Artist Profile

Dame Ngaio Edith Marsh

Born 1895, Died 1982

Edith Ngaio Marsh was born in Christchurch and when she was around seven years old, her parents moved to Cashmere which was to be her home for the rest of her life. She was educated first at a dame school run by Sibella E. Ross, and then in 1910 was enrolled at St Margaret's College.

Between 1913 and 1919 Marsh attended Canterbury College School of Art as a part-time student, supplementing her income with private tutoring. Here she met Evelyn Polson (later Page), who became a lifelong friend, and Olivia Spencer Bower. She shared a studio in Cashel Street with a group of fellow students who were interested in innovative artistic styles and approaches. The orientation of the college was more formal and academic, but one of her teachers, Richard Wallwork, and his wife, Elizabeth, were sources of encouragement.
Marsh saw herself as a painter, and in 1927 she was part of an exhibition by The Group, organised to differ from the conservative hanging policy of the Canterbury College School of Art.

Although she continued to paint throughout her life, Marsh gradually gave up serious aspirations and in 1928 travelled to England. Her journey was recorded under her pseudonym, 'A New Canterbury Pilgrim', in a series of articles which appeared in the Christchurch Press and were syndicated to other newspapers.

Between 1934 and 1982 Marsh wrote 32 detective stories, shifting to the publisher William Collins in 1938, with American publication by Little, Brown from 1940. At a time when the detective genre was in the ascendant, Marsh became an acknowledged star, one of the constellation that included Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Dorothy Sayers.
Between 1932 and 1948 Marsh's life was conditioned by her responsibilities to her father, although she managed a trip to England in 1937–38. Edward Marsh died in 1948. For the remainder of her life Ngaio Marsh divided her time between lengthy visits to England, and her house in Cashmere, where she did her writing. In 1951 Marsh was involved in founding the British Commonwealth Theatre Company, which toured New Zealand that year with three of her productions. She continued to work with the Canterbury University College Drama Society (from 1958 the University of Canterbury Drama Society) in other venues after the destruction of the Little Theatre. In 1967 the Ngaio Marsh Theatre was opened and Marsh directed the inaugural production of Twelfth night.
Marsh was made an OBE in 1948, and a DBE in 1966. In 1962 she was awarded an honorary degree in literature from the University of Canterbury.

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