100 Years Ago Dr Leonard Sharp Revolutionised Lake Bunyonyi

There are three islands on Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi’s that are connected through the deeply fascinating story of Dr Leonard Sharp, an English missionary (pictured above, driving in Kabale in the 1920s).

Today, Bwama Island is best known as secondary school, while Njuyeera (also known as Sharp’s Island) and Bushara serve as tourist accommodation facilities — but their modern history goes back a full century.

In 1921 Dr Sharp founded a leprosy hospital on Bwama Island and built a school and church there, while his family settled on Njuyeera. Bushara Island was later developed as base for other doctors working at Bwama.

By 1948 Bwama had 1,000 residents. Treatment involved painful weekly injections of hydnocarpus oil. At its peak, about 47,000 injections were given annually until anti-leprosy drugs were introduced in the 1980s.

Njuyeera island’s name (“white cottage”), originates from the house Sharp’s family built. The island eventually had a tennis court, boat house, guest cottage, windmill and gardens with lemon and guava trees, canna and flame lilies.

An excerpt from “Memories of Life on Lake Bunyonyi” by Joy Gower, one of the children of Dr Sharp:

For two periods of his life in Kigezi, my father, Dr Leonard Sharp was in charge of two hospitals at the same time, a general hospital at Kabale and Bwama leprosy hospital and settlement on Lake Bunyonyi. During these times he would often spend four days at Kabale and three at Bwama or visa versa. This meant my mother, sister and brother, helpers, dogs and other pets all going too. It must have been a challenge for my mother to be constantly preparing everything that was needed for the change of homes. But she was always cheerful. We made our home on Njuyeera while my father spent his days at Bwama.

It was at this time that my mother’s landscaping and gardening talents developed. Both Dr and Mrs Sharp were involved in planting beautiful trees, shrubs, climbers, flowers, fruit and vegetables on the island to make into a beautiful and attractive place not only for themselves but as a place of refreshment, enjoyment and 
serenity for others. There were orange and lemon trees, bananas, peaches, plums, a mulberry, a fig, guavas and various soft fruits.

Over the years Njuyeera became famous throughout East Africa for its beauty. Apart from visitors who were invited to stay for a holiday, there were a great many day visitors who came across the lake to see it for themselves. All were welcomed and Mrs Sharp recorded their names in a book. School and adult groups also came on outings and all were fed or entertained with sports, games and picnics.

There was the very rare European evening party for people from Kabale. These were light-hearted and enjoyable times but meant everyone staying overnight in tents, and hard work for the family to organise.

photos by Andrew JH Sharp and the Uganda Protectorate Archives (HIP Uganda)


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