History

Brownsea Island has a fascinating history © B. Whitlock

Brownsea Island has a fascinating history

History and mystery of Brownsea Island

'I had no idea I had such a delightful spot in my kingdom,' exclaimed the Prince Regent after a trip to Brownsea in 1818.

For a small island, it's had a remarkably varied history: military stronghold; industrial site; refuge for wildlife and Edwardian society. It has been pillaged by Viking raiders and blitzed by Nazi bombers.

People that shaped Brownsea

  • William Benson known as 'Mad' Benson
  • Sir Humphrey Sturte
  • Colonel William Petrie Waugh and his wife Mary
  • Hon George Cavendish-Bentinck
  • Major Kenneth Balfour
  • Van Raalte family
  • Mrs Mary Bonham-Christie

People leave and wildlife flourishes

Stunning heather on Brownsea Island

In 1927 Brownsea was sold to Mrs Mary Bonham-Christie for £125,000. She lived a very reclusive life. Most of the estate workers made a sad return to the mainland and the island gradually reverted back to nature. 

Did you know?

  • In the 9th century a hermit lived on the island
  • A small salt and fishing community lived here in the medieval era
  • Control of Brownsea passed from Cerne Abbey to Henry VIII
  • In the 1870s the island was used as a model farm
  • Daffodils were grown on the island and sent to Covent Garden
  • During the 1920s there was an island community band
Guides looking at Brownsea Island scout stone © Vikki-Gridley-Haack

Guides looking at Brownsea Island scout stone

Scouting and Guiding

The adventure started in 1907 and continues today. From the first experimental camp Scouting and Guiding has grown. We welcome thousands of young people to the island every year from all over the world. Visit the Outdoor Centre and Trading Post to find out more.

Plenty to explore in our online collections © John Hammond

Plenty to explore in our online collections

See our collections online

Brownsea Island holds a rich collection of artefacts and some can be explored online. See our collections along with many more items owned by the National Trust across the UK.

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