As a child brought up around Poole Harbour, which was at that time classified as the second largest natural harbour in the world, I was always aware of Brownsea Island. This is the largest island in the harbour. When I was a child I was saving my pocket-money in the vain hope that I could buy the island!
I loved Brownsea, and its air of mystery was deepened by the knowledge that trespassing was prohibited. At that time Brownsea was owned by a reclusive lady, Mrs Bonham-Christie. She had guards patrolling the shore-line. Whether I ever actually landed on the island in those days I’m not sure. I like to think that I did, on a beach as far away from the castle where the owner lived as could be.
Nor was I the only person to be fascinated by Brownsea. Enid Blyton spent many holidays in the Purbeck area of Dorset and the countryside inspired her work. In her book ‘Five Have a Mystery to Solve,’ published in 1962, she wrote about an island sometimes referred to as Whispering Island and it’s likely that this was Brownsea Island.
The castle on the island was built during the reign of King Henry VIII for coastal defense. Forces were stationed there in times of conflict from that time, even when it was privately owned.
Mrs Bonham-Christie gained possession of the island in 1927 and proceeded to set it up as a nature reserve, evicting most of the islanders and just retaining those she needed. When she died in 1961 she left it to her grandson. In 1962 the National Trust took it over.
Another claim to fame for Brownsea Island dates from before the time of Mrs Bonham-Christie. The very first Boy Scout camp was held there in 1907, under the supervision of Robert Baden-Powell. Twenty one boys attended, a mixture of boys from public schools and ordinary working-class local boys.
Now it’s said to be our favourite nature reserve run by the National Trust. It’s a beautiful island, a lovely day out. You never know which birds or animals you may see, even the fairly rare (in the UK) red squirrel.