Author(s): James Dunk
What happened when people went mad in the fledgling colony of New South Wales? In this important new history of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, we find out through the correspondence of tireless colonial secretaries, the brazen language of lawyers and judges and firebrand politicians,and heartbreaking letters from siblings, parents and friends.
We also hear from the mad themselves. Class, gender and race became irrelevant as illness, chaos and delusion afflicted convicts exiled from their homes and living under the weight of imperial justice; ex-convicts and small settlers as they grappled with the country they had taken from its Indigenous inhabitants, as well as officers, officials and wealthy colonists who sought to guide the course of European history in Australia.
This not a history of the miserable institutions built for the mentally ill, or those living within them, or the people in charge of the asylums. These stories of madness are woven together into a narrative about freedom and possibilities, and collapse and unravelling. The book looks at people at the edge of the world finding themselves at the edge of sanity, and is about their strategies for survival. This is a new story of colonial Australia, cast as neither a grim and fatal shore nor an antipodean paradise, but a place where the full range of humanity wrestled with the challenges of colonisation.