Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of Pax:
The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell
, 1924


"Laugh and battle and work
And drink of the wine outpoured."
John Masefield.

A shooting trip to Knysna—first encounter with an elephant—a mission to Swaziland—an interview with Oom Paul—life in Malta—adventures in many countries—maneuvers in Ireland.

BACK at the Cape once more, B.P. began to devise further schemes for adventure, and a brilliant idea came to him of combining a shooting trip down the Zambesi River with the collecting of information required by the Government about the Portuguese territories there. He wrote home at once for a collapsible boat and other necessary gear, and conducted a trial trip before the great African hunter Selous, who "considered the boat well suited to the purpose."

The trip never came off, however, as at that juncture General Smyth became Acting-Governor and was unable to spare his useful military secretary for any length of time. It was a bitter disappointment, but B.P. " smiled and whistled" and went cheerily off to Knysna instead for a few days shooting.

During this trip he had his first encounter with an elephant, and this is how he describes it in his diary of Friday, April 12th, ’89:

"After three cups of coffee we started for the forest at 6 a.m. Cool morning after the rain, and lucky it was cool, for the walking was simply awful. It has been bad each day, but this day we started to go straight through the bush to Gouna, sending our horses by the path with Jourmet junior. The forest was all a dense undergrowth of tree ferns and bushes and creepers, etc., the ground all broken up with elephant spoor and bog holes—scenery like the pictures of tropical jungle, but the reality is not so charming as the picture.

"The woodcutter told us of one spot where the elephants certainly were, but where it would, to say the least of it, not be politic to follow them. We had not been going an hour before we found ourselves in this stronghold of the enemy. And it was a place, a thick jungle of tree ferns over one’s head, entangled with a dense growth of creeping ferns, and a regular maze of narrow well-worn holey elephant passages circulating about in it. We got well into it but found no elephants there: what we should have done had they been there I don’t quite know, but I imagine it would have depended chiefly on the good feeling of the elephants themselves.

"We were rather glad when we got out of this place. Then we struggled on; breakfast at 8 punctually but frugally, viz. 1½ hard-boiled eggs and a cup of milk and one of champagne (at least many people would have supposed it to have been fresh spring water, but we hypnotized ourselves to believe otherwise).

"At 10 o’clock after a weary struggle we reached a small open hill. As we were crossing this, Charley (the boy) suddenly said he saw elephants!! We looked and looked with naked eyes and with glasses, and at last after a long time we saw them clearly enough feeding along some rather open bush on the opposite side of a valley. We got reins on to all the dogs and started to approach the ‘oilyphants,’ as Jourmet calls them. Left the dogs and Charley in a safe tree stump, and then we proceeded to struggle through awfully thick fern jungle up towards where we had seen the beasts. At last we could hear them in front, tearing down twigs and giving an occasional snort or a rumbling growl. We climbed on to tree stumps to get a view over the ferns, and presently the crashing of branches and crackling of rotten sticks came nearer till it seemed about 50 yards off—but the jungle still too thick for us to see them. Suddenly I saw a branch dragged down, and there was a great trunk round it and a couple of long white tusks— and for a second I saw the whole head of an elephant; ENORMOUS it seemed. Two others were then visible to me close by—i.e. within a hundred yards but too far off to shoot at—directly they stood still they became as it were invisible: it was only when they moved that they were distinguishable from the forest round about. Presently there was a pause in their crashing and Jourmet excitedly whispered that they had bolted—and so it was, although they had made off without a sound. We followed the spoor for some way, but it led into heart-breaking ground, and at last, sick, tired and wet through (for we had had two heavy cold showers), we gave it up and returned to Charley and the dogs."

During the following summer, B.P. was sent home to England for short leave and change of air, and while there met Sir Francis de Winton, who was about to start on a mission to Swaziland, an independent native territory under Umbadine, the King, situated southwest of Delagoa Bay, bounded on the north by Portuguese territory, east by Tongaland, and west and south by the South African Republic.

The good grazing and the mineral wealth of Swaziland had drawn large numbers of Boers and diggers into the country, and the Regent and the young King found themselves in difficulties with the demands made on them for land. The white population numbered 1000 during part of the year. Altogether the country was in an unsettled state, and after preliminary investigations it was decided to send a joint British and Boer Commission, under special Commissioners from England and the South African Republic, to make full enquiry and to report on the situation. Sir Francis de Winton was appointed British Commissioner, and on his way via the Cape he picked up B.P. and added him to his staff as private secretary.

On 26th October, B.P. wrote to his mother:

"Here I am all right with Sir F. de Winton en route to Swaziland. He arrived at Cape Town on Thursday and received from me a letter and a resume of the Swaziland question. We put him up at Government House and he at once applied to the General for me and apparently without much difficulty got me. We sailed to-day (Saturday) and reach Durban on Thursday next. Thence to Maritzburg to stay a few days and then to Johannesburg and Pretoria, where we are to see Kruger, and then on into Swaziland."

As usual during this trip he kept a very full and interesting diary which, although I can only give very few extracts, describes the journey more adequately than I could write it:

6th November.—"After packing our kits had them all arranged for the journey which is to go thusly—we go by train to Ladysmith, thence by coach via Harrismith and Johannesburg to Pretoria. At Pretoria we are to be joined by our mule coach and mule baggage cart. Two ox waggons in the meantime take our stores and extra kit direct to Steynsdorp, where we shall join them after interviewing the President of the S.A. Republic at Pretoria."

At Ladysmith a halt was made in order that the Governor, who travelled with the party, might turn the first sod of the new railway from Ladysmith to Harrismith. This accomplished, they all returned to Ladysmith, the Swaziland party changed into travelling clothes and embarked in a "coach" (consisting of an omnibus with ten horses) for Pretoria, which was reached after a drive of five days, putting up at inns en route.

His description of Johannesburg, as it was at that time, is interesting:

"Johannesburg itself is a wonderfully big city (30,000 inhabitants) and has only been invented within the last three years. All the bigger buildings and offices are brick or stone with zinc roof. The Grand National Hotel is the best hotel I have seen so far in S. Africa, accommodates 120 or more, is always full and charges 25/- a day. Everything in the way of food or drink is very expensive, especially as they are only just getting in supplies after recent famine, e.g. eggs 6d. each, cabbages 4/-, bottle of milk 1/-, etc. In spite of its richness and good buildings the town is still unpaved and unlighted at night. The streets are therefore always ankle deep either in dust or mud. Mud had it while we were there."

While at Johannesburg the party explored a gold mine—the largest in Johannesburg, which gets "an average of 8000 oz. per mensem of gold."

Here is a tip for Scouts from that day’s diary:

"We all had candles while below, and I got the knack of carrying them in a draught—i.e. holding the candle between the second and third finger with the flame fairly close down to the hand."

"After seeing the mine, its workshops and offices, etc., we drove back to the hotel. There we packed our coach, a grand old conveyance just like Buffalo Bill’s ‘Deadwood coach’ with 8 horses. We started about 10 for Pretoria, 35 miles, and had three changes of horses en route so went at a rattling pace."

"On arrival at Pretoria, after changing-and putting on our tall hats, the British Agent took us to see the President, Paul Kruger.

"We found him living in a long, low, single-storied villa in a quiet side street. A lounging sentry loafed about at the garden gate and only saluted us with a steady stare as we passed in. We were presented to Paul Kruger in his drawing-room. He was a big, heavy man with flabby, heavy face, with big mouth and big nose, but small forehead. Sir F. talked to him through an interpreter, the States Secretary, Mr. Boschoeten."

12th November.—"Sir F. had an official interview with Kruger. Neither side got much out of the other. In the afternoon we drove out and called upon General Smit (the Boer Commander-in-Chief). Afterwards Sir F. and I got horses and went for a ride on to Signal Hill, on which stands the Timeball, a relic of the English occupation of Pretoria."

16th November.—"We were taken out in semi-state by Generals Joubert and Smit, etc., in three carriages with an escort of Artillerymen. Broiling hot day. Ten mile drive to the ‘Willows ‘ silver mine.

The ore, as it is brought up, is packed into sacks and sent to England to be smelted, and even then pays £20 a ton."

The Commission remained at Pretoria until November 21st. For this day we find the following entry:

"We paid a farewell visit to the President, when the final details of the procedure of the Commission were settled. At I2 noon we embarked in our own travelling bus which we kind bought from the Natal Government. A most comfortable conveyance, the top roofed in and double canvas curtains all round, ten mules drawing it."

The journey into Swaziland was enlivened with hunting, shooting and fishing.

Of the meeting with the Swazi chiefs on the 1st December, 1889, B.P. entered in his diary the following record:

"The King’s adviser rode up with the Regent (a brother of the young King elect), the Prime Minister, and a lot of Indunas, and a Guard of Honour. We were all introduced to each other and had a long interchange of greetings and short explanation of our being here and an arrangement that the Chiefs should be called together to draw up a statement of what the wishes of the Swazis might be as to the settlement of the country."

For future procedure it was arranged that the representatives of the British, Boers and Swazis should sit as a joint Commission, of which Sir F. de Winton was appointed chairman, with a Dutchman and B.P. as secretaries. The British and Dutch Commissioners’ camps were placed side by side at Kings Kraal, Embekelwein, and here the Commission continued to work amicably towards a solution of their problems.

On the 29th December B.P. wrote to his mother:

"Here we are back in Natal after an unprecedentedly short journey from Swaziland. We had good mules and fine weather and we came along at a tremendous pace doing in thirteen days what would usually take about twenty, or more, and in wet weather would take probably from six weeks to two or three months. We are all in excellent health, and I am only sorry it is all over so soon."

Sir Francis de Winton’s official report to Lord Knutsford was accompanied by the following letter:

25th February, 1890.

In obedience with the instructions contained in your Lordship’s despatches of the 22nd and 26th September 1889, I have now the honour to submit my report on Swaziland… .

The Appendix to this report contains papers affording full information on the different points to which they refer, and among them is a paper by Captain Baden-Powell concerning the military power of the Swazi nation which I beg may be sent to the proper authorities.

I have further to bring to your Lordship’s notice the great assistance I received from the members composing the mission, viz. Colonel Martyn, Mr. Advocate Schreiner and Captain Baden-Powell, who all rendered me very valuable aid and who performed their duties to my entire satisfaction….

(Signed) F. DE WINTON,
Late Commissioner for Swaziland."

During his absence in Swaziland, Baden-Powell’s future had been undergoing consideration at the Cape. Sir Henry Smyth was offered, and accepted, the office of Governor and Commander-in-Chief at Malta, and gave his A.D.C. the opportunity of going with him as military secretary and A.D.C., with the stipulation, however, that he must not expect leave to go to any end of the earth where a fight might be going on. This offer was at once accepted, and early in 1890, after short leave to England, the new Governor and B.P. took up their appointments.

On their way to Malta they called at Naples and Messina, and in a letter written from the latter place, on the 25th February, B.P. notes:

"Here we are at Messina in Sicily. We had a very good time in Naples.

"On Sunday 23rd we went over the Museum in the morning and saw the Pompeii friezes, statues, bronzes, etc. etc which were quite eye-openers to me.

"Then we took the train to Pompeii and had a most delightful afternoon in the ruins—Vesuvius behaved like a gentleman, and, as soon as darkness came on, he sent up some grand squirts of fire.

"In the afternoon we started in a Rubbatino boat for Malta. We called in here (Messina) this morning and then went over to Reggio for an hour.

"To our great surprise Sir Henry shines as an Italian linguist and talks away quite happily with them.

"To-morrow we expect to be at Syracuse all day, and early on Thursday morning at Malta."

On 1st March, Malta was reached, and B.P. settled down to his new life of office work, dinners and levees, theatricals and polo.

He had not been there long when Sir Francis de Winton offered to take him again on his staff on his mission to Uganda. To this suggestion the Governor of Malta replied shortly, "I have not the slightest idea of lending him to Sir F. de Winton or anybody else!"

"This is awful," wrote B.P. to his mother. "I thought once Sir F. de Winton had gone I should be rid of the longing to be with him, but I feel more and more anxious to be there. I can’t think of anything else.

"But you can’t picture that, what I should call camp sickness that gets hold of one—a sort of hunger to be out in the wilds and away from all this easygoing mixture of office and drawing-room; clerk and butler."

In spite of these illegitimate hankerings after active service, B.P. managed to enjoy life in Malta to the full. One of his first tasks was to get the armoury in the Palace properly arranged. Amongst this armoury were many famous pieces, one suit alone being valued at £8000.

In July the Governor moved his quarters from San Antonio Palace to Verdala. B.P. describes his new home as being "a very solid old square building—300 years old—with a square tower at each corner and surrounded by a dry moat. Huge thick walls and stone floors, frescoed ceilings, dungeons and secret passages all over the place; one dungeon opens by a tiny passage into my bedroom and has the staples in the walls to which they tied prisoners and then burnt them (the walls and ceilings are still smoke begrimed)."

In August, B.P. won two races at the Malta Polo Club Gymkhana. He describes these as being "both first prizes but small in amount because we chiefly do the races for the fun and honour and glory without idea of lucre."

He also made a name for himself in Malta as being the friend and helper of the soldiers and sailors in the garrison and fleet. Lady Smyth writes:

"One of his great successes was getting each of the five regiments stationed in the Island to give concerts, one regiment taking charge of it each month, which caused much competition among the men, giving them great interest and evening employment in practicing and preparing their respective programmes."

But perhaps his greatest achievement was the formation of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Recreation Club. For two years before it was possible to open it, B.P. was getting up concerts and entertainments to raise the necessary funds for the project, and on March 31st, 1893, he wrote proudly from the


"What do you think of the above heading? Well, it means I have got my old Club started at last and handed over to a Committee to manage, and I am free. But the amount of writing I have been doing and still am doing is almost stupendous. At any rate I hardly know what it is to go out of doors now. But I’ve nearly got to the end of it now, and then for home!"

This club, which became very popular, was known colloquially as the "Poultice," because when, at a meeting of chaplains, B.P. was criticised for placing it "among the drinking shops of the town," he replied by asking, "Well, where would you put a poultice?"

As Intelligence Officer for the surrounding countries, to which office he was appointed in August, 1890, B.P. managed to fit in a good deal of travel amongst his other activities. He visited Albania, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Tunis, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, sometimes at his own expense, sometimes at that of the War Office, but generally managing to pay his way by writing and drawing, for the newspapers, descriptions of his journeyings. The Chief Scout has himself fully described most of these trips in The Adventures of a Spy and elsewhere.

A great part of B.P.’s duties as A.D.C. lay in the arrangement of levees, dinners, balls, concerts, etc. Of his prowess in this direction Lady Smyth says:

"He was invaluable in helping to get up and arrange any entertainment, being able, either himself or by finding a friend, to fill up any gap. Notably once when a lady failed to do her part of the dance on the programme, he donned a lady’s dress and, amid roars of laughter, gave a most attractive skirt dance, then quite a new diversion to our audience.

"One of his characteristics was that he always seemed to have people able and ready to do what he asked of them, and we seldom had a party when he did not get through a ‘lot of business,’ as he called it, which meant generally that he had booked all or anyone to join in some polo match, acting, dancing, concert, lecture, picnic, etc. etc., which he had on hand.

"If Scouts could imitate his continual industry, whether at work or play, and his thoughtfulness and kindness to others, as well as his determination to succeed in anything he attempted, it would go a long way towards making fine Scouts."

Baden-Powell remained in Malta until April, 1893, when, on the advice of his old colonel, Sir Baker Russell, he resigned his appointment as assistant military secretary to rejoin his regiment, the 13th Hussars, then stationed at Ballincollig, county Cork, Ireland.

So on the 10th April of that year he started for home, paying a visit to Tunisia and Algeria, at the request of the War Office, on the way. His first letter home after leaving Malta is dated 26th April, 1893, from Souk-el Abra, Tunisia:

"Here I am getting homewards by very small degrees for, having got as far as this, I find maneuvers going on behind me, and am just off back again to Tunis and Kairouen.

"Then I shall make a fresh start and run along the coast to the West End of Algeria. Meantime I am thoroughly enjoying myself and getting together a nice collection of butterflies. I shall be with you by the end of the month in any case."

Eventually, on the 9th June, he reached his regiment in Ireland, and on this day he wrote:

"It is good to be back, everybody so cheery, and I feel quite at home again. In the afternoon the 10th Hussars came over to play us at Polo, so I saw them all again, and an enormous crowd of local people to look on and be tea’d, etc.

"And of course we beat them.

"My rooms look out into a park of open brilliant green grass, with elm and beech trees. You could never imagine barracks were anywhere here…. I have taken over command of my old squadron. To-morrow we leave for Ballincollig. About the 23rd we start for the Curragh for summer maneuvers."

It was during these maneuvers at the Curragh that Baden-Powell came once more prominently to the notice of Lord Wolseley. He had devised the trick of sending a few mounted men towing branches behind them which made a big dust that lured the enemy’s cavalry away, and in their absence B.P. popped in with his squadron and captured their artillery. Lord Wolseley, who happened to be watching, commended this use of " common sense and cunning " to the assembled officers afterwards, asking for the name of the officer responsible for it.

[It was a direct result of this episode that in 1895 he sent for B.P. at the War Office and told him that he was going to send him out with the Ashanti Expedition, although it was not a cavalry country—but he had observed that he could use the four "C’s " necessary for campaigning in that kind of country as elsewhere— Common sense, Cunning, Courage and Cheerfulness.]

1894 was spent with his regiment at Dundalk and Belfast, during which time he worked at a new edition of " Cavalry Instruction." In September of that year he acted as brigade major to Colonel French (now Field-Marshal Lord French of Ypres), another staff officer being Douglas Haig (now Field-Marshal Earl Haig of Bemersyde), at the cavalry maneuvers at Churn, Berkshire.

From: Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of Pax: The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1924. Chapter X: Old Places with New Faces.

  "Boer and British Shots: A Friendly Trial of Skill in Swaziland," 1890

  Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of Pax: The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1924
Foreward and Contents
    Chapter VII. Swaziland, Malta and Home. A shooting trip to Knysna—first encounter with an elephant—a mission to Swaziland—an interview with Oom Paul—life in Malta—adventures in many countries—maneuvers in Ireland.
    Chapter VIII. Ashanti. The Ashanti Expedition—experiences of a native levy—the wages of a king the nigh] march to Bekwai—hoisting the British flag— how to avoid fever—Kantankye receives promotion.
    Chapter IX. Matabeleland. Special service again—troubles in Matabeleland—Sir Frederic Carrington arrives—scouting in the Matoppos—the Wolf that never sleeps—the case of Uwini—home with Rhodes.
    Chapter X. Old Places and New Faces. India revisited—Officer Commanding 5th Dragoon Guards—work and sport in plenty—a shooting trip with Sir Baker Russell—on special service to South Africa—ready for war.
    Chapter XI. The South African War, 1899-1902. The declaration of war—beseiged in Mafeking—seven months beseiged—the story of the stamps—food shortage—arrival of the relief column.
    Chapter XII. The South African Constabulary. The hero of Mafeking—Lord Roberts’ despatch—a new job—the South African Constabulary—home at last—an interview with King Edward—appointed Inspector-General of Cavalry.

  The Baden-Powell Library. A Selection of excerpts from the works of Sir Robert Baden-Powell and works relating to his life and career
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