The honorary Boy Scout from Brigus
Even in death, the Newfoundlander, Captain Robert A. (Bob) Bartlett (1875-1946), continues to surprise his most diehard fans.
Today the Brigus native is universally known as a master mariner and Arctic explorer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
He wrote three books of his own, the first with Ralph T. Hale. Captain Bob wrote the introduction to at least four books written by personal friends. He wrote articles and contributed chapters to other books.
Perhaps less well known, as early as 1927, he was designated by the Boy Scouts of America as an Honorary Scout. This latter honour is the focus of this article. What is an Honorary Scout? A succinct answer to this question is given in the book, The Boy Scout’s Book of True Adventure: Their Own Story of Famous Exploits and Adventures Told by Honorary Scouts, published by the Boy Scouts of America in 1927.
According to the by-laws of the Boy Scouts of America, Honorary Scouts are “American citizens whose achievements in outdoor activity, exploration and worthwhile adventure are of such an exceptional character as to capture the imagination of boys and stimulate their enthusiasm for the outdoor program of the Boy Scouts of America.” They “may, upon the unanimous recommendation of the Executive Board, be elected by the National Council to become Honorary Scouts.” However, “ Honorary Scouts are under no obligation to render active service.”
One of 18
To 1927, only 18 men had been elected to this Boy Scout rank.
Roy Chapman Andrews (18841960) was a naturalist and explorer. Frederick R. Burnham (1861-1947) was a Scout and world-travelling adventurer known for his service to the British Army in colonial Africa and for teaching woodcraft to Robert Baden-Powell ( 1857- 1941), inspiring the founding of the international Scouting Movement. Richard E. Byrd (18881957) was a pioneering polar explorer, aviator and recipient of the Medal of Honour.
George K. Cherrie (18651948) was a naturalist and explorer. James L. Clark (1883-1969) was a distinguished explorer and scientist of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a former president of the Campfire Club of America. Merian C. Cooper (1893-1973) was an aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, director, screenwriter and producer (King Kong, 1933).
Lincoln Ellsworth (1880-1951) was an explorer. Louis A. Fuertes (1874-1927) was an ornithologist, illustrator and artist. George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938) was an anthropologist, historian, naturalist and writer.
Charles A. Lindbergh (190274) was an aviator, author, inventor and explorer. Donald B. MacMillan (1874-1970) was an explorer, sailor, researcher and lecturer. Clifford H. Pope (18991974) was a noted herpetologist.
George Palmer Putnam (18871950), a publisher, author and explorer, is known for his marriage to Amelia Earhart (18971937). Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943) was an explorer on two continents, soldier, businessman and writer. Karl Rungius ( 1869-1959) was an impressionist who painted North American wildlife.
Steward Edward White (18731946) was a hunter and writer. Orville Wright (1871-1948) and his brother, Wilbur (1867-1912), are generally credited with inventing and building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on Dec. 17, 1903.
And then there was Captain Bob Bartlett.
The adventures of most of these august individuals make up the content of this book. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt (1887-1944), brother to Kermit, in his introduction to the book, observes,“The urge of adventure has been building the world that we know for unrecorded centuries... The men who are contributing stories to make this book have adventured in far lands. They are all Honorary Scouts because they feel at heart that the Scouts and they are one.”
Captain Bob Bartlett, whose story is entitled Shipwreck, is introduced to the reader by James E. West (1876-1948), a lawyer and advocate of children’s rights, who became the first Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America, serving from 1911 to 1943.
“ For some forty-odd years,” West writes,“Capt. Bob Bartlett has been taking ships into the treacherous arctic seas, and has long been a legendary figure of skill and daring, even among the hard-bitten sailors who adventure northward into the seas of ice.
“He began his exploring wintering with [Robert E.] Peary [1856-1920] in the Kane Basin in 1897, and a list of the voyages he has made since then would alone fill a page. He commanded the Roosevelt, 1905-1909, taking an active part in Peary’s famous expedition, going with the expedition to the 88th Parallel.
“In 1914 he was skipper of the Karluk with the Canadian Government’s Arctic Expedition, when the boat was crushed by ice. With seventeen persons he reached Wrangle Island. Leaving them there, with only one Eskimo, he made his way across the ice to Siberia, and brought a rescue party back with him.
“He was in charge of the Third Crocker Land Relief Expedition that succeeded in breaking its way through the ice and bringing back the party.
“His old Mate said of Bartlett: ‘You can’t kill him. If you break one of his legs, he will hop on the other. If you break both of them, he will crawl. You can’t kill him.’
“Capt. Bartlett has been awarded numerous honours by the Geographical Societies of the United States and England, including the Hubbard Gold Medal of the National Geographical Society.”
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at email@example.com