The Two Lives of a Hero II: Charterhouse Boy


Today, I’m going to continue the series I introduced earlier, where I will be going through the biography: “Baden-Powell: The Two Lives of a Hero” by William Hillcourt. In this post, I will be giving a brief synopsis and commentary of the second Chapter: “Charterhouse Boy”. Last chapter, we left off with Baden-Powell leaving for the ‘Charterhouse School’ at 13 years old.


The second chapter starts immediately with Baden-Powell entering the Charterhouse school. The Charterhouse school was a very old institution with a lot history and tradition behind it. Baden-Powell was very fortunate to be accepted on a scholarship to the school. After arriving and getting settled in, he began to ‘move ahead in his studies’, however, academic skills wasn’t something that he particularly distinguished himself in.

Soon after Baden-Powell got started at Charterhouse, the music master held voice trials to find who were the best for the school choir. Baden-Powell was picked out for being head and shoulders above the rest in terms of voice quality. He joined the choir and remained a firm member for all of the six years he was there. Baden-Powell also eventually joined the orchestra, the school’s brass band, and the cadet corps as a bugler.

Among his peers, he was generally popular in the school. However, he never made any really close friends, and there were times that he just wanted to get off by himself and be left alone. Two years after he had joined the school, the Charterhouse school changed locations; it was a rough period and there was a lot of confusion. B-P’s lively and understanding personality helped things to run a little smoother among the students.

As things settled back to normal after the move, B-P’s grades started to fall. The complaints of his teachers were not that he wasn’t intelligent, but that he seemed to take very little interest in his studies. And this was, for the most part, true.

The Charterhouse school offered many extracurricular activities, and these Baden-Powell became more and more involved in. Aside from music, B-P became involved in sports, particularly soccer. In addition, he began to excel in rifle marksmanship. In the first inter-school rifle shooting competition that Charterhouse participated in, Baden-Powell scored the only bull’s-eye in the whole competition. Finally, drama and theatrics were activities that Baden-Powell became very involved in, and he was a very talented actor and ad-lib performer.

During his time at Charterhouse, Baden-Powell began to be very fond of the outdoors. There was a wooded area near the school called ‘The Copse’ where Baden-Powell would spend many hours teaching himself outdoor skills. He also spent many holidays with his older brothers camping and sailing, outings which he thoroughly enjoyed.

By the time B-P was 18, he and his family started to seriously discuss what he was to do for the future. Though not thrilled about it, Baden-Powell and his family decided that he was going to apply to a university. He therefore applied to several of the more prominent institutions and took the necessary entrance examinations.

Things did not go well, unfortunately. When the results of his examinations came in, Baden-Powell had failed each of them. For a while, Baden-Powell and his family didn’t know what to do. His older brothers did well in their schoolwork, why did he not do the same? For a little while, things did not look well for young B-P.

Providentially, one day B-P came across an announcement of an Open Competitive Examination for commissions in England’s Army. This was something he wanted to do. He was nervous, though. He would have to take a test that required getting good scores on school subjects like Math and English. He didn’t have much time to review his subjects, so entered the twelve-day competition a bit nervous.

The results that came back surprised both B-P and his family. Out of 718 entrants to the competition, Baden-Powell scored fifth place in the Infantry test and second in the Cavalry test. In short, Baden-Powell had earned a nice commission. He decided to accept the Cavalry commission and would enter as a Sub-Lieutenant. In a few weeks, his orders arrived in the mail. In less than a month he was to sail to India! And here is where Chapter 2 ends.


The thing that struck me most about this chapter in B-P’s life was the night and day difference between his scores to his entrance examinations and those to the competition he entered. After his impressive scores in the competition, several of the Universities wrote to his mother to express their apologies in turning him down. One of them made an interesting observation: “…It makes me almost think that he cannot have tried to do his best when he came up here … I am sorry that he did not come again unless (as I dare say) he likes his present place better than anything Oxford could offer him.”

I think this makes a valid point that we all can learn from. Baden-Powell was not exceptionally bright or intelligent. However, he had a lot of energy and threw himself actively into whatever subject he enjoyed and did well at it. I think the reason he didn’t do really well in the entrance examinations was: he didn’t really want to.

Isn’t this true with all of us? Often, the only thing that holds us back is ourselves. We would excel in whatever we chose if we really enjoyed it and put our heart and soul into it. The trouble is, often we can’t get to the thing that we would really love doing right off the bat. There is going to be something unpleasant between us and what we would enjoy doing. We shouldn’t think about the unpleasant thing that we have to go through, we should think about the goal that we are trying to accomplish.


Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this post! If you liked it, please share it and leave a comment in the box below. In the next chapter, William Hillcourt describes Baden-Powell’s first experiences in India. How did he take to his new life? To find out, look for the next post! Until then,

Scout on, my friends!

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