dame Ngaio Marsh

  • Born in Fendalton, Christchurch on 23 April 1895; an only child

  • Died in Christchurch, 18 February 1982

  • Ngaio lived at 37 Valley Rd, Cashmere, off Sherwood Lane, Christchurch for 76 years

  • Awarded an honorary doctorate in 1962 (University of Canterbury)

  • Awarded an OBE in 1948 and became a Dame (DBE) in 1966 for services to NZ theatre

  • Awarded a Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement as a detective novelist in 1978 from the Mystery Writers of America (joining Truman Capote, Roald Dahl, Graham Greene, Daphne du Maurier, etc)

    Marsh attended St Margaret’s College (1910-14) where she showed talent for writing poetry, prose and plays as well as acting.

    In 1913 she entered Canterbury College School of Art and left in 1919, determined to become a professional painter. The opportunity to tour with the Allan Wilkie Shakespeare Company delayed her plans until later in the 1920s. 

    In 1928 Marsh made her first visit to England, throwing herself into London life, working in the theatre, interior design and travel writing.  Marsh turned to novels and in 1931 came up with the very English Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn.  While in London she wrote A Man Lay Dead.  This marked the beginning of her prolific crime-writing career and there followed in quick succession the crime novels Enter a Murderer, The Nursing Home Murder and Death in Ecstasy

    Marsh returned to England in 1937 and used her painting knowledge for Artists in Crime in which Alleyn meets the painter Agatha Troy.  The two marry in Death in a White Tie.  By this point Marsh was considered a “Queen of Crime” along with Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham  and Dorothy L Sayers.

    Marsh returned to New Zealand but made frequent trips to England and other countries.  She was also becoming a doyenne of New Zealand theatre, mounting numerous Shakespeare plays, producing some with the D.D. O’Connor Theatre Management, at Canterbury University.

    Overall, Marsh wrote 32 novels and an autobiography, Black Beech and Honeydew.  Only four of her novels were set in New Zealand - Vintage Murder 1937 and Colour Scheme were set in the North Island; Died in the Wool 1944 and Photo Finish 1980 were set in the South Island, but Marsh was passionately attached to her native country and to her ‘blessed plot’ of land in Cashmere. You will notice that Colour Scheme and Died in the Wool were published during war years when Ngaio Marsh did not travel to England and brought her Detective Alleyn to New Zealand for war-related reasons.

    Ngaio died at her beloved home in February 1982. She was a good friend of Sir Hugh Acland and family of Mount Peel and was buried in the Acland family churchyard at Mount Peel's Church of the Holy Innocents.


    The curtain has fallen - the last act played out -
    Applaud many facets of a brilliant life.

    At Castle Elsinore, Hamlet's soliloquy dies on the wind,
    From the battlements a lone sword flourishes farewell.

    The legend lives on to inspire followers
    As clouds circle sleepy Cashmere hills.

    Peter Chapman (2001)