Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery
Newsletter No. 67
Posted here with their kind permission,
but split & re-arranged.
The Baden-Powells at Kensal Green
George Smyth Baden-Powell
Frank Smyth Baden-Powell
Agnes Smyth Baden-Powell
The Rev. Prof. Baden Powell,
22 August 1796 – 11 June 1860
His large family may have come as an unexpected development for the scholarly Baden Powell. He studied at Oriel College, Oxford (BA 1817, MA 1820), achieving first class honours in Mathematics and making connections in ecclesiastical and scientific circles.
Through his family, he was presented with the incumbency as Vicar of the parish of Plumstead, Kent, soon after his ordination in 1821, the year of his first marriage. Although Baden Powell fulfilled his clerical duties, and expressed many of his arguments through his engaging sermons (which he was invited to deliver even at Kensington Palace), his chief interests were academic. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1824 (and its Vice President in 1853), and Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford in 1827; he was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, President of the Royal Geographical Society, a contributor to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and an active if ultimately frustrated member of the 1850 Royal Commission for the reform of British universities. He was elected to the prestigious Mercer’s Company by patrimony in 1822 (when his father, a wine merchant, was Master). He wrote on mathematics, physics, theology and philosophy, played the organ, painted and sketched.
Essays and Reviews controversy
Although he travelled in conservative High Church circles in his youth, by his last decade, the Rev. Prof. Baden Powell questioned many things, including the nature of miracles and the origins of life. In the wake of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), he was one of the liberal clergymen whose Essays and Reviews (1860) argued that rational advances in science were compatible with Christian belief. In his piece ‘On the study of the evidences of Christianity’, Baden Powell pleaded readers to have an open mind and simply consider the evidence. He wrote of “Mr. Darwin’s masterly volume …. a work which must soon bring about an entire revolution of opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature”.
In the preface to his third edition (1861), Darwin replied that “The ‘Philosophy of Creation’ has been treated in a masterly manner by the Rev. Baden Powell, in his ‘Essays on the Unity of Worlds,’ 1855. Nothing can be more striking than the manner in which he shows that the introduction of new species is ‘a regular, not a casual phenomenon,’ or, as Sir John Herschel expresses it, ‘a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous, process.’” In Seven Against Christ: A Study of ‘Essays and Reviews’ (1980), Ieuan Ellis described the furore over Essays and Reviews as “the story of the greatest religious crisis of the Victorian age”, but Baden Powell’s death in June 1860 precluded his involvement in the ensuing controversy and court case.
With his career securely underway, the young Baden Powell married Eliza Rivaz or Rivas (1798-1836) in 1821; she died childless nearly 15 years later.
Eighteen months after that, in September 1837, Powell married Charlotte Pope (1799- 1844), sister-in-law of his Oxford mentor Richard Whately. As she was 38 and he was 41, they may not have been planning a family, but their first child was born a year later, and three more quickly followed.
The eldest had just turned six, and the youngest was only four months old when their mother died, in October 1844.
Seventeen months later, in March 1846, the 49-year-old Baden Powell married the 21-year-old Henrietta Grace Smyth (1824-1914); again, their first child was born within a year, and nine more followed before their father’s death in June 1860.
In fourteen years of marriage, Baden and Henrietta Powell had seven sons and three daughters, all of whom carried their mother’s maiden name, Smyth, amongst their personal names.
The first six were born in Oxford, the rest at 6 Stanhope Street (now 11 Stanhope Terrace), Bayswater. In the 1850s, the Powells lost three infant children in as many years: twoyear- old Henrietta in March 1854, two-year-old John in December 1855, and eight-month-old Jessie in July 1856; all were buried at Kensal Green.
The Rev. Baden Powell himself died of bronchitis and heart failure at 6 Stanhope Street on 11 June 1860, and was interred in Kensal Green Cemetery five days later, in the same grave as his three infant children.
The Baden-Powell family
The 35-year-old Henrietta Smyth Powell was left a widow with seven children, the eldest only 13 and the youngest just three weeks old (and christened over two months after his father’s funeral). It may be a reflection of the pressure she felt at this time that the children of her husband’s second marriage went to their mother’s relations, and the census of April 1861 found four-year-old Robert and twoyear- old Agnes — the future founders of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides — staying with Henrietta’s parents in Buckinghamshire. Then, in April 1863, thirteen-year-old Augustus (‘Gus’) died in Speldhurst, where he was buried. Around this time, the family moved to 1 Hyde Park Gate South, Kensington, progressing to 8 St. George’s Place, Hanover Square (where they lived from at least 1880 to about 1900), and finally 32 Princes Gate, Kensington, on the eastern side of Exhibition Road — all fine and rather expensive houses.
With ‘effects under £3000’, the Rev. Baden Powell left his family secure but by no means wealthy. Marshalling her resources, Henrietta represented herself as a woman of substance, a ‘lady’ in the census of 1861, living on ‘income from rents of houses’ in 1871, and an ‘annuitant’ in 1881. She changed the family surname to Baden- Powell through her attorney on 21 September 1869, and by Royal Licence on 30 April 1902. Such was the force of her personality that she even convinced the College of Arms to quarter the Powell arms with those of the continental Duke of Baden, regardless of any evidence of a familial connection.
The Smyth connection
If not ennobled, Henrietta Grace Smyth’s family were distinguished in their own right. Her father, Admiral William Henry Smyth RN FSA FRAS FRGS FRS (1788-1865) was hydrographer to the Royal Navy and a noted astronomer, Vice-President of the Royal Society, founder-member of the United Services Institution and the Royal Geographical Society, and a director of the Society of Antiquaries. Of her brothers,
Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth FGS FRS (1817-1890) was a respected geologist,
Charles Piazzi Smyth FRSE FRS FRAS FRSSA (1819- 1900) was Astronomer Royal for Scotland, and
General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth KCMG FSA FRGS (1825-1906) variously crushed the Zulu uprising of 1887 and was Governor of Malta;
Jane Georgiana Rosetta Smyth (1835-1923) married the zoologist and curator Sir William Henry Flower KCB FRCS FRS (1831-1899),
and her sister
Ellen Philadelphia Smyth (1828-1881) married the meteorologist Captain Henry Toynbee FRAS FRGS (1819-1909).
Henrietta’s mother, Eliza Anne (‘Annarella’) Warington (1788-1873), was the daughter of the British consul at Naples Thomas War(r)ington (1765-1850), banker and silk merchant, and his first wife, née Anne Robinson (1749-1826). In her husband’s obituary, Annarella was praised as “a lady of great ability and rare accomplishments, who through all his scientific labours of every description was his devoted companion and assistant.”
The Baden-Powells’ intellectual pedigree was beyond reproach.
A claim to direct descent from Captain John Smith of Virginia (1580- 1631) is less credible, as he died unmarried and childless.
However, through Annarella, there was a genuine if attenuated connection to the hero of Trafalgar. By her mother’s first marriage, to Marmaduke Langdale Peirson (variously also Pierson or Pearson), she was half-sister to Captain Charles Peirson (1773-1800) of the 69th Regiment, who notably served with Nelson at the battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797), and who married a niece by marriage of Nelson’s sister Susannah.
Nelson spent some time in Naples, where not least he fatefully met Emma, Lady Hamilton.
Family tradition told both of little Annarella’s sitting on Nelson’s knee, and of her mother’s pointedly washing the child’s hair afterward because it had been touched by the notorious adulterer.
Indifferent to this prejudice, Henrietta described herself as Nelson’s ‘great-niece’, which was not utterly baseless, and certainly simpler than ‘Nelson’s sister’s husband’s brother’s daughter’s husband’s half-sister’s daughter’.
Henrietta was the dominant force in her own family, managing her children’s lives and finances well into their adulthood. Three of them lived at home until her death, even though the eldest, Henry Warington Smyth Baden- Powell KC (1847-1921) was a distinguished barrister, and Francis (‘Frank’) Smyth Baden-Powell (1850- 1931) was a barrister by training and a painter and sculptor by vocation; the only surviving daughter, Agnes Smyth Powell (1858-1945), remained her mother’s companion. Even the three sons who achieved successful careers in the army and colonial service — Sir George Smyth Baden-Powell KCMG MP (1847-1898), Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden- Powell, OM GCMG GCVO KCB (1857-1941), and Major Baden Fletcher Smyth Baden-Powell FS FRAS FRMetS (1860-1937) — regularly came home between postings. It is almost surprising that four of them eventually married, albeit all late in life: George at the age of 45, Robert at 55, Frank at 56 and Warington at 66.
Henrietta was intelligent, educated and cultivated; she valued education, and encouraged all her children to work hard, and to achieve through merit what they could not acquire through wealth. She was certainly formidable in her social ambitions and pretensions, but she also endured much, intellectually gifted but precluded by her sex from pursuing a career like her talented brothers, married young to a twice-widowed man over twice her age, giving birth to ten children in little over thirteen years, losing four of them and her husband before she was forty, and maintaining her large family on a limited income. George’s knighthood, in 1888, must have been gratifying, but he died just ten years later, well before his mother, leaving another widow with young children. It proved to be Robert (‘Stephe’ to the family, for his godfather Robert Stephenson), who ultimately brought the greatest glory to the Baden-Powells.
The hero of Mafeking
Although he is buried in Kenya, no article about the Baden-Powells would be complete without a mention of the Reverend Professor's penultimat son Robert, later 1st Lord Baden-Powell.
In his autobiography, "Lessons from the Varsity of Life" (1933), the founder of the Boy Scouts claimed that: “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 today. It was her influence that guided me through life more than any precepts or discipline that I may have learned at school.”
Certainly, young Stephe was more interested in outdoor pursuits than the classroom, and his meagre academic qualifications hampered his initial prospects of promotion. By the end of the century, he had enjoyed an exciting but unspectacular military career that took him to India, Afghanistan and South Africa (where he served under his uncle Sir Henry Smyth). Like his brothers, he was enterprising enough to transform his experiences into newspaper articles, military memoirs and even a handbook on "Pig Sticking and Hog Hunting" (1889).
His conduct during the Ndebele (Matabele) uprising in Southern Rhodesia, when he ordered the execution of a native insurgent [after a Court Martial passed the death sentence], cast a shadow, but he was also an effective leader and organizer, with a particular aptitude for reconnaissance (‘scouting’). This may be the origin of his nickname ‘Impeesa’ (‘impisi’), which has a secondary meaning of ‘spy’ or ‘scout’ in Ndebele; his gift for spin transformed the literal translation from ‘hyena’ into the zoologically improbable ‘wolf that never sleeps’. His strengths came to the fore at the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899. With limited resources, he shrewdly elected to garrison the strategic site of Mafeking rather than take the offensive against overwhelming odds. Under his direction, the town endured a siege of 219 days, followed with acute interest by newspaper readers around the world thanks not least to his compelling reports. Most news of the war from South Africa were gloomy, but the news of the relief of Mafeking reached London on 18 May 1900, unleashing a wave of patriotic celebration throughout the empire. Henrietta Baden-Powell, in the character of the hero’s adored mother, became a celebrity herself.
Baden-Powell’s greatest achievement grew out of his varied experience. During the siege of Mafeking, boys of the town were given a vital role as messengers in a cadet corps. As his last assignment in South Africa, Baden-Powell established a police force, with a uniform that included a distinctive campaign hat and badges, and he wrote a manual called Aids to Scouting (1899). He spent another decade in the army, campaigning unsuccessfully for reform in the cavalry, but found a more receptive audience in the youth of Britain, to whom he was a dashing role model. Building on work with the Boys’ Brigade, YMCA and other clubs, he wrote a manual for boys and ran an experimental camp in 1907, to see how his ideas worked in practice - he had had no dealings with children since he had left school 30 years before. Scouting for Boys was published as an affordable partwork in 1908, to such enthusiasm that the Boy Scouts almost formed themselves.
The first national rally was held at Crystal Palace in 1909, with boys and girls in attendance. The Sea Scouts were formed in 1910, with a manual written by Henrietta Grace's eldest son Warington Baden-Powell, a keen yachtsman. With some persuasion, the retiring Agnes undertook to adapt the model for the growing bands of girls, and the Girl Guides were formally incorporated in 1915.
After years of prodding [not true !] by his despairing mother, Robert Baden-Powell met and married Olave St. Clair Soames (1889-1977) in 1912, two years before Henrietta died. It was effectively a handover — to his sister’s cost. At the first international Jamboree, held at Olympia in 1920, Robert Baden Powell was proclaimed Chief Scout of the World, but Olave had already eclipsed Agnes as Chief Guide of the British Empire.
Lord Baden-Powell died in Kenya in January 1941 and is buried in St. Peter's Cemetery in the Wajee Nature Park, near Nyeri. His wife’s ashes were deposited in the grave nearly forty years later, after her death in a Surrey nursing home at the age of 88. The grave is a Kenyan National Monument.
WITH THANKS TO
FOR ADDITIONAL RESEARCH