Sethna's 18th West Bombay Scout Group

India's Oldest Scout Group

Continuously Running since August 14, 1914

Rustomji Edulji Sethna


Born – 28th February, 1892 Died – 21st November, 1954

Late Scouter Rustomji Edulji Sethna was born on the 28th February 1892, in a priestly family in Bombay.

After matriculation, he took to accounts, and joined office as clerk and by dint of his merit rose to the responsible position of a cashier cum accountant.

He joined the St. John Ambulance Brigade, (Parsee Division) in 1909 as a private and rose to be the 1st Officer and was about to be appointed as the Superintendent of the Division when death snatched him away. In this organization he took a leading part in the formation of a Cadet Corps.

During the two world wars, he rendered active services and was also associated with the A.R.P. and civil defense work.

From the very beginning he was interested in moulding the youth of the country. He was concerned with the Cadet Corps of the St. John Ambulance Brigade and more comprehensively youth movement – Scouting. He noticed that at the meetings of the Cadet Corps, the Cadets used to bring their younger brothers and that the Cadets also had spare time at each of the meetings after learning about First Aid. It was in 1914, when Scouting was almost unknown in India that he chanced to see the now famous book “Scouting for Boys” which he immediately purchased, went through avidly and found it very interesting. This book gave him the idea to start a similar movement for the boys under his charge. He showed it to some of his colleagues and associates of the Brigade, but most of them were pessimistic about starting such a movement.

However, Mr. Sethna was determined to give the new movement a trial and started by calling some boys of the First Aid classes on Saturday evenings, to teach them the rudiments of Scouting. Very soon he realized that these boys liked Scouting very much. Soon after, on 14th August 1914 Mr. Sethna founded the Scout Troop which later on became 18th / 19th Bombay Boy Scout Group under the auspices of “Parsee Scouting Society”. After the death of Sethna Sir, the Society’s name was changed to Sethna’s Scouting Society and the Group was named Sethna’s 18th West Bombay Scout Group.

In the Silver Jubilee brochure Sethna Sir wrote “ Today when we celebrate our Silver Jubilee I thank Providence with all my heart for affording me through it the opportunity to serve and sacrifice.” He also wrote “ Thanks to HIM soon after Society’s foundation, I chanced to lay my hands on ‘Scouting for Boys’, which led me to direct in proper channels my ideals of serve and sacrifice, ideals which were held out to me by personal examples more significantly than even the precept of my dear father Late Mr. Edulji Sethna and my Late revered mother Mrs Avanbai.

As scouting progressed in Bombay, it gave birth to two Associations in the city, viz. The European and the Indian. This was till the year 1921. This turn of events did not please the patriotic soul of Mr. Sethna, and he protested very strongly against such discrimination in a movement that espoused the doctrine of World Brotherhood. He single handedly corresponded with the authorities in power and carried the matter right up to the Chief Scout Baden Powell himself, till the matter was put before the Council of the Imperial Head quarters. It was finally decided to have only one Scout Association for the whole of India, in which both the European and Indian troops could be registered. When these negotiations were in progress, some of the Indian troops got themselves registered with the then existing Association, the result was that the troop started by Mr. Sethna, though started first, had to get itself registered later, and was given the number 18th – 19th, under which the group achieved its fame.

Thus Scouter Sethna erected a lasting edifice in Bombay Scouting by fighting against this discrimination. For this signal service he was appointed District Scout Master, which post he held for six years, during which time he did his utmost to raise the standard of Scouting in the city. In 1940 he was awarded the Medal of Merit for his meritorious services to the movement and in 1948 was awarded the Long Service Medal.

Late Mr. Sethna’s life is remarkably historic. He was one of the first to start a Scout Troop in Bombay and stands out to us a characteristic example of a lover of youth who identified himself so closely with Scouts of his troop and spent freely and lavishly for their progress, instruction and enjoyment. He took Scouting not only as a hobby but made it his life mission. He was the doyen of Scouting and a self-taught Scouter. His method of teaching and imparting knowledge to his scouts was unique. He wrote several plays and books in Gujarati and English on Cubbing, Scouting and First-Aid and gave a thorough knowledge for almost all the proficiency badges the boys gained in his Group. To do this he bought from his own personal resources equipments for Morse signaling ( through electric signals ), various implements for FRET work ( wood working ) as also different musical instruments to set up a Band for the Troop. His two books “BOY SCOUT NO SATHI” ( Companion to Boy Scouts ) and “WOLF CUB” were used regularly by scouts and Scouters of other Groups as well. These books were available free of cost to everybody and later on a nominal amount of four annas ( 25 paise ) was charged.

Perhaps there is no other single Scouter in our District who has continuously associated himself with a scout troop for almost a life time period of forty years. In turn the members of the Group also loved and respected him and till today those who had come in contact with him remember him with Love, Affection and Respect. There were many wayward boys in the Scout Group whom he brought back to the normal fold and they also still remember him. He was also a deeply religious person and made it a practice that all our meetings ended with a prayer, which practice is carried on even now. He also took great interest in career of the Boys after they left the Group and he tried his best to be in touch with them. In this connection Sethna Sir wrote “ I have always followed the career of my old Scouts with great anxiety and joy.”

The greatest attribute of Sethna Sir, as he was popularly called was that he was straight forward and absolutely honest to the core; this is brought out in the following episode:- He was staying at Cusrow Baug and at that time there was a circular tram service from Musuem to Colaba. After his daily work he used to walk to the Tram Terminus at Musuem and catch the “0” number tram to go home. The fare from Museum to Electric House ( one stop before Cusrow Baug ) was one paise while the fare for Cusrow Baug was two paise. Sethna Sir inadvertently used to buy a one paise ticket and get off at Cusrow Baug. When his attention was drawn to this he calculated the short payment to the BEST and went to their office and paid the difference. The BEST staff was thunderstruck and thanked him profoundly. Someone suggested to him that instead of paying the BEST he should donate the sum to a charity. Sethna Sir replied, “ Bawa, I must pay my dues to the proper person and charity must be done only from the surplus remaining thereafter ”. This episode among many, shows his sterling character, honesty and propriety.

His love for the boys was always at the forefront especially at the time of Annual Camps. In those times the fees for the Annual Camps was kept at Rs. 15/- to Rs. 20/- per head for a camp of five to six days. Sethna Sir would grant concessions to the boys who had brothers, as also to those who could not pay the fees; some boys were even taken completely free, Sethna Sir would meet the resultant shortfall himself. At the Mahableshwar Camp in 1953 there was a large deficit in the camp account and when his attention was drawn to the same he said “ Bawa, when money is to be spent on a good cause, it has to be spent and GOD Almighty will replace the same.” When the Troop arrived back from the camp at Victoria Terminus, he called the Scouter ( who had told him about the excess expenditure ) and pointed out at two cubs ( sons of a poor lady recently widowed and who were taken free on the camp) who were both alight and radiant with happiness. The mother came to Sethna Sir and said, “ Master what have you done to my children – I have never seen them so happy and healthy.” Sethna Sir turned to the Scouter and said “ I have received my compensation.”

On one of the Camps whilst traveling by train, we were all having our packed breakfasts. The train stopped at a station and Sethna Sir saw a young woman hunger stricken trying to feed her infant child. This sight was heart rending. Sethna Sir got out of the train and gave his breakfast and that of his wife to the woman. When he came back to the train we saw that he was crying as he was deeply hurt. When offered further food he and his wife refused and said “ give it to the boys, the help I have given is from my own share.”

Sethna Sir, came from a middle class family. He had specifically kept the Scout fees to the lowest minimum of Rs.1.50 per annum for Cubs and Rs. 3.00 for Scouts. All the expenditure of running the Group was personally borne by Sethna Sir from his own pocket throughout. Sethna Sir had an awe-inspiring facade and by his sternness used to inculcate discipline in the Scouts and Cubs. However, behind the stern facade was a man with great sincerity, warmth of heart and tenderness. He was particularly happy when among the Cubs, and his fondness for them could be seen from his face which lit up at the sight of them. He used to call all the members of the Scout Group “ dikrao ” (sons) and this love and affection continued till the end.

He was a cool, calm, quiet and religious-minded unassuming gentleman. He believed in doing his work without any kind of publicity for himself.

He devoted his whole life for the youths of the City. Rarely shall one come across a personality as that of Sethna Sir who sacrificed everything, including his life for the cause so dear to his heart. During his last days Sethna Sir was suffering from an acute and painful heart attack and nobody was allowed to see him, yet whenever the senior Scouters used to visit him, Najamai, his wife allowed them to see him as Sethna Sir insisted on seeing them. He breathed his last on 21st November 1954. Thus passed away a real Scout, acknowledged by those who knew the early history of scouting in India, as one of the founders of Scouting in the then Bombay Presidency. On his death his funeral cortege started from Cusrow Baug at Colaba for the Tower of Silence-a journey of more than three miles. The Scouts, Rovers and Scouters marched behind the cortege while the Cubs were brought to the final place to give a last salute to our beloved Sethna Sir.

Sethna Sir’s two sons Patarusp and Edy were members of the Group and both came out as especially bright Scouts. Patarusp at the young age of 15, gained the Gold Cord and Bushman’s Thong which was a sort of a record for his age. Paturusp proceeded to United States of America for further studies and gained the PhD Degree three times in different subjects. Edy also proceeded to United Kingdom after passing M.B.B.S. and settled down there.

Those of us who had the good fortune to work and react with Sethna Sir can never forget this shining human being who stood by his principles in life and who devoted his life, resources, time, energy to the Group for the benefit of his “Dikraos” ( sons ). Those who had not met him personally his towering personality is still with us to follow his principles and aim in life.