Who was Ngaio Marsh?
Hugely talented, charming and enigmatic, Ngaio Marsh is one of New Zealand’s best-known literary figures, and was for a time our most famous export across the globe.
A tall woman with a deep voice and a love of designer clothes, she carried her own inimitable style, and was a familiar sight around Christchurch driving her sleek black Jaguar wrapped in a fur coat.
She was a true pioneer – overcoming the barriers of her time to rise to the peak of society, and her career, as an internationally-successful independent female artist. A creative powerhouse whose influences are still felt today.
Dame Ngaio Marsh
One of the original ‘Queens of Crime’ who dominated crime fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, alongside Agatha Christie. Wrote 32 internationally-acclaimed novels featuring the quintessential upper class English detective – the handsome and melancholic Inspector Roderick Alleyn.
Theatre director, mentor & patron
Credited with single-handedly reviving Shakespeare in New Zealand. Wrote, produced and directed many plays and was involved in New Zealand’s most important theatrical institutions. She was a mentor to many up and coming actors, including Sam Neill (Thor, Jurassic Park).
It was for her work in theatre that she received her Damehood.
Dame Ngaio initially pursued a career as an artist. Founding member of The Group, an influential art association that involved many of New Zealand’s best-known artists including Olivia Spencer Bower and Evelyn Page.
Woman of Society
Awarded many honours for her writing and contribution to theatre. Travelled extensively overseas, with long sojourns in England moving in society circles.
Many interesting people visited Christchurch to pay homage to New Zealand’s grandest dame. Hollywood greats Sir Laurence Oliver and Vivien Leigh were among those who visited her home, on their 1948 tour of New Zealand.
“Dame Ngaio Marsh was a trailblazer, a pioneer, a woman who shaped her times. She was a Crime Queen alongside Agatha Christie when the genre had an extraordinary global impact. In 1949, a million copies of her crime novels were released onto the market. And she was a cherished icon of Shakespearean theatre, ground breaking in both her staging and direction. Her passion for working with young people and her love for the theatre are among her most enduring legacies.”
New Zealand author and Dame Ngaio Marsh biographer Joanne Drayton
Born Edith Ngaio Marsh in Merivale, Christchurch. Ngaio is a name of Maori origin and the name of a native New Zealand tree. It can also mean ‘reflections on water’.
Moved to Marton Cottage with her parents (now Ngaio Marsh House)
Pupil at St Margaret’s College, Christchurch
Studied at Canterbury College School of Art
Part of exhibition by noted local art association The Group
First of many trips to England
First novel published - A Man Lay Dead
Directs first play with University of Canterbury drama society
Awarded an OBE
Awarded Honorary Doctorate from the University of Canterbury
Made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Ngaio Marsh Theatre opens at University of Canterbury
Encouraged founding of the Court Theatre, New Zealand’s largest theatre company, and becomes a lifelong patron
Awarded The Grand Master lifetime achievement award, The Edgar Awards, Mystery Crime Writers of America, alongside Agatha Christie, Graham Greene and Alfred Hitchcock
Dies at home. Buried in the Acland family churchyard at Mount Peel Station’s Church of the Holy Innocence
Inaugural Ngaio Marsh Crime Awards recognising excellence in crime, mystery and thriller writing by New Zealand authors
Ngaio Marsh Theatre at the University of Canterbury reopens after the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes
More Information about Dame Ngaio Marsh
Three New Zealanders: Ngaio Marsh
Three New Zealanders was a documentary series from 1977 that looked at the lives of three of NZ's most celebrated writers: Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh. Produced by Endeavour Films (John Barnett), the final chapter of this three-part series centres on internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director Dame Ngaio Marsh. From NZ On Screen.