Taking care of mentally ill, often meant imprisonment. These shackles show the horrible way in which patients were restrained. The shackles were purchased by the orphans master, a supervisor in asylums for the mentally ill, who received money for taking care of these people and was allowed to keep the money that was left after expenses.
In the 18th century, Ghent had many places for the mentally ill: the mediaeval Castle Gerard de Duivelsteen, the Zottepoort in Korte Violettelei, with the Alexians in the former St-Amandus institute or with the beguines of the Small and Large beguinages. Furthermore, there was always room in the prisons as well.
There was quantity, but the quality was less high, just like in the rest of Europe. The shackles attached to this wooden board are proof of this. Peter Joseph Triest and his Brothers of Charity released the mentally ill men from the Gerard Duivelsteen in 1815. A weezenmeester – ‘orphans master’ – was a job that was passed on from generation to generation. He supervised the mentally disturbed there at the time. The town council gave him an amount of money he had to use to provide for the insane. What was left after expenses for food, staff and accommodation was profit the master could keep for himself. It comes as no surprise that the quality of relief was very low and that iron shackles played an prominent role.