Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Peter Downes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Marion Mitchell was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on 19 October 1876, the daughter of Fanny Maria Wheatland Waters and her husband, Walter Mitchell, a bootmaker and amateur musician. At the age of 14, in September 1891, Marion auditioned in Wellington for a place in a juvenile opera company recently assembled by Tom Pollard. He was seeking talented children to train in all aspects of stage work and to tour New Zealand and Australia with a repertoire of popular comic operas. Pollard was sufficiently impressed with the young singer's voice to instantly offer her leading roles, beginning with that of Mabel in The pirates of Penzance. She was reluctant to take such a step without public support so her debut performance in Wellington, on 16 September 1891, was announced without her name appearing on the bills. 'The little lady wishes to remain anonymous', read the advertisements, 'until the verdict of her townspeople proclaims the success of the venture.'
Marion Mitchell became a star overnight. She immediately began to learn new operas and within weeks was able to play principal roles in La mascotte and The mikado. Newspaper reviewers in New Zealand, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth singled her out for special praise, but the true accolade came in Melbourne with her performance in The gondoliers on 15 October 1892. This was unanimously hailed as a triumph; she was extravagantly acclaimed as 'another Madame Melba'.
Tom Pollard now realised the great drawcard he had in Marion Mitchell and over the next seven years placed her in as many productions as possible. When she was 17 years old, it was announced that she could play without rehearsal the leads in 16 operettas and two burlesques. Her singing and acting had matured and improved with experience: she was a star attraction. Yet in spite of constant press and public adulation she remained modest and unaffected by success.
In May 1897, after her ardent suitor had pursued her over the length and breadth of the country, Marion Mitchell was engaged to Ernest Hyam Davis, a brewer from Auckland. They were married at Auckland on 2 August 1899. She had retired from the Pollard company earlier in the same year after 12 months of slowly winding down and gradually relinquishing her many roles to May Beatty and other performers.
Marion Davis rarely sang in public again, devoting her time to her husband and two children, Mollie and Desmond. Ernest Davis was elected mayor of Auckland in 1935, and as mayoress she ably supported him during the six years of his term in office. A large number of civic and charitable organisations benefited from her active participation and she was especially interested in the work of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She became Lady Davis in 1937 when her husband was knighted. She died in Auckland on 5 May 1955 and five years later her name was commemorated when Sir Ernest Davis gifted to Auckland in perpetuity the Marion Davis Memorial Library, later known as the Ernest and Marion Davis Memorial Library.