Share this record

Free State Psychiatric Complex
Bloemfontein, Free State



The history of the Free State Psychiatric Complex has little mention in the literature. This was the first institution for treating mentally diseased patients north of the Orange/Gariep River.

What is known is that the State Lunatic Asylum, Bloemfontein was founded in 1883 in the then Republiek van die Oranje Frij Staat (Orange Free State Republic) although the official centenary was celebrated in 1984. By 1896 it had facilities to house 60 patients. None of the buildings of the Republican period remain.

"'Lunacy' has a longer history in the Republic. The first reference to it occurs in 1866 when the President asked the Volksraad for guidance in dealing with destitute lunatics and received authority 'to provide provisionally in the simplest manner possible for the care of the sick and especially the mentally ill, either by having a number of rooms built on or by any other method.' Again in 1875 the President raised the matter when two lunatics were reported in the country districts. He was now empowered to arrange for mentally ill patients to be conveyed to Bloemfontein and kept there at State expense in a Government building or a house specifically erected for the purpose. A committee of appeal for voluntary contributions was named and De Express and The Friend lent active support to the cause. An institution was now established because by 1881 the available accommodation was so overtaxed that it was considered urgently necessary to erect at once a proper Kranksinnigengesticht (Institution for the Mentally Disturbed), The first grant of land — a gift from the Municipality appropriately called 'Bedlam' — was registered in May, 1883 and upon it a building was erected at a cost of £4,500 (R9 000). This was the first lunatic asylum in the Orange Free State, upon the state of its ten inmates Dr. C. J. G. Krause reported for the first time in 1889.

As in the Transvaal, lunacy legislation came after the establishment of the gesticht. However, the Wetboek (1891) contained a section 'Mental Cases and Hospital' which served a dual purpose as guidance for district surgeons and as regulations for the institution. If a lunatic or dangerous imbecile was brought before a Landdrost and certified as such by two medical practitioners (one preferably a district surgeon), he was empowered to confine him in 'any hospital or other place of safe detention' pending an order from the High Court removing him to the gesticht. Another important provision entitled relatives or friends to take charge of a lunatic: for this the President had to give his special permission and the dispensation could be withdrawn at any time if the patient became dangerous or a nuisance. Law No. 4 of 1893 (Wet op Krankzinnigheid) codified existing practice, but now the President himself issued the reception order for a certified lunatic upon the landdrost's application.

The Asylum in-patient total increased steadily throughout the 1890's:
1889 —
1894 —
1897 —
1904 —

This was made possible by the acquisition of adjoining sites and the addition of native quarters in 1890 (£1,140) and an extensive female wing (£4,038) in 1898. On Dr. Krause's death his duties were taken over by Dr. Kellner who remained Physician-in-Charge until the appointment of a full-time medical officer in 1906. Dr. Kellner's knowledge of mental diseases was fairly extensive and the classification of cases in the 1897 Report included: melancholia, mania, amentia, paranoia, dementia hysterica, dementia epileptica, dementia paralytica, dementia phthisica and mania puerperalis. He was a protagonist of the 'no restraint' doctrine as well as a firm believer in the therapeutic value of hard work, and by 1895 the Asylum possessed its own orchard and garden. By 1897 it was the largest medical institution in the Republic." From Burrows, E.H. 1958. A History of Medicine in South Africa up to the end of the Nineteenth Century. Cape Town. AA Balkema. pp.292-3.

The complex today is noteworthy as it illustrates the development of the architectural language of the South African Public Works Department over virtually a whole century. The pavilions housing wards flank a Beaux Art central planning layout. With continuous addition of many campuses the sense of the complex is rather of isolated campuses in an extended landscape than that of a cohesive institutional complex. Each of the campuses, however, retains its own cohesive character. As the oldest institution of its kind dating from the time of the independent Republics the complex represents the development of the treatment of mentally diseased patients and as such is of high national significant.

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Contact Artefacts please if you have any comments or more information regarding this record.