Robert Baden-Powell held the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island, Dorset, in 1907, and established the movement formally the next year. Lieutenant Colonel David Cossgrove wrote to Baden-Powell, with whom he had served during the South African War, asking for permission to organise scouting in New Zealand. The first troop was established at Kaiapoi, Canterbury, in July 1908 – one of the first outside Britain. Scouting grew quickly into the country’s largest youth organisation, aided by schoolteachers, churchmen and civic leaders supportive of youth citizenship training.
When Scouting arrived in New Zealand in 1908 one commentator was not enamoured of the militaristic youth movement: ‘Let Mars seduce the boy. Let the bloodstained god of war blast the boy’s fraternalism and flaunt in his soul the cheap aspirations of a proud-strutting, gilt-braided butcher, afire with desire for bloody deeds. A Boy Scout is an incipient assassin, a budding jingo, a germinating butcher of men – a boy being transformed into a blood lusting fool and tool to serve in the great class struggle as an iron fist for the employer class against the working class’1
The Scouts’ motto was ‘Be prepared’. Baden-Powell’s father was an Anglican priest and ‘the Scout promise’, the basis of membership, required religious belief. Scouts carried staves – an uncomplimentary early term for them was ‘broomstick warriors’. Their first hats were hand-me-downs from the military cadets, but these were soon replaced by felt ‘lemon-squeezers’ as worn by Baden-Powell. Uniforms were khaki and a cotton scarf was also worn. Initially this was secured with a knot, but from the 1920s it was threaded through a piece of tubing called a woggle. In the 1960s the lemon-squeezer hat was replaced by a beret.
Scouts was initially for boys aged 11 to 18, but younger boys wanted to join. In a master stroke of branding Baden-Powell got permission from Rudyard Kipling to use characters from his Jungle book to appeal to the younger boys. Scouts aged 8 to 12 were called Wolf Cubs or Cubs.
‘Wide games’ were planned games that took place over a wide expanse of territory, and often over a period of hours. They could involve treasure hunts, tracking exercises and strategic decision making. Their purpose, apart from fun for the participants, was to put into practice the lessons learned in den activities, reinforcing the principle of Scouting as a hands-on outdoor movement. Bob-a-job weeks, when Scouts earned money for tasks, and bottle and paper drives raised funds and displayed active citizenship.
‘Dyb, dyb, dyb’
The Cubmaster was called ‘Akela’ and the group of Cubs was a ‘pack’. The Cub’s motto was ‘Do Your Best’. A pack meeting’s opening and closing was marked by a Grand Howl, where boys pretended to be wolf cubs. The motto was also shortened to a peculiar chant: ‘dyb dyb dyb’ (do your best) and ‘dob dob dob’ (do our best).
In 1965 there were 42,000 members of Scouts spread over 850 groups. A new junior section, Keas, aimed at boys and girls six to seven years old, was added in the 1970s. Girl members were trialled in scout groups from 1976, and were eligible to join in every stage of Scouting from 1989.
In 2017 there were 15,476 youth members of Scouts - 24% were female. Scouting New Zealand had a goal of reaching 25,000 members by 2025. In 2016 the Scout promise was translated into Māori for the first time.
The first Sea Scouts troop was established in Auckland in 1912. When Baden-Powell visited the country in 1931 he was disappointed at the small number of Sea Scout troops, given New Zealand’s fine harbours. A 1963 regatta in Auckland hosted 760 scouts from 42 troops, and in 1987 there were 29 Sea Scout troops in Auckland alone. In 2016 Auckland had 20 Sea Scout groups and there were six in Wellington.
Girl Peace Scouts
David Cossgrove and his wife Selina also developed a girls’ scouting model in 1908, two years before the formation of Girl Guides in Britain. Girl Peace Scouts (aged 12 to 20) were closely modelled on Baden-Powell’s Scouts. The emphasis was on being active, but ladylike enough to allay public and parental concerns. They wore long khaki dresses, hats turned up at the sides, carried staves and always had a bugler. Their badge was a fleur-de-lis and their motto was ‘Be Always Ready’. Fairy Scouts catered for younger girls, who wore white dresses with sailor coats. Their troop leader was a Fairy Scout Mistress complete with wand. Their motto was ‘Be True’.
In 1923 Girl Peace Scouts became part of the global Girl Guides movement, swapping their khaki uniforms for navy blue ones, and Fairy Scouts became Brownies. Like the Scouts, Guides were encouraged to hike, learn ju-jitsu, develop their tracking skills, and gain badges in topics such as New Zealand flora and fauna, and lifesaving. While the movement’s long-term goals were good citizenship and public service, the emphasis was on fun at weekly meetings and rigorous outdoor activities.
Girl Guides’ membership doubled to 18,000 between 1946 and 1956, and by 1965 there were 33,198. In the 1980s Guiding introduced a new junior section, Pippins, for 5–6-year-old girls. In 2016, 10,299 girls aged 5-17 participated in guiding.