History of First Claremont Scout Group

George French: the first Scoutmaster of the first Scout Troop in Africa

The first Scoutmaster of the First Scout Troop in South Africa was George French, who was headmaster at the Claremont Public School in Cape Town. Here two schoolboys, Fred and Charles Stern, read Scouting for Boys and persuaded their headmaster to start a Scout Troop. First Claremont was founded on 3 March 1908.

George French was born in London on 17 October 1855. Shortly afterwards his father entered the army and his regiment was sent to India. Both his parents and two younger sisters died in 1860 during a cholera epidemic, and George was an orphan at age 5. He was sent back to England to his grandparents.

In 1864 his grandfather died, and he spent two years chopping wood and making bundles in a workhouse, just like Oliver Twist. Eventually he was placed in King Edwards Orphan School, Witley, where he received a good education and began organising boys to stage various plays.

At age 15 he enlisted as a drummer boy in the army, and in 1873 his regiment was sent to India, where he became a schoolmaster, and developed a love for animals: he had a pet bear, and narrowly escaped death when he took home two cheetah cubs and was followed by the mother.

After the British disaster against the Zulus at Isandhlwana in 1879, George volunteered for the army, and he was in the medical corps at the battle of Ulundi.

In 1880 he left the army and obtained a teachers certificate at the Cape Education Department that October. He became headmaster at Constantia School in Wynberg, at a church school in George Town where he married Bessie, and later at Graff Reinet. He conducte d dramatic societies, museums and gymnastics. In Cape Town he began to capture and study snakes, and also took schoolboys on treks around Table Mountain.

In 1894 he became principal of Claremont Public School, which then met in a small room and an old stable at the town hall. Here he led a cadet corps, sponsored by the Cape government, and numerous youth camps, outings and treks inland, up mountains and along the coast. For many years Claremont Public School was known as French's School.

In 1908 Fred and Charles Stern showed him Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys and asked him to form a Scout Troop. 1st Claremont was formed on 3 March 1908. The first camp was in March on Bolton's Farm, Lansdowne Road, and many other camps and outings were held on the beaches of the Cape Flats, and one 300-mile trek through the Cape mountains, using mules and a cart during 3 weeks of travelling.

George French took to Scouting with a passion and in addition to running 1st Claremont with his son Cyril, he was part of the Executive Commitee of the Cape Colony, edited the South African Scout, and invented many Scout games.

In 1913 George French was awarded the Silver Wolf by B-P:

South Africa

The Chief Scout has been pleased to confer the Honorary Silver Wolf on Scoutmaster George French, of Claremont, Cape of Good Hope. Mr French, who raised a Troop as early as March, 1908, may be considered one of the principal pioneers of the Movement in South Africa, and has been unremittingly devoted to it since its commencement.

He wrote the greater part of, and edited, the South Australian* Scout, for more than two and a half years, and has lectured on the Boy Scout Movement in seventeen towns.

He has also published about sixty Scout games and a preparation series for all badges.

Headquarters Gazette, London, October 1913

In 1919 he retired from teaching aged 64, and also from 1st Claremont Scout Troop. His wife died in 1920 and he remarried, moving around the country teaching and assisting with many Scout Troops. He kept up a strong interest in nature, collecting flora and fauna, including snakes which he collected and milked for the snake park in Port Elizabeth. He was a thin, agile man who played the Penny Whistle very well, read a great deal, loved Shakespeare, and gave many Punch and Judy shows for charity.

In 1955 George French celebrated his hundredth birthday with family and friends in Durban. He lived another 4 months and died on 16 February 1956.

George French

George French, first Scoutmaster of the first Scout Troop in Africa


History of First Claremont Scout Group