Norris Frank Davey (23 March 1903 – 1 March 1982) was a New Zealand short story writer and novelist who wrote under the pen name Frank Sargeson (/ˈsɑːrəsən/)[1]. Sargeson has been credited with introducing everyday New Zealand English to literature.[2]

Frank Sargeson
Born(1903-03-23)23 March 1903
Hamilton, New Zealand
Died1 March 1982(1982-03-01) (aged 78)
Auckland, New Zealand
Pen nameFrank Sargeson
LanguageNew Zealand English
NationalityNew Zealander


Sargeson was born in Hamilton, New Zealand on 23 March 1903. Although Sargeson became known for his literary depiction of the laconic and unsophisticated New Zealand working-class men, his upbringing was comfortable, albeit puritanical[3]. Upon completing his training as a solicitor, he spent two years in the United Kingdom. In the 1930s, he took permanent residence in his parents' holiday cottage at 14A Esmonde Road in Takapuna, a northern suburb of Auckland. He eventually inherited the property, which for several decades, became an important gathering place for Auckland's Bohemian and intellectual class.

His original residence was described by Sargeson as “nothing more than a small one-roomed hut in a quiet street ending in a no-man’s land of mangrove mud-flats that belonged to the inner harbour. It was very decayed, with weather-boards falling off.”

Michael King, who wrote Sargeson’s entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand biography,[4] as well as a major biography of Sargeson says that “even Don Doran", who disparaged bourgeois standards and conventions, declined to spend a night there when he visited Frank from Wellington soon after his protégé had moved in; he told his daughter the conditions were ‘too rough’. Whilst the original bach must have been pretty basic, the jewel of the property was the vegetable garden.

The vegetable garden,[5] which is no longer there, was an important part of the property to Sargeson. Michael King, again, on the importance of growing vegetables to Frank: The success of that first season of fruit and vegetable production, and the excitement and profound satisfaction it bought, had an enduring effect. “[It] ensured that for more than thirty years I would grow on a scale sufficient to provide for myself, with often besides a good deal to sell or give away.”

After the original bach was condemned by local government a second bach was built in 1948 by Frank’s friend George Haydn. Haydn writes of the events that led to him building the bach in his essay The House That George Built:

“Sadly, Brown’s plans cost too much and I volunteered to draw up something more affordable. But at least my plan still had the Vernon Brown sloping roof and ceiling. I used standard joinery and the least expensive materials that complied with the building code: asbestos fibrolite cladding and roof, and Pinex for the inside lining…Everything went smoothly and Frank did what he could to help. However he was highly excitable, fretful, and reminded me of an anxious helicopter hovering over the job.”[6]

When the author and poet Janet Frame was released in 1955 after eight years of incarceration in New Zealand psychiatric hospitals, Sargeson (who lived near Frame's sister) invited her to stay in a former army hut on his property. He introduced her to other writers and affirmed her literary vocation and encouraged her to adopt good working habits. She lived in the shed for about a year, during which time she wrote her first novel, Owls Do Cry.[7]

Sargeson begun his writing career in the late 1920s but did not begin to gain recognition until he started to contribute short sketches and stories to the radical periodical Tomorrow from 1935. These helped hone the elements of distinctive writing features Sargeson was later known for, an economic delineation of character, minimalist narration, and an understanding of the tight range of idiomatic vocabulary and syntax appropriate to his characters.[8]

During the 1930s and 40s, Sargeson experienced considerable economic hardship, as his literary output earned him very little money. This experience left him permanently sympathetic to the Left. For example, he quietly advocated closer relations between New Zealand and Maoist China. He was also gay at a time when sodomy was illegal in New Zealand. In 1929, he was arrested on a morals charge in Wellington, but later acquitted. King (1995) believes that this trial explains why Sargeson adopted a pen name and never practised the profession for which he had trained.

Sargeson died in Auckland in 1982. Christine Cole Catley was left his estate and later launched the Frank Sargeson Trust.[9] In 1987 the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship, a New Zealand literary award, was established to provide assistance to New Zealand writers. Some writers who have previously received the award include Alan Duff, Michael King, and Janet Frame.[10]



  • King, Michael (1995). Frank Sargeson: A Life. Viking. ISBN 0-670-83847-0.
  1. ^ "Sargeson". Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "New Zealand Book Council". Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  4. ^ Te Ara: Frank Sargeson
  5. ^ Te Ara: Frank Sargeson's Vegetable Garden
  6. ^ Heritage et AL: Frank Sargeson's House
  7. ^ Janet Frame, An Angel at my Table (Virago Press, 2010), 295-99
  8. ^
  9. ^ "'One of the forces of nature' Christine Cole Catley | Booksellers New Zealand". Archived from the original on 18 February 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  10. ^ [2]

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