Scouting Through History


Brownsea Camp

A) Antecedents:

The ideas that matured in Scouting for Boys (1908) did not spring up suddenly in B-P´s mind; they were the result of some years of thought and observation. it is possible to trace back to his own boyhood the various influences that helped to shape his scheme for the training of boys; here it is only necessary to indicate some of the steps that inmediately preceded the making of the first plan.

  1. B-P´s small handbook for soldiers, Aids to Scouting, was published in November 1899, when he was already besieged in Mafeking. To his surprise, B-P found on his return to England in 1901 that his little book had given suggestions to teachers for new ways of doing their work.
  2. B-P´s position as a national hero, specially in the eyes of boys, after Mafeking resulted in many letters asking for advice; from individuals and from boys´ clubs.
  3. these two lines converged when he made his first contact with the Boys´ Brigade.
The importance of this third influence urged B-P to rewrite his Soldiers´ Scout Training book for boys. His first scheme was published in The Boy´ Brigade Gazette in june 1906.

Five months after publishing these suggestions B-P met Ernest Thompson Seton, the success of Seton´s Woodcraft Indians confirmed B-P in his opinion that backwoods life had an irresistible appeal for boys.

When writting Scouting for Boys, he wanted to test his ideas before completing his scheme. So the camp at Brownsea was planed, under 29th July in his diary he entered the fact "Go into camp".

B) Brownsea Island Camp:

It should be remembered that the camp on Brownsea Island was an experimental one; we must not expect to find there all the characteristics that now distinguish a Boy Scout camp from other types of camp. It is surprising, however, how many of the fully developed activities and methods are to be found in use at that first camp.

Brownsea Island is in Poole Harbour, about twenty miles west of the isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. The island is about a mile and a half in length and some three quarters of a mile wide. It is well wooded, with healthy clearings towards the center. An empty cottage on the shore is a landmark still for those who visit the site.  (2012 article update:  The empty cottage is now gone.  In 2011, a flagpole and notice about the 1907 camp were put into place to commemorate Brownsea Island Camp.)

B-P decided that he wanted a mixed company of boys to see how they would get on together; so he formed his party out of sons of his own friends and some boys selected by the Boy´s Brigade officers of Poole and Bournemouth.

In a long letter to the parents of the boys he invited, B-P described the scheme of training he proposed to follow at the camp: this was under the headings of Woodcraft, Observation, Discipline, Health and Endurance, Chivalry, Saving Life, and Patriotism. He gave the daily timetable with list of the personal equipment each boy would need.

News of the camp had gone about, and the newspapers were soon looking for copy, but B-P put them off.

One newspaper did publish a description of the camp site, but the facts for this were gathered before the camp had really opened. A few of boys had arrived, and with B-P and Major Maclaren were helpėng to pich the tents. These were bell tents; this was the almost the only type available at that time and for some years to come. Scouting and the rising interest in camping helped to make the ridge tent know.

Each patrol had its own tent. The boys did not wear an uniform; some who came from public schools wore similar clothes. they did, however, have Patrol shoulder knots of coloured wool: blue (Wolves), green ( Bulls), yellow (Curlews) and red (Ravens). Each Patrol Leader had a flag with the animal represented on it.

Each boy was given a brass fleur-de-lys badge which was fastened on to his coat; when he had passed a few tests ( knots, tracking, the Flag) he was given another brass badge to fasten below the first, a scroll with the words "Be Prepared" on it. Kaki scarves were also issued.

The daily programme was as follows:

6:00 a.m.Turn out, air bedding, milk and biscuits
6:30 a.m. Exercises
7:00 a.m. Notices of day´s activities with demonstrations
7:30 a.m. Clean camp
7:55 a.m. Parade. Flag break followed by Prayers. Breakfast
9:00 a.m. Scouting practices
12 noon Bathing
12:30 p.m. Lunch
1-2:15 p.m. Rest
2:30 p.m. Scouting practices
5:00 p.m. Tea
6:00 p.m. Camp games
7:15 p.m. Rub down and change
8:00 p.m. Supper
8:15 p.m. Campfire yarns. Short exercises ( breathing,atc.)
9:15 p.m. Prayers
9:30 p.m. Turn in. Lights out.


B-P used the Koodoo horn (captured in Matabeland in 1896) to rouse the camp and for signals; several shorts notes meant "Rally"; a long call meant "Ready". This horn was sounded by B-P at the opening of the Coming of Age Jamboree in 1929.

The exercises used morning and evening were simple ones rather on the lines of those given in Scouting for Boys.

Bathing included water games and the use of two boats.

The rest after lunch was strictly enforced.

The campfire yarns were mostly of B-P´s own adventures, many of them were incorporated in Scouting for Boys. No one recalls tha they did any singing other than the Eengonyâma Zulu chant.

B-P was very keen on getting the boys accustomed to night conditions; hence the night picket, when B-P himself might try to get into the camp from outside the boundaries. One day he told the boys that he was going to "invade" the island and they were to stop him. As he passed under a big tree, a command "Halt" came from above, and there was Donald B-P, who thus had the distinction of capturing his uncle. B-P used this incident as a good example of the wisdom of looking up as well as around.

There were various competitions, some between the Patrols and some for an individual price. Thus a prize was given for the best collection of leaves of trees with their names. Another was given for observation tests. Many different practices and competitions in observation were carried out; indeed B-P seems to have put most stress in the training on observation, tracking, stalking and similar forms of Scouting.

On a whole day each patrol went off on its own with uncooked rations, and had to look after itself, knowing that, at some time during the expedition, they would come under B-P´s observation. They had previously had practice in making fires and in making dampers. For this last job they had been taught to mix the dough on the insides of their jackets. This evidently appealed to them, for one of the survivors recalled that on his return home he started to do this, but had to stop owing to his mother´s strong and understable objections!.

In some notes, B-P said: " The troop of boys was divided up into "Patrols" of five, the senior boy in each being Patrol Leader. This organization was the secret of our success. Each patrol Leader was given full responsability for the behaviour of his Patrol at all times, in camp and in the field. The Patrol was the unit to work or play, and each patrol was camped in a separate spot. The boys were put "on their honour" to carry out orders. Responsability and competitive rivalry were thus at once established, and a good standard of development was ensured throughout the Troop from day to day. The troop was trained progressively in the subjects of Scouting.......We found the best way of imparting theoretical instruction was to give it out in short instalments with ample illustrative examples when sitting around the campfire or otherwise resting, and with demonstrations in the practice hour before breakfast.

The practice was then carried out in competitions and schemes.

Discipline was very satisfactory indeed. A "court of honour" was instituted to try any offenders against discipline, but it was never needed. In the first place the boys were put 'On their honour' to do their best; in the second place, the seniors boys were made responsible for the behaviour of the boys forming their patrol. And this working perfectly well."

In his draft report he noted how easily boys of such contrasted social conditions had mixed. This experience impressed him deeply; out of it grew the basic idea of the fourth Scout Law.

C) After Brownsea:

The camp gave B-P confidence that he was working on the right lines. he had gained support of Mr. Arthur Pearson, the publisher; an office was provided and plans made for issuing Scouting for Boys, for a weekly paper The Scout , and for public meetings at which B-P could explain his scheme.

B-P left Mill House on 6th january 1908, and the first of the six fortnightly parts of Scouting for Boys was published this month.

On 29th March he received the proofs of the first issue of The Scout weekly paper; during that year it reached a circulation of 110,000.

The diary for 1908 has the entry under 16th May:

"Inspected Boy Scouts at Wimbledon".

This is the first recorded inspection the Chief Scout carried out, and it seems a suitable date at which to break off the story of what happened "after Brownsea", a story that is still in progress.

From a writting by E.E. Reynolds in the Magazine "Jamboree" in August 1947

Contributed by: Carlos Rodriguez, Wood Badge Scouter, Venezuela

More information about the first Brownsea Island experience including a list of patrol members

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