The birthplace of Scouting and Guiding

On 1 August 1907, 20 boys pitched their tents on Brownsea Island, little realizing how important and far-reaching their week would be. Lord Baden-Powell’s (1857-1941) experimental camp, based on scouting skills observed during the Boer War (1899-1902), set the foundation of today’s worldwide Scouting and Guiding movements.

The first camp

The Siege of Mafeking (October 1899- May 1902) turned Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell into a household name in Britain. During the siege, Baden-Powell had been impressed by the courage and resourcefulness of the Mafeking Cadet Corps – a group of boys who supported the troops by carrying messages and helping in the hospital. Baden-Powell wanted to introduce some of the scouting and military skills he had seen in South Africa to boys back in Britain. He was keen to hold an experimental camp to test out some of his ideas. When Charles van Raalte invited him to hold the camp on Brownsea, he agreed.

Baden-Powell valued the outdoors, nature, ethics and practical skills. He planned his eight-day camp to reflect this. The boys who attended were from mixed backgrounds: ten were from the Boys Brigades in Poole and Bournemouth and ten were from public schools.

The activities the boys took part in included:

  • Tracking, fire lighting, cooking and observation
  • Studying birds, animals, plants and the stars
  • Sessions on loyalty, courage, unselfishness, charity and thrift

During the week-long camp, the boys learnt how to cook, look after themselves and work together as part of a team. Adventure, learning by doing and self-reliance were at the heart of the Brownsea Island camp. In the evenings, Baden-Powell inspired the boys with campfire ‘yarns’. The camp was a great success and its legacy lives on today. It is recognised by Scouts worldwide as official start of the Scouting Movement.

Testing teamwork and courage at the experimental Brownsea Island camp, August 1907.
Scouting and Guiding
Testing teamwork and courage at the experimental Brownsea Island camp, August 1907.

After the camp

Soon after the camp, Baden-Powell published his book ‘Scouting for Boys’ (1908). Intended as advice for existing groups, such as the Boys’ Brigade, it quickly became the handbook for a new movement that spread worldwide to become Scouting and Guiding that we know today.

In 1910, with the help of sister Agnes, Girl Guiding was launched to meet the increasing demand from girls who wanted to join in. By the time Baden-Powell died in 1941, the Scout Movement had grown into an international organisation. In 1908 it had 108,000 members. Today there are over 40 million Scouts and 10 million Guides across the world.

Charles van Raalte died in 1908, but his wife, Florence, stayed on Brownsea until 1925 when the island passed to Mary Bonham-Christie. In 1932 Mary allowed a Scout camp of 500 people to celebrate the movement’s silver jubilee, but there were no more camps until after the National Trust took ownership in 1963. Lady Baden-Powell officially ‘re-opened’ Brownsea Island and the camp area was cleared ready for use.

In 1967 a commemorative stone was erected near the campsite. It remains a popular site for enrolments and investitures today.

The Scout Stone, Brownsea Island, Dorset
The Scout Stone, Brownsea Island, Dorset
The Scout Stone, Brownsea Island, Dorset

Sampling the Scouting life today

After the National Trust re-opened the island in 1963, regular camps began to take place. Today, thousands of Scouts and Guides come to the island every year to celebrate their scouting heritage and test their outdoor skills. The Outdoor Centre is located near the site of Baden-Powell’s experimental camp and is the perfect place for your very own adventure – from spending the night under the stars to fun outdoor activities.

Why not drop by and look at the Scouting and Guiding displays at the Trading Post. You can learn about Baden-Powell’s legacy and pick up a memento of your visit, including badges and postcards.

The Brownsea Island Outdoor Centre
Outdoor Centre
The Brownsea Island Outdoor Centre

Overnight adventures

With a large campsite and bunkhouse, everyone can have a unique experience at the Outdoor Centre. So why not start planning your overnight adventure today and learn to live like a true Scout.

Camping at Brownsea Island
Camping at Brownsea Island
Camping at Brownsea Island