The first thing I noticed when I first visited Butiaba Port in Hoima five years ago was not the beautiful green of Lake Albert, the majestic Blue Mountains of Ituri or the sprawling shacks of the fishing folk. It was this: a dream unfulfilled.
This is what remains of the SS Robert Coryndon, the jewel of the British colonial administration in Uganda. The ship once described by Winston Churchill as ‘the best library afloat’ was part of an ambition to link Africa by rail, road and waterway.
The SS Robert Coryndon operated a Class A ferry service from Butiaba to the Congo, transiting through Packwach in Nebbi district. In the 1950s and early 1960s, when Butiaba was still a flourishing gateway, the steamship did good business taking people and produce from northern Congo and southern Sudan into Uganda for export to European markets.
When Ernest Hemingway was forced to stop in Butiaba after a plane crash on one of his hunting safaris, he described the SS Robert Coryndon in a letter to a friend, as magnificence on water.
Gordon Mumford, recalls a trip to the Nile in which he traveled by train from Nairobi to Namasagali on the shores of Lake Kyoga. He transferred across the lake to Masindi Port and then took by bus to Butiaba where he traveled in comfort with the SS Coryndon to Packwach. Munford sailed up the Nile on a sternwheeler called Lugard II, finally arriving at his destination of Nimule at the Sudan border several days later.
The ship sunk in 1964 and was abandoned. Now all that remains of the glorious SS Robert Coryndon is a half sunken decaying relic.
* Robert Thorne Coryndon was Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Uganda from February 10, 1918 to August 14, 1922. After his assignment in Uganda he was appointed Governor of Kenya where he served until his death on February 10, 1925.
** None of the above photographs are my own. They were very respectfully ripped from Gordon Mumford.org, Pembrokians.co.ke, McCrow’s East African Railways pages and Kinnie’s web album. Visit these sites for full size pictures of the SS Coryndon.
*** Butiaba Port is to be rehabilitated by Tullow Oil for export of petroleum from the Albertine Valley.