Dame Edith Ngaio Marsh
1895 – 1982
Artist, playwright, actor, novelist director
Edith Ngaio Marsh was born on 23 April 1895 in Merivale, Christchurch, to Rose Elizabeth Seager and her husband, Henry Edmund Marsh.
In 1910 Ngaio was enrolled here at St Margaret’s College. She was extremely active in literary and dramatic pursuits and in 1913, her final year at St Margaret’s, one of the plays she had written, ‘The Moon Princess’, was performed by her peers. It was described by the Christchurch Press as ‘a clever little play’.
Ngaio went on to study towards an Arts degree at the Canterbury College School of Art (now the University of Canterbury) and though the orientation of the College was very formal and academically focused, Ngaio’s creative mind shone through. Alongside her studies she was also writing articles, poems and stories – many of which were published in the Christchurch Sun.
A lady of many talents, Ngaio also had a love of painting, often challenging conservative norms her with art. Ngaio is most well known though as a novelist, playwright and director. After completing her first detective novel, ‘A man lay dead’, she gave a draft to Agatha Christies literary agent which resulted in the publication of her first novel. Between 1934 and 1982 she wrote 32 detective stories.
A huge part of Ngaio’s life was spent in the theatre, both acting and directing and though she directed many plays it is likely the most monumental was when she was asked to direct the inaugural production (Twelfth Night) at the Ngaio Marsh Theatre in the University of Canterbury Students’ Association’s building.
Ngaio, challenged the norm, stood out from the crowd and embraced the unknown. In 1966 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
(Pictured above on the right with novelist, Agatha Christie)