The fools on the hill : the Natal government asylum and the institutionalisation of insanity in colonial Natal
Representing one aspect of my wider research into changing perceptions and practices of mental illness and mental health in the period c.1850-1950 in the region that today is KwaZulu-Natal, this paper focuses on the colonial identification and institutionalisation of those deemed insane between the 1860s and 1909. Based on the published statistics pertaining to the Natal Government Asylum (established 1880), I sketch a social profile of those officially certified as being of unsound mind, and suggest some of the reasons why they might have been said to have been so. The paper is divided into six parts. Parts I and II outline some of the methodological difficulties of this area of research, as well as the major debates and controversies surrounding the history of western psychiatry, and the role of the asylum. In Parts III and IV I consider briefly the emergence of colonial medicine and psychiatry in southern Africa and, more particularly, in Natal, in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. The analysis of the Natal Government Asylum statistics forms Part V, while the concluding section raises questions about the influence of colonial psychiatry far beyond the asylum walls.