Behold, a Dream Unfulfilled

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.

ss-robert-coryndon

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.

ss-robert-croydon-past

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.

ss-robert-croydon-present1

Alas.

* 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.

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22 Comments to “Behold, a Dream Unfulfilled”

  1. I need to be a student of yours Tumwi…you floor me too much

    and… Sockies!!!

  2. Yeah, nice history lesson.

  3. you never cease to amaze me with your heart for the asbolutely sexily rare news!

    you a wonder.

  4. If only I was working under you. Problem you would fire me in a jiffy.

  5. Gosh Tumwi
    This is the first thing I have read today. Nice!! Thank you for making me less Ignorant. Oooh by the way, in my opinion , the whole of Bunyoro region is a dream unfulfilled. The SS Robert Coryndon, is just an omen. Thanks again

  6. I was on the ferry to Kalangala the other day marveling at how it had to be run by Tanzanian staff.

    This is great history, and sad testament to the way things are run (or not run) in this place.

  7. Once again u impress – terribly! These links should be forwarded to the powers that be!

  8. My father Akbarali Allibhai Kapasi bought this ship from east African railways and harbours in 1965 with the intention of converting this great ship into a floating hotel. We had to leave Uganda Idi Amin expulsion of the Ugandan Asians. We would like to make contacts with the family of Mr Robert Coryndon to share our record of our activities during our ownership.

  9. Contact: nevwebb@hotmail.com
    Please include in email Subject Box: Nimule

    In the summer of 1961 did EAH&R journey from Nairobi to Nimule and return, as follows:

    By train from Nairobi to: Mbulamuti,Namasagali
    SS Stanley: across Lake Kioga to Masindi Port
    Bus to: Masindi, Butiaba
    Small launch overnight to Murchison Falls then Packwach
    SS Lugard: Packwach Rhino Camp, Obongi Laropi and finally Nimule

    Was told that the SS Coryndon was fabricated in Scotland, then assembled at Butiaba

    An excellent amd most interesting journey; still have the photos and the slides, though little faded. At that time the cost of the round trip First class was 35 Kenya pounds.

    Recollection:
    “In 1961 when I was at border village of Nimule, Sudan, walked into the market [where I bought a smoking from a Nuer woman] .. that was ‘real’ Africa.

    An Asian stall holder told me that Winston Churchill [years ago] had sat under a Baobab tree there .. and I should go down the small narrow trail the trader pointed out, did that. Came to the bank of the Nile and of course a tree was there.

    However, before leaving the SS Lugard was told not to take a camera [into the Sudan], so no photos of the market place or the baobab tree under which Winston Churchill once sat in 1908 … seem to recall I was also told Churchill did a painting or drawing at that place.”

    All of this recall came about through reading a newly published book ‘The Black Nile’ In the Library this morning, searched the INet and a news paper article written by Churchill was in an American paper 1908 .. so he was there. Can still recall the trail!
    Winston Churchill: Nimule Sudan
    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FA0912F73C5A15738DDDAF0894DE405B898CF1D3

  10. I had the opportunity to see the SS Robert Coryndon on 30th September 2010. There were some fishermen in the bay and a few residents there. They told us they were stripping the vessel of metal piece. Then they kept the metal under water for fear of theft until it could be sold when a truck came by. It was still possible to take loads of pictures. Between the vessel and Butiaba village there is now a fairly good guest house with app. 10 rooms. We visited Red Scorpions Sports Club.

  11. I am a Ugandan photographer and have been to Butiaba more than three times. The SS Coryndon ship was bought (in its current state) by one rich man who has served for close to 21 years in government. Apparently, those in the know do not reveal the new owner. But yes, lot of metal have been hidden under water by engineers. Some have been taken away for scrap sale. Life there is continuing. Then the discovery of oil, that is another menace which is going to affect the whole place.

    The Red Scorpions is a group of activists with a drama club, football club, ete etc
    I will share some photos on the web soon.

    • Thanks for visiting. It was great for me to follow the link to your website. Interesting stuff.

      Me, I’m an amateur. On flickr @ photos/tumwijuke. Visit some time.

  12. Nice photos especially cactus in silohuette. Dont you have any other pics?
    Paul

  13. I am person very much interested in promoting water transport in Uganda. I am impressed by the vision the Colonialist had for our people where they thought of putting such magnificent structures like the Ship Robert Coryndon in such a distant place. My parents and grand Grand parents from West Nile were linked to the Central Uganda and other parts of the World through Lugard II and Robert Coryndon. Cotton the main cash crop for the region then were linked to the Out side World through the water ways. This was the best thing that happened to West Nile District then. I am a professional boat builder myself and promoter of Water Transport in Uganda. It pains me to see such established and well developed infrastructure left to rot like this. I am appealing to people in authority over water transport in Uganda to give a serious thought to reminder. Thank you Tumwijuke for having an eye that ia able to appreciate such relics.

  14. Hello Peter,
    iam quite impressed that Uganda has water professionals. I would like to get in touch with you on this issue. Iam trying to document this matter, but i am lacking proper and more information about the Coryndon ship. Please you can contact me on 0772864954, 0756148678, or plmenya@gmail.com.
    Your response will be of great help to me,
    Thanks

  15. been to the ship 4 times but never got a chance to really know what its all about until my uncle from London told me all about it.
    i find it fascination.

  16. Hello Linda, which year(s) were you there? does your uncle have any information concerning that ship? iam trying to document it but …if he does, the information will be of great help to me. I can be contacted on: 0772864954, 0756148678, or plmenya@gmail.com.
    Thanks

  17. This is very interesting as Robert Coryndon is my Great-great Grandfather. I only recently discovered that there was a ship named for him.

  18. Hello Ilona-Pichler, good to have your say. You could probably be of help. Could you be having any other information about your granie? and are there any people (still alive) that probably have something to share? Thanks. My contacts: plmenya@gmail.com, 0756148678.Thanks

  19. Excellent blog post. I certainly love this website. Keep writing!

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