Author(s): James Dunk
Whathappened when people went mad in the fledgling colony of New South Wales? Inthis important new history of the late eighteenth and early nineteenthcenturies, we find out through the correspondence of tireless colonialsecretaries, the brazen language of lawyers and judges and firebrand politicians,and heartbreaking letters from siblings, parents and friends. We also hear fromthe mad themselves. Class, gender and race became irrelevant as illness, chaosand delusion afflicted convicts exiled from their homes and living under theweight of imperial justice; ex-convicts and small settlers as they grappled withthe country they had taken from its Indigenous inhabitants, as well asofficers, officials and wealthy colonists who sought to guide the course ofEuropean history in Australia. This not ahistory of the miserable institutions built for the mentally ill, or thoseliving within them, or the people in charge of the asylums. These stories of madnessare woven together into a narrative about freedom and possibilities, andcollapse and unravelling. The book looks at people at the edge of the worldfinding themselves at the edge of sanity, and is about their strategies forsurvival. This is a new story of colonial Australia, cast as neither a grim andfatal shore nor an antipodean paradise, but a place where the full range of humanitywrestled with the challenges of colonisation.