Francis Vane

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For the murder exposed by Major Sir Francis Fletcher Vane, see Francis Sheehy-Skeffington

Sir Francis Fletcher-Vane, Bt[1]
1861 – 1934
Place of birth Dublin
Place of death London[2]
Allegiance Template:UK
Service/branch British Army[1]
Years of service 1883-1904, 1914-1916[2]
Rank Major[2]
Unit Worcester Militia
Scots Guards
Submarine Mining, RE[1]
Commands held Captain in 26th Middlesex Cyclists[1]
Battles/wars Second Boer War
defence at Portobello Barracks in Dublin, Easter Uprising[1]
Relations ancestor: Sir Henry Vane the younger[1]
Other work writer; politician; Grand Scoutmaster, British Boy Scouts; Founded Italian Scout Movement and Order of World Scouts

Sir Francis Patrick Fletcher-Vane, 5th Baronet (16 October 1861, Dublin, Ireland – 10 June 1934, London) was an early aide of Lord Baden-Powell's and a Scout Commissioner of London before Baden-Powell ousted him from the Scout Association. He later founded the Order of World Scouts, the earliest multinational Scouting movement, and is counted one of the founders of Scouting in Italy.

Early life

Vane was born at 10 Great George’s Street,[2] Dublin 1861 to an Irish mother and English father. He was raised in Sidmouth, Devon, England. In 1876, Vane enrolled in Oxford Military College.[1]

Military career

After military college, Vane was assigned to the Worcester Militia, Scots Guards[3] and for a stint with the Submarine Mining section[4] of the Royal Engineers over the period of 1883-1888. In 1886 he began residing at Toynbee Hall in East London. That same year he started a 'Working Boys Cadet Corps'. He became a captain in the 26th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers in 1888. While serving in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), he was appointed a magistrate in 1902. He was removed from that position for supposedly being too "pro-Boer".[1] He wrote "The War and One Year After" pamphlet in 1903 criticising the British method of war. With his follow up pamphlet, Vane was "retired" from the military.[2]


At the start of World War I, Vane returned to the Army as a recruiting officer with the rank of Major and was sent to Ireland, attached to the Royal Munster Fusiliers.[5] During the Easter Uprising, he was directed to take command of Portobello Barracks, Dublin, then garrison for the largely Belfast-recruited Royal Irish Rifles and the Ulster Militia Battalion. On the third day of the Rising, he had taken up an observation position in the tower of the Rathmines Town Hall. On returning to barracks he learned that civilian hostages had been taken and later killed there by order of Captain Bowen-Colthurst.[6] They included the well known pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and two pro-Union journalists who were misidentified as Nationalists. Bowen-Colthurst led several raids against supposedly pro-Sinn Féin civilians and had summarily executed a youth named Coade in the street in view of the hostages.[7] With his superiors covering up and having been removed from command, Vane went directly to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener and to Maurice Bonham Carter, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister to expose the murders. A closed military court-martial found Bowen-Colthurst guilty of three murders; declared unsound of mind, he was sent briefly to Broadmoor. Vane's services were no longer required by the army.[8]

Between military stints

Daily News, Manchester Guardian, Westminster and Truth employed Vane from 1902 to 1904 as a reporter for South Africa. He was a Liberal general election candidate for Burton. Following that he became active in antiwar and suffragette campaigns from 1907-1912.[1][2] He published two more items: Walks and Peoples in Tuscany (1908) and On Certain Fundamentals (1909).


By 1909, Vane was the Boy Scouting Association's (BSA) London Commissioner. He felt that Scouting should be nonmilitary and reconciled through mediation the British Boy Scouts (BBS) with the Association by having BBS as an affiliated organisation of the BSA. The BBS split from the BSA over perceived militarisation and nondemocratic nature of the national headquarters. With Vane pushing for a more democratic BSA, his position was eliminated by Baden-Powell's BSA headquarter staff. In protest meeting, the London area Scoutmasters voted overwhelming in support of Sir Francis, however Baden-Powell never reinstated him. Members of the National Service League, a pro-military group, were appointed to BSA headquarters. On 3 December 1909, Vane accepted the presidency of the British Boy Scouts taking most London area Troops with him. The Quakers' Birmingham and Midland Troops also followed as Vane was key in having Quakers sponsor Scouting Troops.[9]

Vane got the Boy's Life Brigade (BLB) to join the British Boy Scouts in a loose federation called The National Peace Scouts in February 1910.[9][10] At the merger the BBS had 45,000 Scouts and BLB had 40,000 members. With Vane having an Italian summer home, he was able to launch the Scouting Movement in Italy with the Ragazzi Esploratori Italiani in 1910.[1][9] In 1911, Vane assisted Augustin Dufresne, a shipowner, to organise a French Scouting organisation.[11]

With spread of the alternative British Boy Scouts programme throughout the world, Vane informally aligned the various groups as the Legion of World Scouts, the first international organisation, in 1911 then more formally as the Order of World Scouts on 11 November 1911.[10][11] Vane became the Grand Scout Master of the Order of World Scouts.[10]

Vane put his wealth behind the organisations: providing a London headquarter and financed the organisation, even the manufacture of BBS uniforms. This overburdened his finances to the point of having to declare bankruptcy in 1912.[12] Thus the British Boy Scouts lost their headquarters, source of equipment and uniforms and their leader. Vane continued his involvement with the remnant BBS, as he inspected the Troop of the London Commissioner Mr Percy Herbert Pooley in 1915.[9][11]

Vane returned to Italy after World War I to find that the Italian Boy Scouts he founded had been mainly absorbed by the National Scouts Corps (Corpo Nazionale Giovani Esploratori Italiana - CNGEI). Some joined in with the creation of the Catholic Association of Scouts (Associazione Scautistica Cattolica Italiana - ASCI) in 1916, later named AGESCI. He began working with the latter group. He tried to get Baden-Powell to accept the ASCI as a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. He also try to get the BBS back together with the Boy Scout Association. Both of these efforts were without success.[9] In 1927, he left for the United Kingdom as the Fascists quashed the Italian Scouting Movement,[1] in favour of the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB), an Italian Fascist youth organisation. Despite a private letter to Sir Francis Vane 24 April 1933, sympathising with Vane’s worries, the Balilla was an organisation that was publicly highly praised by Baden-Powell,[13] as the application of scouting as part of national education.

Personal life

He succeeded his cousin Sir Henry Ralph Fletcher-Vane as baronet in 1908.

His first wife, Anna Oliphant da Costa Ricci, daughter of the Baron Anselmo da Costa Ricci of Portugal, whom he married in 1888, died in 1922. Vane became a Knight Commander of the Order of Christ (Portugal) in 1889. He married his second wife, Kathleen Crosbie in 1927. Sir Francis died in 1934 aged 72, after spending his last year of life in ill health at St Thomas' Hospital in Lambeth.[14]


Agin the government: memories and adventures of Sir Francis Fletcher Vane (1929)


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Working Class Movement Library: Sir Francis Patrick Fletcher Vane, Bt.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 A man of courage. accessed 25 September 2008
  4. London Gazette 13 February 1885
  5. London Gazette 1 December 1914
  6. Levenson, Leah; Jerry H. Nattersand (1989). Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington: Irish Feminist. Irish Studies. Syracuse University Press. pp. 82. ISBN 9780815624806. Retrieved 11/05/2010. 
  7. Kildea, Jeff (2010). "Called to arms: Australian soldiers in the Easter Rising 1916". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 11 May 2010. 
  8. Hansard 1 August 1916
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 The BBS Story The British Boy Scouts and British Girl Scouts Association. accessed 25 September 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Other Youth Programs Author Victor M. Alexieff. SOSSI Journal. Vol. 37, No. 9, September 1982
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Boy Scout Movement: Internationalism--Order of World Scouts Historic Boys' Uniform website.
  12. [1]
  13. The praise was given in an article published in the Daily Telegraph - Jeal, Tim, Baden-Powell, Hutchinson 1989, page 545
  14. Information supplied by the Reverend Dr Michael Foster from information held in the British Boy Scouts Archive

External links

  • ODNB article by Roger T. Stearn, ‘Vane, Sir Francis Patrick Fletcher, fifth baronet (1861–1934)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2006 [2], accessed 7 April 2008.
Baronetage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Henry Fletcher-Vane
(of Hutton)


Preceded by
Colonel Frederick Charles Keyser
President, BBS
Succeeded by
Vacant (1913-1932: Honorary -- Mrs G White Brebble)
Grand Scoutmaster, OWS
Succeeded by
Albert Jones Knighton