At the end of the 19th century, Britain needed at least 10,000 boys to be trained for both the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy. The training ship (TS) ‘Mercury’ was amongst one of thirty training facilities to accommodate this need. From 1892 the TS Mercury carried out her duties, moored on the river Hamble.
In 1907 Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout movement ran an experimental camp at Brownsea Island and subsequently published his work: ‘Scouting for Boys’. The book was originally written as a text book for youth organisations but as children formed themselves into groups and looked for adults to lead them, he realised that he had the start of a movement on his hands.
A year later, in 1908, Charles Burgess Fry, who was leading the training on TS Mercury, was a good friend of Lord Robert Baden-Powell. It was therefore no surprise that the first signs of planned activities on and around the water with groups of were starting to happen.
In the summer of 1909 Baden-Powell and Fry organised a competition for 100 boys to take part at a camp, split into two groups, each spending a week on the Mercury and a week at the nearby Buckler’s Hard as there wasn’t enough room on the ship for all of them. This excursion has been widely regarded as the start of the Sea Scout movement.
Whilst all this was happening, W L Wyllie had already started his own activities in Portsmouth. In 1906, soon after he moved into Tower House along the harbour mouth in Portsmouth, local boys would flock and asked to be taken out in the smaller boats, which he kept on a small beach alongside the house.
As early as 1907, he started to become more organised with the youngsters who were very keen to learn from Bill’s vast experience as a sailor and lover of the sea. One of the boat stores in Tower House was subsequently designated as their head quarters, where he would lecture, train and generally meet with his enthusiastic group of what was to become the 1st Portsmouth Sea Scouts.
However, it was not until 1912, that the group was officially registered with the Scout Association.
More than one hundred years on, the group is still very active in and around the Solent and its home city of Portsmouth.