The 1st Leichhardt Troop of boys scouts was registered in August 1908. By the end of that year 1st City, 1st Cleveland Street School, 1st Glebe, 1st Hurstville, 1st Mosman, 1st Neutral Bay, 1st Petersham, 1st Redfern, 1st Woollahra and 1st Toongabbie had joined the new “League of Boy Scouts”.
It’s not known which of those troops – now known as “groups” in Australia – was the first to form in Sydney. In Victoria, it is believed at least one informal troop was formed the previous year following Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell’s successful trial camp in England in August 1907 following correspondence with an Australian boy by one of the camp attendees.
Baden-Powell’s six mega-selling Scouting for Boys installments published from January 1908 were followed by an article on his growing youth movement in Sydney’s former Sunday Times newspaper on 28 June 1908.
Boys in Sydney flocked to form scout troops. The 1st Leichhardt’s Kangaroo Patrol was formed first and led by 16-year-old Alec McMillen, who went on to achieve the troop’s first Silver Wolf award. Activities were carried out initially from an old shed in James Street which was rented for two shillings and sixpence a week.
One Sunday afternoon in December 1908 James Xavier Coutts, a keen photographer, came upon a group of boys camping out in a bush hut they had constructed themselves from tree branches at “Ramsey’s Bush” – now Haberfield. His conversations with the boys and their first scoutmaster, A. J. Biddles, led to him joining 1st Leichhardt Scouts in April 1909.
J. X. Coutts became leader of the Wallaroo Senior Patrol. By this time the troop had moved to a new clubroom in Norton Street rented for four shillings a week. Friends and family of the troop which paraded at the Sydney Town Hall in September 1909 to celebrate the first anniversary of the Boy Scouts were offered the opportunity to have their photographs taken by Coutts in the official flyer of the event.
While the introduction of compulsory cadet training by the Commonwealth Government had nearly killed off the fledgling scout movement, the successful motion to carry on was made by Coutts in his first public address in 1910 at a special meeting of the administrators of the League of Boy Scouts.
In 1911, when Coutts became scoutmaster on the resignation of Biddles, and within months, the senior scoutmaster on account of his “splendid work”, the troop moved to Renwick Lane where the rent was again two shillings and sixpence a week.
During that year 1st Leichhardt held the first of what would be many hikes. In this one, from Como to Wollongong, about 30 boys took part, their belongings lugged on their backs in sugar bags.
Hike progress was charted by reporters sending press telegrams to their various organisations for publication the following day.
Coutts’ archive of photographs chronicling the activities of the troop over 30 years to 1938, formed a valuable historical record of early scouting life in Australia.
In May 1912 Coutts met “BP”, now Lord Baden-Powell the “Chief Scout”, when he came to Australia for the first time. After taking the general salute and inspecting the guard of honour of 120 hand-picked boy scouts, “the Chief” transferred to the state carriage of the NSW Governor, Lord Chelmsford.
A mounted boy scout patrol escort, formed the previous year at 1st Leichhardt by Les Andrews, led the procession to the Sydney Town Hall where BP met 950 “Girl Aids”, the forerunners of the Girl Guides. Coutts formally met BP at the bush camp, held to showcase the natural scouting country surrounding Sydney, on a hill to the south of Cook’s River. It is now the suburb of Undercliffe.
In January 1913 the Leichhardt and Annandale troops trekked 86 kilometres from Stanwell Park to Kiama. Stores and equipment were piled onto a trek cart built by the Leichhardt troop.
When the Boys Scouts Association New South Wales Section was formed in July 1914, the No 1 warrant was given to James X. Coutts as District Scoutmaster, West Sydney District.
MORE TO COME…
1st Leichhardt Archives:
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 1
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 2
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 3
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 4
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 5
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 6
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 7
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 8
Records of James X. Coutts, 1908 to 1938 Part 9
Excerpts from the Records of the Group from 1915 to 1930 Part 1
Excerpts from the Records of the Group from 1915 to 1930 Part 2
Excerpts from the Records of the Group from 1915 to 1930 Part 3