Story: Prisoner support and advocacy

Family intervention, 1906

This letter written by Arthur Drake to his wife's defence lawyer is an early example of the ways in which family members acted as advocates for prisoners. While prisoners have predominantly been men, in this case the prisoner was a woman, Harriet Drake. Her husband Arthur, a well-known runholder, argued for the release of Harriet, who was not eating and was being ‘helpfed’ by prison warders. He reports that she was ill, exhausted and trembling when he saw her on a prison visit. Harriet Drake was  released in 1906, the year this letter was written, on the grounds of failing health. She had served four years of a six-year sentence for the manslaughter of her seven-year-old daughter in 1902.

The letter reads:

July 17th 06

C. P. Skerritt Esq

Dear Sir

As the time is now drawing near for the next [?] sitting of Cabinet & the question of my wifes release will be gone into I wish to point out that in spite of the fact that she has not been able to take prison food & has been helped by the good nature & kindliness of the Matrons her health has completely broken down.
I saw Mrs Drake yesterday & was shocked by her appearance, she informed me that for the past 11 days she has been too ill to be about & had to take to her bed, but that the terrible blasphemy of the women next her apartment made rest utterly impossible & she was finally obliged to leave her bed, her hands were trembling as with Palsy , & she said she felt in walking that the very concrete was moving from under her feet as she walked. I do not think it would be possible to find a more thoughtful or kindly mother – loved by all her children ‘& yet so terribly abused’ in all the world.

Yours truly
Arthur Drake

P. S. I think the Justice Dep. consents to start time from date committed A.D.

Using this item

Alexander Turnbull Library, W. H. Field Collection
Reference: 73-128-149

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Kathy Dunstall, 'Prisoner support and advocacy - Supporting prisoners and their families', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 May 2022)

Story by Kathy Dunstall, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 18 May 2018