brownsea Island operate a small trading post. The Baden-Powell Outdoor Centre was opened on 14 September 2007. It contains a new camp reception, new washrooms and toilet facilities. The centre also hosts a small Scouting museum.The altar of St. Mary's Church (about from the camp) is lined with a Scout and a Guide flag. In 2007, to coincide with the Scouting centenary, about 40 new kneelers or hassocks were given to the church, decorated with the 21 World Scout Jamboree badges and other Scouting, Guiding and island badges . It is often used for services during large camps. Baden-Powell and his wife are buried in Kenya, there is no memorial to them in the Church.

Brownsea Island is generally open to the public from March to October, via ferry from Poole. By exception, the island was reserved for Scouts and Scouters on 1 August 2007 during the Sunrise Camp. The National Trust is operating a number of events throughout the summer months including guided tours, trails and activities in the visitor centre.

Scouts and Guides often do an "act of duty" whilst on the island; often this involves cutting back the rhodedendron added by a previous owner of the island, maintaining the Baden-Powell Outdoor centre by stacking rhodedendron in the wood-piles or raking the dead leaves, twigs and pine-needles from underneath pine trees so more plants that red squirrels eat can grow.

Centenary of Scouting

Since March 2006, travel packages have been available for Scouts to camp on the island, while Scout and Guide groups can also book day activities. To celebrate one hundred years of Scouting, four camps are organised on the island by The Scout Association during July/August.
  • The Patrol Leaders Camp, ran from 26 until 28 July 2007, was the first of the four camps and involved Scouts from the United Kingdom in activities such as sea kayaking.
  • The Replica Camp was a living history and recreation of the original 1907 experimental camp on Brownsea Island for visitors to the island. It ran from 28 July to 3 August 2007, parallel to the other camps.
  • The Sunrise Camp (29 July to 1 August 2007) hosted over 300 Scouts from nearly every country in the world. The young people traveled from the World Scout Jamboree in Hylands Parkmarker, Essex to Brownsea Island to be at this landmark of Scouting on 1 August 2007 for the Sunrise Ceremony. At 8am, Scouts all over the world renewed their Scout promise, the focus was to make the world a better and more peaceful place.
  • Finally, the New Centenary Camp (1 until 4 August 2007) hosted Scouts from both the United Kingdom and abroad, celebrating the start of the second century for Scouting. Scouts from all backgrounds and religions came together to show the world that peace is possible in the same way that Baden-Powell brought together boys from different classes for the first camp back in 1907.

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