B-P’s Mother

Henrietta Grace Baden-Powell

Throughout his life, B-P kept up an extensive correspondence with his mother. His letters, many illustrated with sketches and drawings, provide one of the major sources about his life and career.

Henrietta Grace Baden-Powell was born Henrietta Grace Smyth in 1824 and died in 1914. Baden-Powell wrote of his mother’s influence in Lessons from the Varsity of Life, 1933:

My Mother

The whole secret of my getting on lay with my mother. How that wonderful woman managed to bring us all up, so that none of us did badly; and how she did not kill herself with the anxiety and strain I do not know and cannot understand. Not only did she, though a poor widow, feed, clothe and educate us, but she found time to do other work in the world particularly as one of the founders of the Girls’ High School Movement, which has done so much for our womanhood to-day. It was her influence that guided me through life more than any precepts or discipline that I may have learned at school.

Eileen K. Wade, B-P’s Confidential Secretary wrote in 27 Years with Baden-Powell, 1957:

In September, just after I had joined him, the Chief’s mother died. He felt her loss very deeply, for they had been close comrades for fifty years.

He wrote a characteristic note about this in The Scout, using a personal experience, as he so often did, to point a lesson.

Most Scouts know what it is to have a good mother, and the more they like her the more they dread the idea of losing her.

Your mother has done so much for you, in having had all the pain and trouble of bringing you up as a child—in health and in sickness, steadily working to pull you through. She has taught you and watched over you with anxious eyes. She has given up all her time and love to you. When she dies you feel it a terrible blow, the breaking of a happy tie.

I have just lost my mother, after fifty years of loving comradeship, so I know what it means. She had trained me as a boy; she had watched every step of my work as a man. When I first had the idea of starting Boy Scouts I was afraid that there was not so much in it as I had thought, until she spoke to me of it and showed that it might do good to thousands of boys if I stuck to it. So I did. But it was thanks to her that the Scout movement started and went on.

Many Scouts seem to have thought of this on hearing of her death, for I have had numbers of kind messages of sympathy from them as well as a beautiful design of flowers with the motto ‘Be Prepared’ from the Boy Scouts’ Association. For all these kindly tributes I offer my heartfelt thanks. I only pray that those who have been so good to me will, in their turn, find comfort when the dark day comes of their own mother’s death.

There is only one pain greater than that of losing your mother, and that is for your mother to lose you—I do not mean by death but by your own misdeeds.

Has it ever struck you what it means to your mother if you turn out a wrong ‘un or a waster? She who bore you as a baby, and brought you up. She who taught you your first steps, your prayers, your straight ideas, and was glad when you showed that you could do things.

As she saw you getting bigger and stronger and growing clever she had hoped in her heart of hearts that you were going to make a successful career and to make a good name for yourself—something to be proud of.

But if you begin to loaf about and do not show grit and keenness, if you become a slacker, her heart grows cold with disappointment and sorrow—though she may not show it; all her loving work and expectation have been thrown away, and the pain she suffers through seeing you slide off into the wrong road is worse than if she had seen you lost in death.

You have not the power of preventing her losing you by death, but you can save her from losing you in this other way.

Make your career a success, whatever line you take up, and you will rejoice her heart. Try not to disappoint her but to make her happy in any way that you can; you owe it to her; and when she dies it will be your greatest comfort to think that at any rate you did your best for her and tried to be a credit to her whilst she lived.

I never knew a really good manly fellow who was not also a good son to his mother; and by acting up to his mother’s expectations, many a man has raised himself to the top of the tree.

From: Eileen K. Wade, 27 Years with Baden-Powell, 1957

Brothers and Sisters of Henrietta Grace Smyth (Children of Admiral William Henry Smyth and Eliza Anne "Annarella" Warington, Uncles and Aunts of Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell):

  1. Elizabeth Smyth (1816-1820?).

  2. Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth (1817-1890). Geologist. Lecturer at the Royal School of Mines, Married Anna Maria Antonia Storey-Maskelyne. Father of Major-General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, V.C. and H. Warington Smyth, author of Five Years in Siam.

  3. Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900). Astronomer Royal of Scotland.

  4. Elizabeth Anne Smyth (1819-1821?)

  5. Jane Phoebe Smyth (1821-1842).

  6. Henrietta Grace Smyth (1824-1914). Mother of Robert Baden-Powell.

  7. General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth, K.C.M.G. (1825-1906). Commandant of Woolwich, 1882; crushed Zulu rising, 1887; Governor of Cape Colony, 1889 and of Malta, 1890. B-P served as his Military Secretary in Natal and in Malta.

  8. Josephine B. Smyth (1826-1847).

  9. Ellen Philadelphia Smyth (1828-1881). Wife of Captain Henry Toynbee. Meteorologist. F.R.A.S. Marine Superintendent of the Meteorological Office, 1867-1888. Merchant Captain.

  10. Caroline Mary Smyth (1834-1859).

  11. Georgiana Rosetta Smyth (1835-1923).

  Henrietta Grace Smyth’s father, Admiral William H. Smyth, rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy to retire as an Admiral in 1863. He was a noted hydrographer and astronomer and was Vice President of the Royal Society. According to his great-grandson, his charts of the Mediterranean were still in use in 1961. His Cycle of Celestial Objects remains a classical text in the history of astronomy and was republished in 1986. The Sailor’s Word-Book was is still in print (Conway Maritime Press, 1991) and runs some 744 pages of definitions.
  Charles Piazzi Smyth was Henrietta Grace’s brother and hence Uncle to B-P. He was well known as an astronomer (he was Astronomer Royal of Scotland) and was considered an authority on the pyramids of Giza and was a pioneer in the field of photography.
  Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, M.A., F.R.S. was a brother of Henrietta Grace Smyth Baden-Powell and Uncle to B-P. He was Professor of Mining and Mineralogy at the Royal School of Mines, President of the Geological Society of London in 1866-1868 and a Fellow of the Royal Society. After university, he spent more than four years in Europe, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt, paying great attention to mineralogy and mining. Among his published works were A Year with the Turks (1854), and Treatise on Coal and Coal-Mining (1867). He was knighted in 1887.
Sir Henry Augustus Smyth  General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth, K.C.M.G. (1825-1906) was Henrietta’s youngest brother and Uncle to B-P.  He served as an officer in the Royal Artillery rising to the rank of full general in 1891. He was Commandant of of the Royal Artillery Institution at Woolwich, 1882. He was responsible for crushing the Zulu rising in Natal in 1887; served as Governor of Cape Colony, 1889 and of Malta, 1890. B-P served as his Military Secretary in Natal and in Malta. He had a long and distinguished military and colonial career as outlined in the short biographical essay written by his nephew and B-P’s youngest brother Francis Smyth Baden-Powell.
  H. Warington Smyth, M.A,, LL.B., F.G.S., F.R.G.S., a son of Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth. He was Director of the Department of Mines in Siam, and later Secretary of Mines and Industries in the Union of South Africa. He was the author of several books, including: Five Years in Siam, Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia, Sea Wake and Jungle Trail and Chase and Chance in Indochina. He was B-P’s first cousin.
  Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, a son of Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth and B-P’s first cousin. He had a distinguished career in the army, rising to the rank of Major-General. He won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Khartoum.
  Nevil Maskelyne, Fifth Astronomer Royal was grandfather to B-P’s Uncle Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, brother of Henrietta Grace Smyth Baden-Powell.
  Baden-Powell Family History. A series of links starting with the research of Robin Baden Clay, a grandson of Baden-Powell. These links are focused on the genealogy of the Powell family. The author is extremely grateful to Mr. Clay for sharing the results of his labors with the Scouting community. Links are provided to pages for three of B-P’s brothers: Baden, Warington and Sir George Baden-Powell, to members of his extended family, and to the genealogy of the Smyth and Warington families.
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Last Modified: 6:50 PM on November 23, 2009