The creation of Outward Bound, as with many of Kurt Hahn’s other accomplishments, was to some extent serendipitous. The vagaries of war forced Hahn to return to Germany in 1914 where he first met and worked with Prince Max von Baden. Together they were able to start a school, Schloss Salem. The rise of Hitler in the early 1930s and Hahn’s outrage over Hitler’s behavior resulted in imprisonment and a subsequent exile to Britain. It was here that he was asked to put on a compelling demonstration of the Salem system. He refused to do this in an established English Public school because it would be too difficult to overcome the inertia of tradition. He was strongly attracted to the northeast of Scotland, where he had convalesced while recovering from his sunstroke related episodes. During these recovery periods Hahn became friendly with the Cumming family who later made available the Gordonstoun Estate for Hahn to open a school. In April 1934, Gordonstoun School was opened with two pupils. A third pupil, Prince Philip of Greece (who later became His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh) joined them in September.
By 1937 there was a full complement of about 150 students and already Hahn was looking for ways to make his system more accessible to the youth of the village. He created a tripartite scheme whereby young people could work at developing physical skills such as running, jumping and throwing, as well as learning to live in the outdoors through an expedition, and embarking upon a hobby or project, which he referred to as the “grande passion.” Completion of these activities to a prescribed standard resulted in the awarding of the Moray Badge (named after the school’s home county of Morayshire). It was the Moray Badge program that made Hahn’s principles of education come alive and the “taste of boarding school life” more accessible.
It was not long before Hahn had dreams of expanding the Moray Badge scheme to include more than a million young people. He recruited James Hogan to further develop the County Badge that was an iteration of the Moray Badge adapted to the needs and culture of each county in England. The four key elements to achieving the County Badge have been embraced by Outward Bound and are referred to as the “Four Pillars”. These Pillars are physical fitness; an expedition that provides challenge and adventure; a project that develops self-reliance and self-discipline; and finally a sense of compassion through service.
Between 1937 and 1940 there were several short residential courses offered to promote the County Badge. One of these was a 28-day introduction to the scheme that was the inspiration for the future Outward Bound courses.
The Blue Funnel Line and Outward Bound
During this time James Hogan’s tenure with the County Badge program was coming to an end and Hahn wanted to keep him on. Hahn also had the idea of further developing the short residential courses into an ongoing training course. Lawrence Holt, part owner of the Blue Funnel Shipping Company, was looking for a training program for young sailors who seemed to have lost the tenacity and fortitude needed to survive the rigors of war and shipwreck, unlike older sailors who, because of their formative experiences on sailing ships, were more likely to survive.
During a meeting with Holt in Liverpool, Hogan was able to convince him that Hahn’s idea was worth funding. After lengthy consideration, Holt agreed:
“The Blue Funnel Shipping Company will support you. We’ll give you one thousand pounds outright. We’ll buy the house and put it at your disposal and we’ll lend you, without charge, the trained men you need for the nautical side of your training. How will that do you?”
This was the birth of Outward Bound. Unfortunately one of Holt’s conditions was that the first course should commence on October 14, 1941, only five weeks after the offer was made! Once again James Hogan came through and the Outward Bound School was established on the Welsh coast at Aberdovey where it could be conducted on and around the sea.
Even though it was Hahn who had the original idea for the 28-day residential course, he was first to disclaim credit for Outward Bound. He often said that Laurence Holt was the founder. Hahn will, and should, be better remembered as the “moving spirit”. The name “Outward Bound” was one offered by Holt because of the nautical connection. Hahn did not like the name and wanted to maintain the notion of the County Badge. But since Holt held the monetary trump cards Hahn acquiesced. It was not until much later that Hahn admitted that one of Outward Bound’s greatest assets was its name.
Outward Bound International is indebted to Dr. Tony Richards, a scholar on the work of Kurt Hahn, for his contribution to this section.