Invitation Of The Missionaries

SSekabaka Mutesa 1(King of Buganda) invited Missionaries to come to Uganda.

By the 2ND half of the 19th Century, Christianity and western medical care had not reached Uganda.  Ugandans were in “Spiritual darkness”; they believed in and practiced witchcraft. Diseases like Sleeping sickness and Syphilis were occurring at epidemic levels in the country.

Realizing that his subjects needed the “light”, the then King of Buganda Sekabaka Mutesa 1 invited men of Good will from England to come and evangelize; to bring the “light” that consisted  of three important elements namely: Evangelism, Health care and education.

The Founding Of Mengo Hospital

In response to the King’s invitation mentioned above, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) of England sent a team of Missionaries to Uganda. In the team was a Physician, Dr. Sir Albert Ruskin Cook (RIP), who arrived in Uganda on 15th February 1897.

Sir Albert Cook

Sir Albert Cook was born in Hampstead, London in 1870. His parents were Dr. W.H. Cook and Harriet Bickersteth Cook. Sir Albert cook was a Medical missionary and founder of Mulago & Mengo Hospitals. Together with his wife, Katharine Cook (1863–1938), established a maternity training school in Uganda.

Sir Albert cook Graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1893 with a Bachelor of Arts degree & from St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1895 as a Bachelor of Medicine. He Arrived in Uganda in 1896.

Soon after his arrival, Dr. Cook realized that in order to minister to the spiritual lives of people of Uganda, he had to give attention to their enormous physical problems as well. Consequently on 22nd February 1897, Sir Dr. Cook held his first outpatient clinic under a tree on Namirembe hill. With that single event, the first seed for the Christian Medical work in Uganda was planted. Ever since, that work has continued to grow and to develop in size and scope uninterrupted for the last 120 years.

How It All Started

Mengo Hospital’s buildings were physical manifestations of Albert and Katharine Cook’s desire to cure and “save,” but also to incorporate “native” patients into an evangelized colonial system and to remake the Baganda in their own image. The buildings of Mengo Hospital therefore aimed to showcase the material advances of Western technology, enforce British racial theories, and impose and propagate Protestant mores. While the continuous nature of historical processes often defies attempts to determine ruptures, Mengo Hospital’s construction is divided into three phases corresponding to the three ways that Cook and his wife Katharine Cook, consciously changed the spatial configuration over time. The first phase extends from 1897 to 1904, during which time Mengo Hospital was under continual construction and revision, increasing the hospital’s capacity both to cure, and to impress with Western technology. In 1899, Sir Albert Cook was joined by his elder brother, John Howard Cook, also a Medical Doctor. Both of them did what they could to offer quality health care service to the natives of the Buganda Kingdom that were over-whelmed by malaria, sleeping sickness and sexually transmitted diseases.

Between 1897 and 1904, the CMS built three iterations of Mengo Hospital, each showcasing more of the supposed benefits and advances of Western technology. The first incarnation opened on May 14, 1897, three months after Cook arrived in Uganda. In his first hospital “consisted of two huts with reed walls, thatched roofs, and mud floors.”32 The houses, one for patients of each gender, were centered around           a large fire pit. Each house contained six hand-made beds, with dried banana leaves (byai) for mattresses, and backcloth curtains.33 These conditions—Cook called them “primitive”— provided few opportunities to display the technological power of Western medicine. The first operation was carried out on a camp bedstead for operating table, the instruments being sterilized in a saucepan and laid in vegetable dishes or plates filled with antiseptics, in lieu of surgical instrument trays. While at the time the Cooks had to improvise with materials at hand, their growing popularity and increasing revenue from patient fees allowed them to purchase more sophisticated medical equipment over time.


The second phase began in 1904 and reached its height in 1913, with the construction of separate Indian and European wards. Racial divisions always existed at Mengo Hospital, where white doctors and nurses always occupied dominant positions over African medical assistants and patients; and another category—South Asian patients—neither white nor black—received its own space. The construction of racially segregated wards emphasized and enforced colonial racial divisions and held implications for quality of medical care.

During the next three years, the attendance of in-patients grew rapidly, and the          original hospital, even with additional expansions, could no longer meet the demand for treatment. On May 31, 1900, Sir Harry Johnston, a famous missionary, opened a new building, constructed in the shape of a cross. The new hospital was drastically larger, with room for twenty-five beds for men and twenty-five beds for women and children in separate wards, but still built from “primitive” materials: a thatch and reed roof, mud and wattle walls, and banana leaf (byai) mattresses.

In 1902, the second Mengo Hospital caught fire during a thunderstorm and burned to the ground. During the panic the fire produced, overzealous Baganda destroyed some of the expensive equipment Cook had acquired, most notably glass-fronted instrument cabinets, that were thrown out a window. With the fire, Cook’s design to display Christian Europe’s technological superiority suffered a temporary setback, but the third iteration of Mengo Hospital would become the preeminent display of biomedical technology in Uganda and possibly in all of East Africa. In response to the destruction of the second Mengo Hospital, 42 Sir Apolo Kagwa, the katikiro or Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Buganda, announced: “If God has allowed our hospital to perish, it is to show us that we must build a bigger and better one. Cook took Kagwa’s words to heart, constructing the new Mengo Hospital out of Western building materials, and parading cutting-edge biomedical technology in it

During a third phase of “native” education from 1917 to 1939, the Cooks designed spaces to promote moral conversion, particularly the indoctrination of Protestant views on respectability and sin. Though this process began with the founding of Mengo Hospital, the construction of separate wards for Africans and Europeans, and the development of the midwife training program significantly extended the potential capacity to deliver moral and religious messages to “natives.” This final version of Mengo Hospital, still standing today, opened two years to the day from when the second Hospital caught fire, on November 28, 1904. This hospital was made of sundried brick, with a burnt brick foundation, corrugated iron roofing, and cement floors. It was laid out in what Cook described as “a double Maltese Cross, with an annexe [sic] at each end. All rooms had spacious, fourteen-foot ceilings

The hospital’s central block contained a dark room for optometry, an anesthetic room, an operating room, and a sterilizing chamber. Cook imported the operating table from England, and both operating room and sterilizing chamber were “painted with petrifying fluid, a highly glossy white enamel. Finally, a staircase led up to a pathology tower on the second floor. Thus, with this last Mengo Hospital, the Cooks constructed a sort of shrine to modern biomedical ideals, with sterile white enamel and the resources to sustain more rigorous, sterile scientific research focused on identifying a disease’s microscopic etiology         Although Mengo Hospital’s building projects after 1904 focused less on showing off Western medical and technological advances, the hospital continued to incorporate the most    sophisticated technology possible.

By 1910, for example, Mengo had electricity, and Cook introduced the first x-ray machine to Uganda.

As part of their evangelical, medical, and civilizing mission, the Cooks were also called to educate natives in medical practices. When he arrived in Uganda, Cook quickly learned Luganda, and published an English-Luganda Medical phrasebook intended not just for British medical practitioners, but also for “our own native assistants at Mengo Hospital, who are learning English the more thoroughly to equip them for systematic instruction in the medical sciences. In 1917, Cook founded Uganda’s first medical school. Two years later, Katharine Cook opened and became the first matron of the Lady Coryndon Maternity Training School. Finally, Katharine Cook also opened a nursing school in 1928.


These programs to educate “natives” combined strains of humanitarianism—an impulse to rescue—and colonial paternalism—an urge to infantilize and control.          Albert and Katharine Cook, paternalistic, determined to impose their moral values on the Baganda, but also genuine humanitarians, approached medical care with a determination to cure bodies, save souls, and “better,” the “natives” and even incorporate them into the pursuit of their missionary medical objectives through education. Thus these two pioneers, Albert Cook and Katharine Timpson Cook, brought to bear           their vision of the practice of medicine as a colonial evangelical endeavor, to cure physically and morally, into the everyday functions of the Hospital. The printed case sheets prepared for each patient reflected this dual mission that joined moral uplift with medical care.

In 1917, Katharine Cook proposed pursuing another potentially receptive (read, vulnerable) group outside the boundaries of Mengo Hospital: pregnant mothers with venereal          disease. Although midwifery education began in Mengo Hospital as early as 1891, it was not until 1921 that the CMS opened a separate building, the Lady Corydon Maternity Training School (LCMTS) for this purpose. The building comprised three stories, built of brick with a carved black oak staircase, and a separate entrance for European women.


Mengo Hospital’s founding physician and nurse arrived in Uganda with a clear evangelical purpose to provide biomedical curative care that might influence grateful patients to accept their “moral” cure as well. To that end, the CMS attempted to use all the “tools” at hand, infusing the forms of treatment, and even the Mengo buildings, with social and moral significance