Nellie Scanlan, author


Ellen Margaret Scanlan, 1882-1968, New Zealand's most widely read popular novelist of the 1930s and 1940s. She was born in Picton on 15 January 1882, of Irish Catholic parentage.


Nellie Scanlan at the end of her career. Image supplied by author

Scanlan's interest in writing and journalism may well have been prompted during her early life by the family's close friendship with the poet Thomas Bracken. During the First World War she became a reporter, then sub-editor, on the Manawatu Daily Times, and in 1919 began an adventurous, roving 30-year career as a free-lance journalist in New Zealand and overseas.

She initially travelled to the United States, where her first major assignment was the reporting of the first Conference on the Limitation of Armaments in Washington DC, in 1921–22 (she was the only woman reporter present). During two years there she became well known as a peripatetic 'ambassador' for New Zealand, speaking at women's clubs and reporting on social events and personalities in syndicated articles which were also published as a book, Boudoir mirrors of Washington, in 1923.


A young Nellie Scanlan at her desk. Image supplied by author

After 1923 Scanlan was based in England, where for 25 years she continued to report on the lives of the rich and famous, on royal events, and on the personalities and places be-hind public and political events in England and Europe.

Scanlan returned every five years or so to New Zealand. In her autobiography Road to Pencarrow (1963), Scanlan wrote of her career as a novelist: 'I was never young and full of promise. I was once young, but my first novel wasn't published until I was nearly fifty.'

When the Second World War started Scanlan was again in New Zealand. Unable to travel, she became a well-known New Zealand radio speaker, with a long-running series of broadcasts (two hundred altogether) entitled 'Shoes and ships and sealing-wax'. She went back to England in 1944, but this was to be her last extended stay overseas. She re-turned to New Zealand in 1948 and settled in a cottage at Paraparaumu Beach, north of Wellington
She died at Calvary Hospital in Wellington on 5 October 1968. In 1965 she had been ap-pointed an MBE for services to journalism and authorship.

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Further sources - Nellie Scanlan, author



  • Obit. (1968, 25 October) New Zealand Listener,  21
  • Obit. (1968, October 6) Evening Post



  • Scanlan, N. M. Papers, 1921--1950. MS-Papers-0232. WTU

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