Boy Scouts

Although Cranbrookians had in the past belonged to outside troops, Scouts were established at Cranbrook in 1933, at the instigation of the then Headmaster, Brigadier-General Mackay.1 The Headmaster was a keen Army man, having fought in WWI and still belonging to the Militia while he was at Cranbrook.2

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, also excelled in war, having scouted for the British Army in the late nineteenth century.3 On returning to England in 1903, Baden-Powell became interested in using skills of army scouts as youth training. He wrote about military scouts in Aids to Scouting, before developing his ideas about Boy Scouts while reading Ernest Thompson Seton’s book, The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians. Seton believed that “outdoor life” was “essential to the [American] national wellbeing.4

Very much a proponent of the outdoor life himself, and inspired by Seton’s book, Baden-Powell set up an experimental camp for 20 boys at Dorset in 1907.5 He published Scouting for Boys in 1908, and it would later become one of the highest selling books of the twentieth century.6 It would also become the basis for a worldwide Boy Scouts movement that shaped the childhood experiences of many during that century, including nearly 40 years of Cranbrookians, from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.7

The first Boy Scout Group at Cranbrook began quietly in the first term of 1933, with The Cranbrookian reporting that “were it not for an occasional announcement by the Headmaster and the sight of middle-school boys juggling with lengths of rope”, one would scarcely know the Troop had formed.8 By the second term, however, it had picked up momentum, with its membership swelling to 24. This was the maximum number that staff could handle at the time, with quite a few more on the waiting list.9

The first Troop Camp was held in September, and by the end of that year, the Boy Scouts at Cranbrook were eagerly anticipating a reported visit to Australia in 1934 by the now Lord Baden-Powell, who held the position of “Chief Scout of the World”.10 One of the interesting facts about Boy Scouts is that its famous motto, “Be Prepared”, was invented by Baden-Powell to coincide with his initials, BP.11

The Cranbrook Boy Scouts would later have their hope fulfilled, seeing Baden-Powell at their first Jamboree held in Frankston, Victoria. It was also Australia’s first Jamboree.1212,500 people representing 19 countries were there, including 20 members of the Cranbrook Boy Scout Troop, along with three Patrol leaders additionally led by their Scout Master, Mr Palmer. Recounting the experience in The Cranbrookian in 1935, they describe how they caught a train from Central on 26 December 1934, along with 1,200 other Scouts, and sleeping in relays, arrived at “the canvas city” the following day.13

The camp was a novel and exciting experience for the boys, being entirely self-contained and encompassing a “cosmopolitan” population of the entire 12,500. It had “its own system of roads; its own electric light and water supplies, its own government, its own shops, post office, banks, telephone exchange, picture theatre, daily newspaper, hospital, museums, fire brigade, churches, sports grounds, camp fire arenas, and police force, whose main duty was to see that the curfew had been obeyed, and to control traffic.” 14

The Boy Scout Group arrived back from their first “Jam” entirely inspired, but they would see their group put under pressure that year by a change in policy to move all boys who qualified in age to the Cadets. By the final term, they had drastically reduced to just three experienced Scouts. As a result, the Patrol System, which Mr Palmer noted was “the very keystone of Scouting”, was suspended temporarily in 1935.15 The Boy Scout Group would gradually build its numbers through the late 1930s, but it would continue to remain small due to Cadets taking precedence for older boys.

The Scouts movement had had a close alignment with the military since its inception. It was believed to socialise boys and to train them in self-reliance until they were old enough to join the Army Cadets. A Scout in the Army, as the founder of the Scouts movement explained to his readers in 1908, was “generally a soldier who is chosen for his cleverness and pluck to go out in front of an army in war to find out where the enemy are, and report to the commander all about them”. Outside times of war, Scouts were “men who in peacetime carry out work which requires the same kind of abilities”. These were “the frontiersmen of all parts” of the British Empire, as Baden-Powell described them, including the drovers and bushmen in Australia.16

Boy Scout Troops were in some ways modelled on the Army, with patrols, corporals, patrol leaders, and half and full salutes. The Scouts’ emblem had also been copied from the badge of the scout in the Army. This was an arrowhead to represent north on a map or a compass.17 But even though Boy Scouts prepared a boy for Army Cadets, in other ways it had a broader scope. A Scout was charged with a duty “to be useful and to help others”.  He was also “a friend to all,” “polite to all”, “a friend to animals”, and he also had to do ‘a good turn’ every day.18

The arrival of the Second World War diminished the capacity of the Boy Scouts at Cranbrook, as it did with the Cadets, because of the loss of equipment, staff, and rationing in general. They ‘soldiered on', helping with national emergency work in the war effort.19 The numbers of Boy Scouts would once again climb after WWII, with The Cranbrookian reporting that more Patrols were added in 1948, and overall numbers swelling to 70.20 At the time, boys in the Main School were required to belong to either Scouts or Cadets as part of their education.

The Sea Scout Troop formed in 1949 for boys over fifteen years, with school historian A C Child describing them in the late 1960s as “probably the best section of the [Boy Scout] Group in any stage of its history, developing a firm spirit fostered by practical boating and a very high standard of efficiency”. One example of the Sea Scouts’ self-reliance in 1950 was “ferrying all equipment and personnel two miles from the road to the camp site” for the Boy Scouts Camp held at Ku-ring-ai Chase.21 The Scouts Group was at its peak that year, with 120 boys in the Scout Group: “30 cubs, 55 scouts, 14 sea scouts, 10 senior scouts, and 11 rovers”.22

Numbers of Scouts gradually declined during the 1950s, however, and by 1957 there were just 25 boys in the Group. In 1958, they converted entirely to a Sea Scout Group. But in 1961, having struggled for a few years to “gain experience on the water”, they reverted again to land Scouts.23 At the same time and filling a gap for water skills, the Adventure Group began, its activities including kayak-building and lifesaving.24 (This Adventure Group was one of the precursors to Cranbrook in the Field; see further here.) The Scout numbers remained modest compared to past standards, with A C Child reporting a total of 30 in 1969.25The Cranbrookian reported an “immediate need” at the end of 1972 to increase Scouts members.26

Instead, they disbanded in 1973. This was no doubt influenced by the wider context of a global economic downturn, a recession in the country at the time, and the new federal government in 1973 “slicing $84,000 from Cranbrook’s annual income”. (Despite all this, the School Council was keen to push ahead with an ambitious development plan over the next 25 years.27) Hence the Scouts at Cranbrook stopped there. Elsewhere they continued, however, reaching their centenary in Australia in 2008. And although times have changed, the Scouts remain the largest youth development organisation in the country as well as around the world.28

  • 1. The fact that boys had belonged to outside troops in the past was noted by the Headmaster in the Prize Day Address, recorded in The Cranbrookian, May 1934, Vol. 14, No. 3, p. 7.
  • 2. The Militia was what Australia then called its Army Reserve.  
  • 3. He had specialised in map-making, scouting and reconnaissance: “Feature Article: Scouting – Developing Leaders of Tomorrow”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1301.0 – Yearbook Complete, 2008, p. 2, accessed online at, extracted 31 January 2018.
  • 4. Ernest Thompson Seton, The Birch-Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, Containing their Constitution, Laws, Games, and Deeds, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1907 (1906), p. 2.
  • 5. David Smith, “Scouts uncool? Not in my book”, The Observer, 22 April 2007, accessed online in The Guardian Australia edition,, extracted 31 January 2018. 
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Australia was one of the first countries to adopt scouting, with many groups formed by the end of 1908 when Baden-Powell’s book was published. By 1922, a Federal Council of Scout Groups had been established. See “Feature Article: Scouting”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008, p. 3.
  • 8. “Boy Scout Group”, The Cranbrookian, May 1933, Vol. 13, No. 3, p. 15. These early articles about the Boy Scout Group in The Cranbrookian were written by the Scout Master and have a fun tone. It is possible that he was deliberately being modest, as A C Child notes that the Troop had already made its first Guard of Honour by Speech Day in 1933: A C Child, Cranbrook, The First Fifty Years, 1918 – 1968, Sydney: Waite and Bull, 1969, p. 219. The Guard of Honour was also mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald’s report of the day; see “Cranbrook School, Founders’ Day Celebration”, in The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 1933, p. 17.
  • 9. “The Scout Group”, The Cranbrookian, May 1933, Vol. 15, No. 1, p. 8.
  • 10. Baden-Powell “was acclaimed Chief Scout of the World at the first World Jamboree in London, England in 1920.” The Cranbrookian writer had initially thought, when he wrote the article in 1933, that the visit would be in 1935; it was eventually held in December 1934.  See “The Scout Group”, The Cranbrookian, Dec 1933, Vol. 14, No. 2, p. 11; also, “Feature Article: Scouting”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008, p. 3.
  • 11. Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys: a handbook for instruction in good citizenship, the original 1908 edition, edited with an introduction and notes by Elleke Boehmer, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004 (1908), p. 37.
  • 12. “Feature Article: Scouting”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008, p. 4, 13.
  • 13. “The Scout Troop”, The Cranbrookian, May 1935, Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 18.
  • 14. “The Scout Troop”, The Cranbrookian, May 1935. The account is worth reading in full, as it is written engagingly and describes the experience in detail.  
  • 15. “The Boy Scout Troop”, The Cranbrookian, September 1935, Vol. 16, No. 1, p. 9.
  • 16. Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys, p. 13.
  • 17. Ibid, p. 34.
  • 18. Ibid, p. 45. Scouting was, “in a word”, as Baden-Powell put it then, “a school of citizenship through woodcraft”; see p. 2. By woodcraft, Baden-Powell had meant camping and outdoor pursuits. Scout training as he described it in his book included observation and tracking in the bush, camping and survival skills, and lifesaving skills.
  • 19. A C Child, Cranbrook, The First Fifty Years, p. 219.
  • 20. “The Scout Group”, The Cranbrookian, December 1948, Vol. 19, No. 2, p. 8.
  • 21. A C Child, Cranbrook, The First Fifty Years, p. 220.
  • 22. A C Child, Cranbrook, The First Fifty Years, p. 220.
  • 23. “Scout Notes”, The Cranbrookian, May 1961, Vol. 42, No.3, p. 11.
  • 24. “The Adventure Group”, The Cranbrookian, May 1961, p. 15.
  • 25. A C Child, Cranbrook, The First Fifty Years, p. 220.
  • 26. “Scouts”, The Cranbrookian, December 1972, p. 30.
  • 27. David Thomas and Mark McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory: Cranbrook School, 1918 – 1993, Sydney: Playright Publishing, pp. 159 – 160.
  • 28. This was noted in “Feature Article: Scouting”, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008, p. 1,.