Jean Batten

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Jean Batten
Jean Batten in the cockpit.jpg
Batten in 1937
Born(1909-09-15)15 September 1909
Rotorua, New Zealand
Died22 November 1982(1982-11-22) (aged 73)
Known forRecord breaking trans-world flights

Jean Gardner Batten CBE OSC (15 September 1909 – 22 November 1982) was a New Zealand aviator. Born in Rotorua, she became the best-known New Zealander of the 1930s, internationally, by making a number of record-breaking solo flights across the world. She made the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand in 1936.

Early life[edit]

Jane Gardner Batten was born on 15 September 1909 in Rotorua, to Frederick Batten, a dentist, and his wife Ellen née Blackmore. She was the only daughter of the couple, who were both first generation New Zealanders of English descent.[Note 1] She had two older brothers, and a third had died soon after birth. Although named for her grandmother, she soon became known as Jean.[2][3] Being the youngest child as well sickly, her mother, who had a domineering personality and was active in local theatre and other society engagements, doted on her.[4]

In 1913, the Batten family moved to Auckland where her father joined the city's London Dental Institute as a dentist.[5] To enhance her own status and credibility, Ellen Batten would describe him as a "surgeon dentist". Initially commencing her education at a private school, in 1917 she was switched to a state school. As her father had enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) to fight in the First World War, the family was on a reduced income.[6] Batten's mother encouraged her in activities that were considered to be masculine, taking her to Kohimarama to observe the flying boats of the flight school there. According to Batten's unpublished memoirs, it was these visits that inspired her to pursue flying.[7]

In October 1918, Fred Batten returned to New Zealand, having been discharged from the NZEF. He resumed his career as a dentist, moving his family from Devonport, where they had been renting, to Epsom.[8] Her parents' relationship, already brittle due to Fred's habit for extramarital relationships and Ellen's aloofness and reluctance to step back from running of the household following her husband's return from Europe, broke up and the couple separated in 1920. This apparently affected Jean badly, who later vowed that she would never get married. However, in later years Jean would deny her parents' breakup and maintain that the marriage was a happy one.[9]

Following the separation of her parents, Batten lived with her mother in Howick, Fred Batten covering some of the living expenses. Her older brother, Harold, had already left home and the other brother, John, lived with Fred Batten near his dental practice on Queen Street. In 1922, Jean was sent to Ladies' College, a girls' boarding college in Remuera, her father paying the tuition fees.[10] Batten's education was limited; Ladies' College was a preparatory school for girls expected to marry well and be waited upon by servants. Although she later described her time at the school as a happy one, she was an aloof student with few friends.[11][12] She finished at the school at the end of 1924, refusing to go back the following year for her fifth form year. Instead, she studied music and ballet with an intention of pursuing a career in one of these endeavours.[13] She soon became an assistant teacher at the ballet school where she trained, playing the piano during classes.[14]

Flying training[edit]

In May 1927, Batten read of Charles Lindbergh's exploit in flying non-stop across the Atlantic.[15] This stirred her childhood interest in aviation, which was further agitated the following year when the Australian pilot Charles Kingsford Smith flew from Australia to New Zealand in the Southern Cross aircraft. Batten's father took her to a reception for Kingsford Smith in Auckland. On meeting the Australian pilot, she declared her intention to learn to fly but he treated it as somewhat of a joke. Batten was humiliated and supposedly vowed to her mother afterwards that she would indeed fly. She followed this up in 1929 by taking a flight with Kingsford Smith while on a holiday in Sydney.[16] On her return to Auckland, she informed her father of her intention to become a pilot, giving up plans to be a professional pianist or dancer. He did not approve, believing it an inappropriate career choice for a woman and refused to pay for flying lessons.[17]

Kingsford Smith's Southern Cross, in 1928

Batten, encouraged by her mother, decided to go to England to learn to fly. To her father, she asserted that she was going to attend the Royal College of Music[18] although in her autobiography she indicated that he knew of her intentions to seek a career in aviation.[19] Batten had a piano which she sold to fund the voyage to England for her and her mother. According to an interview given a few years later to a newspaper, Ellen Batten claimed she had property that was sold to supplement her daughter's funds.[Note 2] Her father provided an allowance to help support her in what he believed were her musical studies.[20] Batten and her mother left New Zealand in early 1930, traveling to Australia and then onto England aboard the RMS Otranto.[18]

On arriving in London in the spring of 1930, the duo found a room on James Street in the city's West End. Although John Batten lived in London, working as a film actor with a key role in Under the Greenwood Tree, they saw little of him in case he discovered their true purpose in England and wrote to Batten's father.[21] She joined the London Aeroplane Club (LAC), which was based at the Stag Lane Aerodrome in the northwest of London.[22] In her unpublished memoirs, Batten wrote that she quickly took to flying and had a "natural aptitude for it".[23] However, other students remembered her as a slow learner. Indeed, while on an early solo flight she had crashed her aircraft on landing, an incident she never referred to in her later writings. She was also remembered for boasting of planning a solo flight to New Zealand.[24] When, in May, Amy Johnson, who had also had flight training at the LAC, completed the first solo flight for a female pilot from England to Australia in 19 days, Batten sought not only to emulate Johnson but beat her record.[25][26]

Batten earned her pilot's A licence on 5 December 1930.[26] It had been a relatively protracted process; although only three hours of solo flying were required to qualify for the A licence, Batten could only accumulate the flying time in dribs and drabs. Limited funds prevented extensive flying time and she only flew short flights two or three times a week.[27] It was at this time that her father discovered the true purpose of the trip to England and, angered by the deception, ceased paying her allowance.[28] Despite this Batten was still determined to beat Johnson's England to Australia record. She sought a loan from an acquaintance to purchase an aircraft for the record attempt but was unsuccessful. Short of funds, in January 1931 she left with her mother for New Zealand. She hoped that family there would help fund her venture.[29][26]

On the voyage to New Zealand, Batten met a fellow New Zealander, Flying Officer Fred Truman who was serving with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in British India and going home on leave. Closely chaperoned by her mother, the two struck up a friendship. Back in New Zealand, Batten reestablished a relationship with her father, whose anger at being deceived over the true purpose of her trip to England had eased by this time. He began to support her in her flying endeavours, paying for her to take lessons in navigation. Batten resumed flight training, joining the Auckland Aero Club, based at Mangere,[30] and soon secured her New Zealand A pilot's licence.[26] Her friendship with Truman had grown during his stay in New Zealand, and he fostered hopes of a relationship. He also flew with Batten at the Auckland Aero Club but this soon ended when he had to rejoin his squadron.[31]

Batten still harboured the ambition of making a record flight and she sought a sponsor that would provide the necessary funding for an attempt to make a solo England-New Zealand flight. By mid-1931, she decided to seek a B licence, which was required to become a commercial pilot, in the belief that it would add to her credibility with potential sponsors. This would require her to log 100 hours of flying time although she only recorded 30 by this time.[32] In July she returned to England aboard the SMS Rotorua, in a voyage funded by her brother John, and resumed her flight training at the LAC. This was paid for with a £500 loan from Truman, although this was never acknowledged by Batten, who later wrote in her autobiography that her mother, still in New Zealand, provided the necessary funds. Truman left the RAF in 1932 and was soon in London as well, tutoring Batten in navigation while he also worked towards gaining a B licence. Batten gained hers in December 1932 and then disentangled herself from Truman without ever paying back the £500 he lent her.[33][34]

Record attempts for England to Australia[edit]

Still with an eye on making a long distance record flight, Batten learnt how to maintain aircraft and their engines. This was helpful for while on a delivery flight for a Gipsy Moth biplane, she experienced engine trouble and had to land the aeroplane at Sandhurst Military Academy. She was able to facilitate a repair and continue the flight, only later discovering the aeroplane was uninsured.[35][33] During her time at the LAC, she encountered a number of record-breaking pilots, including Amy Johnson, Jim Mollison and C. W. A. Scott.[36] At this time she also met Victor Dorée, another member of the LAC, who came from a wealthy family.[37] Dorée borrowed £400 from his mother to buy Batten a Gipsy Moth, with which she intended to beat Johnson's record for flying from England to Australia solo. The agreement, as later recalled by Batten in her autobiography, entitled Dorée to half of any profits to be made from the endeavour.[38][39]

First attempt[edit]

Batten with a Gipsy Moth

Having equipped her Gipsy Moth[Note 3] with extra fuel tanks sufficient to increase the range of the aircraft to 800 miles (1,300 km), Batten commenced her flight to Australia, a trip of 10,500 miles (16,900 km), on 9 April 1933, flying from Lympne Aerodrome. The planned flight included stops in the Middle East, India, Burma, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies before landing at Darwin. She had prepared well, securing visas and landing rights in 14 countries, made arrangements for refueling and obtained a plethora of information on landmarks along her route.[41][42] Her departure was widely reported and her mother, present for the occasion, gave an interview that appeared to give the impression of a united and well-off family.[43] She was not the only pilot attempting to break the record for the trip to Australia at the time; she commenced her flight 24 hours after an Italian, Leonida Robbiano, started his endeavour from Lympne.[44][45]

The first leg was to Rome, a flight of ten hours. She had intended to stop at Marseilles in France but found cruising conditions particularly favourable and was able to eke out her fuel until Rome.[46] She noted that this flight "caused considerable comment",[39] being the first such solo effort to be made by a woman from England to Italy non-stop.[46] She then flew to Naples, from where she departed the next day for Athens. On 11 April, she made an early start, at 3:00am, making a nine-hour flight to Aleppo, in Syria, during which she encountered strong turbulence and heavy clouds that required her to fly on instruments alone. Later in the day, flying onto Baghdad, in Iraq, she flew into a sandstorm, which for a time required her to again fly on instruments before she decided to land during a brief break in the conditions. After an hour, she resumed the flight but had to make a night landing about 70 miles (110 km) from Baghdad when another sandstorm hit.[47] She took off in the morning, and landed in Baghdad an hour later.[48] She discovered that not only was she fortunate to have made a safe landing at her overnight location as it was predominantly soft sand but a sandstorm would have prevented her landing at Baghdad even if she had continued her flight.[49]

Batten continued onto Basra, and then Bushehr, in Iran, where she encountered Robbiano who had run out of fuel.[Note 4] Still seeking to make good time, she made a 1:00am start for the next leg to Jask.[49] After refueling she carried on to Karachi. After departing Jask, she encountered yet another sandstorm. This time she got the Gipsy Moth bogged in mud when making a forced landing.[50] With help from nearby villagers, the aircraft was bodily extracted from the mud but Batten found the propeller had been damaged. Not having a spare, she travelled to Karachi, initially on horseback and then by vehicle. At one of the towns she passed through, a telegram was sent to Karachi to arrange for a propeller to be provided for her collection on her arrival there. After travelling for 150 miles (240 km) through rough country she made it to Karachi airport. The next day she travelled by camel, transporting the replacement propeller back to her landing site.[51] After fitting the new propeller, she took off for Karachi, having been delayed by 48 hours. Before reaching her destination, she experienced engine trouble; a conrod in the engine had snapped. Shutting down the engine, she glided into a landing on a road but the wings of the Gipsy Moth struck a roadside marker and it flipped onto its back. Fortunately, Batten was wearing her harness and other than being shaken, was unharmed.[52]

With the assistance of personnel from the RAF station there, she and her aircraft was retrieved from the crash site and taken to Karachi, where she was put up in a hotel. Without funds, she was at a loss at how to proceed but was then contacted by a representative of the Castrol oil company. Its chairman, Charles Wakefield, wanted to assist Batten and paid for her return, and the wrecked aircraft, to England. Back in London by early May,[53] she could not persuade Dorée to buy her another aircraft; his family's financial circumstances had changed. After this, she had nothing further to do with Dorée. In her unpublished memoirs, she claimed she paid him back, although biographer Ian Mackersey states that this was disputed by the family.[54]

Second attempt[edit]

Batten still intended to make her record flight[54] and for several months, she sought financial assistance from newspapers and aviation companies but was unsuccessful. She struggled to make ends meet in London, where she once again lived with her mother, whose allowance of £3 from Fred Batten was their only source of income. She had quarreled with her brother John some time previously and as a result, there was no financial assistance from him. She did not appear to look for work during this time. The lack of funds meant her membership at the LAC lapsed and she was unable to fly.[55] Finally, after initial rebuffs, she was finally able to secure £400 from Castrol.[56] She shortly purchased a second-hand Gipsy Moth for £240.[57] Five years old, the aircraft reportedly had four previous owners and had been reconditioned due to an accident.[58]

The Gipsy Moth was kept at Brooklands, an aerodrome in Surrey, and Batten and her mother lived nearby while she prepared the aircraft for her record attempt. At Brooklands in early 1934, she met Edward Walter, a fellow Gipsy Moth pilot who was a stockbroker and had formerly served in the military. The two became engaged to be married within a few weeks of their meeting.[59] Her planned route covered 13 countries, and required 25 stops, beginning with Marseilles.[60] She commenced her second attempt on 21 April, departing from Lympne Aerodrome that morning and arriving at Marseilles in the early afternoon.[61] Weather conditions were poor but despite this, she continued onto Rome but with only partially full tanks; she had wanted to avoid the Gipsy Moth from becoming bogged down during takeoff on the saturated airfield at Marseilles. The French authorities tried to dissuade her and when she did take off, it was only after signing of an indemnity. Although she believed she had sufficient fuel to make the trip with a small reserve, due to headwinds, her flight time was longer than expected.[62] By the time she had reached the Italian coast, it was dark. She ran out of fuel over Rome and had to glide to a force landing at San Paolo wireless station, in the city's Ostiense district. The landing, which narrowly avoided the wireless masts of the station, resulted in considerable damage to the aircraft and a severe cut to her face.[63] In her autobiography, she claimed the Gipsy Moth had "very little damage".[39]

She was taken to a doctor for treatment by the staff at the wireless station. Stitches were required for the cut to her face. The damage to her Gipsy Moth included broken wing struts and propeller, and a crumpled lower wing. In addition, the undercarriage had been torn away.[64] It took over a week for her aircraft to be repaired. The company carrying out the work did so for free, in acknowledgement of her courage, but Batten still had to source replacement parts. Walter sent over a propeller, scavenged from his own aircraft, and a lower wing was borrowed from an Italian pilot who also owned a Gipsy Moth.[Note 5] Ten days after the crash, Batten flew her repaired aircraft back to England.[65] She had decided to make a third attempt rather than continue with her present flight, which would have to include her time spent in Rome waiting for the repairs to her aircraft to be completed.[66]

Third attempt[edit]

Batten after landing in Australia to complete her record flight. She made a point of wearing a white flying suit and ensuring her appearance was immaculate before leaving her aircraft

Batten arrived back at Brooklands on 6 May[65] and immediately set about preparing for her next flight. Despite Walter wanting her to give up on the record attempt, she persuaded him to lend her the lower wings of his Gipsy Moth. The set she had borrowed in Italy still needed to be refurbished and she did not want to wait, with the monsoon season in central Asia approaching.[67] With help from engineers at Brooklands, her aircraft was quickly made ready and she departed just two days later, on 8 May.[68] She had set herself a target of 14 days to reach Australia.[58]

As with her previous flights, Batten departed from Lympne Aerodrome. She flew to Marseilles, refuelled, and then went onto Rome arriving at nighttime. The next day, she flew to Athens, a leg of 740 miles (1,190 km) with a refuelling stop at Brindisi. The third day involved a single leg of around seven hours flying to Cyprus.[68][69] For day four, she had planned to fly to Baghdad with a stop for fuel at Damascus. However, having replenished her supplies she ran into sandstorms and this caused her to divert to Rutbah Wells, an aerodrome 250 miles (400 km) to the west of Baghdad that was used by a number of airlines.[70] Resuming her journey the next day, she flew onto Basra, with a stop in Baghdad along the way. An airliner had also arrived in Basra the same day, and the number of passengers meant that Batten was without a bed for the night. One passenger gave up his room so she could have a night's rest. A similar shortage of beds arose the next day when she flew onto Jask; a KLM airliner from the Dutch East Indies had arrived at the same time. The owners of the guesthouse there allowed Batten to sleep in their room for the night.[71]

The 700 miles (1,100 km) flight from Jask to Karachi, on day seven of her journey, passed without incident. Batten flew onto Calcutta, a flight of 1,400 miles (2,300 km), which included stops at Jodphur and Allahabad. At the latter stop, a mechanic failed to secure an oil filter union in the Gipsy Moth's engine, resulting in a drop in oil pressure. Over half the oil had drained away by the time she landed at Dum Dum Aerodrome in Calcutta to end day nine.[72][73]

Rangoon was the destination for day ten, achieved with a stop for fuel in Akyab. On the following day, she encountered the intertropical convergence zone, which manifested itself in a heavy, storm-ridden cloud front, as she headed for Victoria Point, in the southern part of Burma. She had insufficient fuel to return Rangoon so had to carry on through driving rain and turbulence, at times flying by instruments alone due to a lack of visibility. After nine and a half hours, she landed at the aerodrome at Victoria Point, her flying suit saturated with water.[72][74]

Although it was only 1:00pm when Batten arrived, the rain meant she was unable to continue that day. Deliberately fueled light for the next leg to Alor Star, so as to help the Gipsy Moth take off from the sodden airfield, she encountered more rain but conditions gradually improved as she approached British Malaya. Having refueled at Alor Star and being briefly delayed due to the Gipsy Moth getting stuck in mud while taxiing for takeoff, she continued on to end day twelve at the RAF aerodrome at Salatar in Singapore. She was tracking well for her record attempt, being two days ahead of Johnson and there was increasing media interest in the endeavour.[75][76]

The next leg was across the equator to Batavia, in the Dutch East Indies, a trip completed without incident. Her departure the next day was delayed due to fog; a car was driven up and down the runway to help temporarily clear the mist and allow Batten to take off. She refueled at Surabaya and went on to Rambang on Lombok Island, a somewhat bumpy flight with strong winds and turbulence.[75][77] Day 14 involved a single leg of two hours to Timor, and for part of the flight across the Alas Strait, she had to deal with particles of ash and cinder from a volcanic eruption on Flores Island. When she landed, at Kupang, was only 530 miles (850 km) from Australia. Batten's trip was now front page headlines in London, where her mother was giving interviews to reporters.[78][79]

The final leg, on 23 May 1934, involved a flight across the Timor Sea to Darwin, for the most part out of sight of land. Batten anticipated this leg would take around six hours to complete but miscalculated, resulting in some anxious moments until the Australian landmass was sighted. She crossed the coast about 20 miles (32 km) to the south of Darwin and shortly afterwards landed at the town's aerodrome at 1:30pm, filmed by a Fox Movietone camera crew. Her trip time of 14 days, 22 hours and 30 minutes had beaten Johnson's record by over four days.[2] [80]

The breaking of Johnson's four-year old record was front page news around the world and there was extensive and generally effusive reporting on Batten's feat by mainstream newspapers. However, The Times pointed out that the feat was achieved simply by spending less time on the ground and it saw little merit in record flights such as Batten's. The aeronautical press was also more restrained, with Flight magazine crediting improvements in ground facilities as a factor in her achievement.[81] While Batten's successful solo flight was only the third to be made by a woman flying from Europe to Australia,[Note 6] the general route had already been flown thirty times and the overall record for a solo England to Australia flight stood at seven days, five hours, achieved by Kingsford-Smith the previous year.[82] Much of the appeal for the public was due to Batten's beauty and glamour which was in contrast to Johnson's more down to earth nature.[83]

Staying the night at Darwin, Batten commenced a flight to Sydney in her Gipsy Moth the next day.[83] The journey took a week, with a delay in Queensland due to engine trouble. At each stop along the way, she was greeted by well-wishers and received telegrams, in addition to those she had received while at Darwin. It was during this trip that she gave an interview in which she announced her engagement to Walter, much to his displeasure as he then had to deal with reporters. She later wrote to him stating it was "good publicity".[84] Wakefield, keen to capitalise on the publicity, arranged for an escort airplane to accompany her and the Gipsy Moth was emblazoned with a Castrol sticker. He also encouraged Batten to maintain a high profile.[83]

When Batten flew into Sydney on 30 May, a flight of 20 aircraft met her over the city's harbour before she landed at Mascot aerodrome. A crowd of 5,000 was present to greet her, along with various dignitaries.[85] A series of public engagements followed for the next four weeks during which she was hosted at the expense of the Australian Government.[86] During this time, she maintained a favourable public image but Castrol officials noted her need for recognition. Wakefield soon gave her £1,000, although this was never publicly acknowledged by Batten.[87] Acquaintances she met during this time noted her self-centred nature,[88] and Nancy Bird, an well-known pilot of the 1930s, considered Batten to be a "prima donna".[89]

Touring (I)[edit]

As her aircraft did not have the range to cross the Tasman Sea, Batten travelled to New Zealand by ship. The Gipsy Moth was shipped over at the expense of the Union Steam Ship Company. As in Australia, large crowds turned out to greet her and she was the guest of honour at numerous civic receptions.[90] She also received a grant of £500 from the New Zealand Government, which hosted her at Government House for a time.[91] She toured the country, giving people the opportunity to take £1 joyrides in her Gypsy Moth and giving paid lectures.[92] In her home town of Rotorua, she was made an honorary rangitane (chieftainess) by Te Arawa, the local Māori iwi (tribe).[93]

In her public appearances, both in Australia and New Zealand, she paid tribute to her mother.[94] When Batten had arrived at Darwin to end her record flight, one of her first acts was to send a telegram to Ellen. It read: "Darling, we've done it. The aeroplane, you, me".[95] Ellen soon joined her daughter in touring New Zealand, having travelled there by steamship. Shortly after her arrival, she gave an interview in which she stated that Batten and Walter were not engaged. This was contrary to Batten's own earlier statements on the matter but she never contradicted her mother.[96]

By the conclusion of her visit to New Zealand in September 1934, Batten had created an image of herself as a skilled and courageous aviator. She was now firmly established as an international hero and a source of pride for New Zealand. However, she downplayed her flying accidents and the financial support she had received earlier in her career[94] and, as in Australia, the difference between her public and private personas was noted; the Castrol representative accompanying her on her tour of New Zealand found her to be arrogant and immodest.[93] She had made a significant sum of money from the tour, around £2,500, equivalent to about £100,000 in 2014, but despite this she made no attempt to pay back Truman or Dorée.[97] In fact, she later wrote that the flight "had not been a great financial success".[98]

Returning to Australia, Batten was a radio commentator on the MacRobertson Air Race, a competition for aircraft flying from England to Melbourne, in honour of the city's centenary. She had hoped to enter the race itself, which had a first prize of £10,000, but was unable to get to England in time for the start on 20 October. After the race, she returned to Sydney, where she had temporarily based herself, intending in due course to go onto England and marry Walter.[99] She was now also a published author; her account of her record-breaking flight was published by Jackson & O'Sullivan Limited in Sydney as Solo Flight. The book did not sell well, with one reviewer describing it as "not a brilliant book"[100][101] and another described the transcript of the log of her flight to be the most interesting part of the book, which was otherwise in "simple, workaday prose".[102]

While in Sydney, she met Beverly Shepherd, a 23-year-old who was training to become a commercial pilot and a relationship promptly developed. According to Batten, this was much to the displeasure of Ellen, who regarded her daughter as being committed to Walter, even though she had previously publicly denied the existence of the couple's engagement.[103] By March 1935, the engagement was off. Batten had written to Walter ending the relationship but it was reported in the media prior to him receiving her letter. This left him bitter at the news.[104] She later wrote that on arriving in Australia to complete her record flight, she realised that she wanted to prioritise her aviation career for a few years and saw a marriage as compromising her ambitions.[98]

Return to England[edit]

By April 1935, Batten was preparing to fly her Gipsy Moth back to England. Although it was not publicly declared, she hoped to set a new record for flying time between Australia and England.[105] In her autobiography, she stated that the purpose of her return was to be in London for the Silver Jubilee of George V.[106] Shepherd accompanied her in his own Puss Moth part of the way to Darwin, from where she was to leave Australia. She commenced the first leg on 12 April,[107] heading for Kupang in Timor. About half way through the flight across the Timor Sea, her engine stopped; she had to glide for some time, nearly ditching in the sea, before successfully restarting it. The engine continued to play up for the remainder of the trip. On arriving at Kupang, she cleaned some of the components of the fuel system as she and a Dutch mechanic suspected dust was to blame for the problem.[108][109] Despite this, she continued to experience similar intermittent engine problems for the remainder of her journey to England.[110][111]

Batten largely followed the reverse of the route flown on her outward trip to Australia. She avoided the worst of the intertropical convergence zone but was slowed by headwinds flying west across West Asia. She had further engine trouble over Italy which delayed her. By the time she reached Marseilles, there was only a slim chance of beating her record, and even then it would only be by a few minutes. However, she suffered a puncture and more engine problems. She arrived at Croydon, in England, having taken 17 days, 16 hours, to make the journey from Australia to England.[110] Nonetheless, she was still the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia and back again. Although only a few people were at Croydon for her arrival, her return to England was widely reported. When interviewed, she claimed that she had no help and financial backing, and credited her persistence for the successful endeavour. This disregarded the support provided by Castrol.[112] In recognition of her record flight, the Women's International Association of Aeronautics, an organisation in the United States, awarded her its Challenge Trophy for 1934.[113]

England to Brazil[edit]

Batten had turned her mind to a record flight from England to South America even before she had left Australia in April.[98] Few pilots had attempted record flights over the South Atlantic;[114] the record at the time was 16 hours, 30 minutes, held by a Spanish pilot,[115] and no female had yet done it solo.[114] The record for the quickest flight from England to Brazil was held by Jim Mollison, who achieved it in three days, ten hours,[115] and Batten decided to attempt to break this record as well.[116] However, the route was already in use by Graf Zeppelin airships and the French airline Aero-postale also regularly crossed the South Atlantic for its mail service.[114][117] At least one aviation journal thought Batten's record attempt, once it became public knowledge, had little value.[118]

Batten's record-breaking Percival Gull Six named Jean on its engine cowling at a 1954 UK air show

Seeking to replace the Gipsy Moth, Batten purchased a Percival Gull Six monoplane, of which only 19 were manufactured. Much faster than her old aeroplane, it had a six cylinder 200 horsepower de Havilland Gipsy Six engine, electrically operated fuel pumps and starter motor, an enclosed cabin that seated three people and was capable of flying 150 miles (240 km) per hour.[119] She arranged for the Gull to be fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks, allowing it to fly 2,000 miles (3,200 km) without refuelling, and a discreet toilet tube. She took delivery of the aircraft, finished in silver with the registration G-ADPR, on 15 September, her birthday.[114] According to Batten, it had cost ₤1,750, "practically every penny"[120] she had. Mackersey doubts the accuracy of this statement, pointing out Batten had received fees from newspapers and film companies, as well as money earned from the Australian flight and the sale of her Gipsy Moth.[114][Note 7]

The route Batten planned to take was to fly the 1,500 miles (2,400 km) to Casablanca from Lympne Aerodrome, and from there onto Dakar, in West Africa, via Villa Cisneros in the Spanish Sahara,[118] and then travel 1,900 miles (3,100 km) across the South Atlantic to Brazil, landing at Port Natal.[114] When she left on 11 November 1935, it was to the news that Kingsford Smith had disappeared off the coast of Burma during his attempt to break the record for the quickest England-Australia flight. Making Casablanca without incident she left the next day for a military airfield at Thies, in a late change to her itinerary; she had been advised that the aerodrome at Dakar was under repair.[118] However, and to her annoyance, she found that her fuel was still at Dakar. It was dispatched and arrived at midnight whereupon she immediately organised the refuelling of her Gull.[121]

After a short nap, and despite a pessimistic weather forecast, Batten left Thies at 4:45am, 13 November. Because of the short airfield, and the amount of fuel being carried, she opted to lighten the load of her aircraft. Among other items, she left behind her tool kit, signal pistol, spare engine parts, emergency water and life raft.[121] She soon ran into the South Atlantic convergence zone and the weather encountered at this stage meant that she effectively flew blind for some time. A local magnetic disturbance affected her compass, and she had to resort to her turn indicator to ensure she kept to her bearing.[122] Despite these difficulties, she still encountered her target landmark, Cap San Roque, once she reached the Brazilian coastline after 12 and a half hours of flying. She landed at Port Natal after thirteen hours, 15 minutes, of her departure from Thies; this lowered the record for a solo crossing of the South Atlantic by three hours. It had taken her two days, thirteen hours and 15 minutes to fly from England to Brazil, breaking Mollison's record by nearly 24 hours. She also had achieved the overall fastest flight time for crossing the Atlantic, beating by 22 minutes the record set by a four-engined Air France mail aeroplane.[123]

The next day, 14 November, Batten set out for Rio de Janeiro, a flight of around 10 hours duration. On the way, the Gull suffered a fuel leak and she had to land on a beach about 175 miles (282 km) from her destination. She was able to find shelter at a nearby village. According to Batten, she telegraphed for assistance but there was considerable consternation when she did not arrive at Rio at her scheduled time and, in the absence of knowledge of her whereabouts, search and rescue aircraft were dispatched in the morning. After a few hours, her Gull, and the Batten herself, were located. The Brazilian Air Force provided fuel and repaired her propeller, damaged when landing, and she continued onto Rio and landed at Campos dos Alfonsos.[124][125]

In a photograph from the Brazilian archives, Jean Batten and her Gull are shown on the deck of a passenger ship

Batten stayed a week in Rio, attending a number of society receptions. She was gifted ₤500 by the local British Chamber of Commerce and made a honourary officer in the Brazilian Air Force,[124] which also presented her a trophy, "The Spirit of Aviation".[126] In addition, the Brazilian President, Dr. Vargas, presented her with the Order of the Southern Cross; according to Batten, she was the first British woman, other than Royalty, to be so honoured. She then flew onto Argentina and Uruguay for further receptions.[124][127] While in Buenos Aires, she received an offer from Charles Lindbergh to make a lecture tour of the United States. She declined, opting instead to return to England. According to Peggy Kelman, an Australian aviatrix of the 1930s interviewed by Mackersey, Batten had written to her mother for permission to take the tour but this was not forthcoming and she was ordered to go back to England. She arrived at Southampton on 23 December aboard the RMS Asturias, the Gull in its hold. In her autobiography, Batten makes no mention of Lindberg's offer, noting that she wanted to be in London for Christmas.[128][129]


After spending Christmas Day with her mother in Hatfield, Batten went to Southampton to fly her Gull back to Hatfield aerodrome. During the flight, she crashed her aeroplane. In an interview given to a reporter of the Daily Express, she blamed an engine failure that forced her to glide to a crash landing on South Downs, in West Sussex. She suffered a cut to her head and a concussion, while the Gull's wings were twisted and its undercarriage torn away.[130] The Gull was taken to Gravesend to be repaired. During this time,[126] and claiming her aeroplane was "being overhauled",[131] she went to Paris to receive a gold medal presented by the French Academy of Sports and met Louis Blériot. The French Government shortly announced its intention to award her the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.[126]

She continued to receive further honours: these included the Britannia Trophy, awarded by the Royal Aero Club for the most meritorious flight of 1935 to be made by a British subject, the Challenge Trophy, which she was awarded for the second time by the Women's International Association of Aeronautics, and the Harmon Trophy, jointly awarded to Batten and Amelia Earhart.[Note 8] The Daily Express also named her as one of its five "Women of 1935".[126]

Once her Gull was repaired, Batten took her mother on a flying holiday to Spain and Morocco.[126] Once back in England, she was often attended public engagements and functions but otherwise was largely reclusive, staying in Hatfield.[132] In June, Batten was created Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the King's Birthday Honours, for "general services to aviation".[133] The New Zealand Government had agitated for Batten to be made a Dame but this was not entertained by officials in London, who were also reluctant to be seen as rewarding risky record flight attempts.[134] She was invested with the CBE by King Edward VIII in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 14 July.[135]

England to New Zealand[edit]

By this time, Batten's preparations for another world record flight, from England to New Zealand, were underway.[136] She also aimed to break the men's record for the England-Australia flight, which stood at six days, 21 hours, and was held by Jimmy Broadbent.[137] Batten and her mother had completed an 80-mile (130 km) walking trip across the South Downs for fitness while the Gull was being prepared. She spent time in London obtaining the necessary permissions to fly over the countries along her route. The latest maps were purchased and facilities arranged for her stops on the way to New Zealand.[136]

In the presence of a large media turnout, Batten departed Lympne Aerodrome on the morning of 5 October 1936.[138] With stops at Marseilles, Brindisi, Cyprus, Syria, and Basra, she arrived at Karachi after two and a half days of flying. She had deliberately kept her rest time to a minimum, and the operational ceiling of the Gull allowed her to fly at a height that avoided the worst of the turbulence. Batten then flew onto Akyab, in Burma, a distance of 1,900 miles (3,100 km) with a stop for fuel at Allahabad. Making an early start the next day, 9 October, she departed at 1:00am for Alor Star, in British Malaya.[137] She encountered bad weather during the 1,300 miles (2,100 km) flight and was unable to land at Alor Star. Instead, she had to go on to Penang, a further 60 miles (97 km) away.[139] She had a fright when she realised the driving rain was stripping the fabric and dope (a lacquer used to weatherproof aircraft fabric) from the leading edges of her wings; this required repair at Penang.[140] She flew onto Singapore while it was still light, and at the RAF station there, the repair work to her wings was improved. By this time, her total flight time was four days, 17 hours. She left for Rambang, on Lombok, that night and then onto Kupang in Timor. Here she discovered that the tailwheel of the Gull, part of the landing gear, had a puncture. It took several hours to effect a repair, and by then it was too late to leave for Darwin.[139] She was phlegmatic about the delay for it allowed her to have much needed sleep. She left Kupang at dawn, 11 October, and arrived at Darwin after four hours flying, where a large crowd had gathered to greet her. She had problems landing; the throttle stuck open on one attempt. On the second, one of the main wheel brakes failed, causing the Gull to perform a ground loop before coming to a halt. The total trip time from England to Australia was five days, 21 hours, which set a new absolute record for a solo flight for this route. Batten's achievement was front page news around the world.[141]

Delay in Australia[edit]

Batten was conscious that she needed to push on to Auckland in New Zealand, still some 3,700 miles (6,000 km) away.[142] From Darwin, she flew onto Longreach in Queensland, where she spent the night. Despite many locals turning out to meet her, she declined to greet them and also refused media interviews. She flew onto Sydney the next day, being greeted by a fleet of aircraft over the city's harbour that would escort her into the Mascot airfield.[141] Here she was delayed for two days; the weather over the Tasman was not favourable for a crossing and in addition, there was also public opposition to making the flight in a single-engined aircraft, as the Tasman was noted for difficult weather and the majority of the previous crossings had been achieved in multi-engine aircraft.[143] Batten suspected sexism played a role, noting that "...Australia like New Zealand is still very much 'a man's country'".[144] She also had difficulties with officialdom. The Australian Civil Aviation Department would not allow her to leave on account that the amount of fuel that the Gull would need to carry to make the 1,200 miles (1,900 km) flight over the Tasman would make its overall weight exceed the limit on its certificate of airworthiness.[143] This was overcome when she was able to produce a special endorsement provided by the British authorities that allowed the Gull to takeoff with an extra 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of weight beyond what was stipulated on its certificate of airworthiness.[145]

The delay due to the poor weather over the Tasman meant that she was able to make herself available to the media. She earned ₤600 for a radio interview and secured exclusive deals with a consortium of newspapers and film companies. Frank Packer, the media mogul, offered her ₤5,000 to stay in Australia and do a lecture tour rather than fly to New Zealand. She declined,[146] preferring the "honour of completing the first solo flight from England to New Zealand and linking the two countries in direct flight for the first time in history".[147] While waiting for the Tasman to clear, she also spent time, albeit limited, with Beverly Shepherd, who was now an airline captain.[148]

Trans-Tasman crossing[edit]

Jean Batten with Malcolm McGregor, circa 1936

On 16 October, Batten departed for New Zealand. She left from the Royal Australian Air Force's airbase at Richmond, the longer runway giving her more space to get her heavily loaded Gull in the air.[148] The weather forecast was still not ideal; rather than flying direct to Auckland, where she was to land at Mangere airfield, she decided to aim for New Plymouth, a slightly shorter distance over the sea, and then fly north to Mangere.[149] Before she left, at 4:30am in front of a large press contingent,[150] she specifically instructed that if she came down in the Tasman, no one was to be sent to look for her. She did not want anyone's life to be put at risk.[151]

The flight to New Plymouth, about 1,330 miles (2,140 km) from Richmond, took nine and a half hours, a record for the Trans-Tasman crossing. Due to rain clouds and squalls, she flew below 1,000 feet (300 m) most of the way so she could observe her drift. Although there was a crowd at New Plymouth airfield, she did not land there. Instead, she did a flypast and flew north to Mangere.[152] She landed just after 5:00pm in front of a crowd of around 6,000 people. She had set a record of eleven days, 45 minutes for a direct flight from England to New Zealand; this would stand for 44 years before it was broken. She also set a record of ten and a half hours for the crossing from Sydney to Auckland.[153][Note 9] In her autobiography, she described the cheers from the crowd at Mangere as the "greatest moment in my life",[154] sentiments she expressed in her speech to the crowd. Her father was among those who greeted her although he was given short-shrift as Batten focussed on the adulation from the crowd and the official reception party.[155]

Batten's feat was widely reported around the world, with media comparing her to Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart. The Times in London called the endeavour "an act of deliberate courage".[156] Telegrams flooded in; according to Batten, there were 1,700 cables received from overseas.[157] The Government provided her with four secretaries to help her respond to all of them.[158] At a civic reception held in Auckland a few days later, the city's mayor announced the naming of "Jean Batten Place" in her honour.[159]

Touring (II)[edit]

Batten embarked on a publicity tour, eager to make money.[160] She wanted to recover the expenses incurred on her England-New Zealand flight and have some profit to fund further flying, despite the effort likely "overdrawing on [her] reserve energy".[157] This began on the day of her arrival at Mangere, she collected a portion of the fees charged for vehicle parking at the aerodrome. Her Gull was later displayed at a shop in Auckland, where people wanting to see it were charged for the privilege. She began to charge a shilling for her autograph, and signed several hundred books. A public subscription raised over ₤2,000 for her. Despite being fatigued, the evening of her arrival, she gave the first lecture of her tour at an Auckland cinema.[160]

She soon found her tour was compromised by the exclusive contracts she had entered into with the media while in Sydney; two minders controlled the public and rival media's access to her.[160] This impacted public reporting of her tour and attendance suffered. In addition, behind the scenes, Batten exhibited self-centered behaviour which alienated many who witnessed it.[161] While in Auckland, she also had a confrontation with Fred Truman, who had loaned her ₤500 back in 1931. Batten had steadfastly ignore his pleas to repay the debt. In the end he had approached Batten's father regarding the amount owed. Fred Batten, embarrassed at discovering Batten was so indebted, facilitated a meeting between his daughter and Truman, at which she handed over a cheque for ₤250 and swiftly departed. The balance was never repaid.[162]

By the time Batten arrived in Christchurch, she was depressed at the poor attendance of her lecture tour and physically exhausted. She took a rest on medical advice. The remainder of the tour was cancelled,[161] and she later described the decision as a result of being "too tired to carry on".[157] Most of November was spent in the South Island, on the West Coast and at Franz Josef Glacier, at the expense of the Government.[163] By the end of the month, her morale had been boosted with news of more honours for Batten. For the second successive year, she was awarded the Royal Aero Club's Britannia Trophy for the most meritorious performance in aviation by a British subject. She was awarded the Harmon Trophy again, this time outright, for her 1936 flights. Finally, she received the Segrave Trophy, awarded for the "most outstanding demonstration during the year of the possibilities of transport on land, water or air".[163] She later wrote that this "was a very great honour".[164]

At the end of November, Batten travelled to Sydney where she was going to meet her mother who had left England after hearing of her daughter's breakdown.[163] While in Sydney awaiting the arrival of Ellen Batten, she reunited with Beverly Shepherd. The two spent several days together. In her unpublished memoirs, she wrote that Shepherd struggled with being with someone as famous as her.[165] Once Ellen arrived, she and Batten returned to New Zealand where they would remain for three months. For part of the time, they were joined by Fred Batten, presenting an image of a united family, as her parents' separation was not public knowledge. Christmas was spent in her birthplace of Rotorua, where she was honored by local Māori, as she had been after her 1934 journey. She was given a chief's kahu huruhuru (feather cloak) and conferred with the title Hine-o-te-Rangi – "Daughter of the Skies".[166][164]

In February 1937, Batten, accompanied by her mother, travelled to Sydney to join Shepherd.[167] Publicly, she gave the impression of wanting to continue flying despite friends apparently trying to persuade her to settle down, writing "the fire of adventure that burned within me was not yet quenched"[168] but privately, she expressed a keen desire to marry Shepherd, who was flying from Brisbane to meet her in Sydney. The evening of her arrival on 19 February, she discovered he was missing; the passenger airliner on which he was co-pilot had failed to arrive.[167] Batten was involved in the search for the missing aircraft, even after it was officially called off after five days. The public at large remained unaware of her keen interest in Shepherd; she maintained that her interest was simply as a close friend of one of the missing pilot,[169] describing him as "a great friend of mine".[170] The wreck of the aircraft was discovered in the MacPherson Ranges by a bushman on 28 February, with two survivors. It had crashed during a storm and burst into flames. Shepherd was among the dead.[171]

In her unpublished memoirs, Batten admitted to profound grief at the loss of Shepherd.[172] She withdrew from society and with her mother, moved to a flat near Sydney's beaches.[173] The two lived in Australia for the next eight months and for much of this time, Batten was undecided about her future plans. Then, in September, she learnt that Broadbent was going to attempt to break her record for the England-Australia flight; he then held the record of six days, nine hours for the Australia-England flight. Batten shortly announced her intention to break Broadbent's record.[174][175]

Australia to England[edit]

Batten planned to use her Percival Gull for the attempt, and arranged for its engine to be overhauled. For her personal fitness, she embarked on a program of swimming, skipping and running.[176] Her mother in the meantime departed Australia so that she could be in England to greet Batten when she arrived. To cover her expenses, Batten sought sponsorship from Frank Packer; his interest was lukewarm, advising her that with regular air services to Australia, the days of pioneering flights were over. In the end, he agreed an exclusive deal whereby she would prepare a 200-word report at the end of each day. Newspapers were describing the event as a duel between Batten and Broadbent.[177] Batten noted that it was "infinitely more difficult to fly from Australia to England than in the opposite direction"[176] because head winds "retard progress on the route in England".[178]

After a delay because of weather, Batten's record attempt commenced from Darwin on 19 October, with a flight to Rambang on Lombok Island, where she refueled, and flew onto Batavia to finished her first day. It had been nearly 1,800 miles (2,900 km) of flying. Rising early, she commenced the next leg, to Alor Star, while it was still dark. According to her autobiography, she encountered thunderstorms within an hour of her departure and much of her flight was spent flying on instruments. After a brief stop at Alor Star, she carried on to Rangoon, arriving there just 36 hours after commencing the record attempt from Darwin.[177][179] She had already flown 3,700 miles (6,000 km). The next day, she flew 2,150 miles (3,460 km) to Karachi, with a stop for fuel at Allahabad. She had flown part of the leg at just 500 feet (150 m) to minimise the effect of the prevailing head wind. The heat was such that the soles of her shoes became stuck to the rudder pedals.[177][180] On her arrival, she was advised that she was the first solo pilot to make the flight from Rangoon to Karachi in a single day.[181] After a four-hour rest, she resumed her flight, proceeding to Basra, then Damascus and onto Athens.[182] As she crossed the Mediterranean, a major storm was encountered and, according to her autobiography, she also experienced the St. Elmo's Fire phenomenon about the hub of her propeller.[183]

The next leg was scheduled to be to Rome but low cloud cover over the city forced her to land at Naples instead, where she spent the night. Exhausted, on landing she had to be bodily lifted from the cockpit of the Gull and given stimulants.[182] The weather prognosis for the next day, 24 October, was not favourable, particularly over the Mediterranean but that morning, encouraged by many cables of support received overnight, she departed regardless for Marseilles. She skirted some storm systems to land at Marseilles and then carried onto England, where she landed at Lympne aerodrome mid-afternoon. A small enthusiastic crowd was present to cheer her on arrival.[184]

Batten had completed the flight in 5 days, 19 hours and 15 minutes. As well as lowering Broadbent's record by just over half a day, she also became the first person to hold the solo record for both the outward and inward flights. Broadbent's attempt on her England to Australia record had ended in Iraq, where he ran out of fuel.[Note 10] She also was within four hours of the all-time record for the fastest flight time from Australia to England, this being held by Owen Cathcart Jones and Ken Waller who had flown the trip in the multi-engined de Havilland DH.88 Comet in 1934.[186]

After 20 minutes clearing customs at Lympne aerodrome, Batten took off again for Croydon, at the time London's international airport. A large crowd of 10,000 was present to greet her, Ellen Batten among them.[187] Batten was moved, noting that it felt "more like a homecoming than just the final landing of a record flight".[188] Her exploit was front page news the next day; one major newspaper headlined its front page as "The Girl Who Has Beaten All The Men".[189] It was to be the last long distance flight Batten was to undertake.[2]

Touring (III)[edit]

With her latest record flight completed, Batten was hosted at Grosvenor Hotel in London and gave a press conference. Many questions were regarding her plans for marriage but she steadfastly refused to comment on these. Her mother was happy to note that Batten was too busy for such consideration and also reiterated how much she had financially supported her daughter in her record ambitions.[190] A publicity tour for Batten followed; she was interviewed for BBC television and radio and attended a series of banquets and receptions. Madame Tussauds made Batten's effigy in wax and she was also presented to the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace, meeting King Leopold of Belgium at the same time. By this time she was living with her mother in a flat in Kensington.[191]

In early 1938, she was awarded the medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, aviation's highest honour; she was the first woman to receive the medal.[191] She later recorded that she was "deeply honoured" by the recognition.[192] Her autobiography, My Life, was published later in May but it was poorly received, in much the same way as her previous book had been.[193] She began to tour continental Europe with her Percival Gull; she was hosted by Blèriot's widow in Paris, King Leopold in Brussels, and by the Swedish royal family in Stockholm. Holidays in Milan and Lake Como followed.[194] Early in 1939 she commenced a lecture tour of Scandinavia and the Baltic States on behalf of the British Council; she was well received with favourable reports being sent back to London.[195]

With her mother, Batten embarked on a spring cruise in the Caribbean, paid for by the receipts of her lecture tour. Another holiday, separate from Ellen, followed to Sweden in the late summer, staying with Axel Wenner-Gren, a Swedish industrialist and, at the time, the owner of Electrolux. At the time, tensions in Europe were high, with the outbreak of war imminent.[196] Batten though was ignorant of this, and was planning trips to Finland and Oslo before beginning her next lecture tour in October.[197] Just before the end of the month, and still staying with Wenner-Gren, she was advised by the British Foreign Ministry to not travel over German airspace when returning to England. She sought help from Wenner-Gren, who used his connections with Germany to secure clearance for Batten to fly her Percival Gull back over the North Sea with a stop at Hamburg. According to her biographer, Batten later claimed that while at Hamburg, German fighter pilots there blew her kisses.[198] She arrived back in England on 27 August; it was to be the last time she flew herself.[199]

Second World War[edit]

Jean Batten and her Percival Gull

Within days of the outbreak of the Second World War, Batten wrote to Harold Balfour, the Under-Secretary of State for Air, offering her services as a pilot, and her Percival Gull, for communication work. He indicated that her name would be added to a pool of civilian pilots to be called upon by the RAF. She also had Sir Francis Shelmerdine, who was the head of the National Air Communications, an agency concerned with the coordination of civil aviation for the war effort, advocating on her behalf. She hoped to join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), formed at the start of the war to provide experienced pilots for ferrying aircraft. Initially, there was no place for women but in early 1940 a female section was formed at Hatfield with Amy Johnson being an early member.[200][Note 11]

According to Batten's unpublished memoirs, she failed the required medical, blaming shortsightedness caused by the strain of inspecting maps in poor light during her record flight attempts. However, several of the other female pilots had imperfect vision and one flew with glasses.[202] Mackersey speculates that Batten desired a role with the ATA that only required her to fly her Gull. When this was not forthcoming, her enthusiasm to fly with the ATA was dimmed[203] and later in the year, her Gull was requisitioned for war service.[204][Note 12]

Batten instead became a driver for the Anglo-French Ambulance Corps. This only lasted a few months and her work was primarily in relation to fundraising for vehicles. The Germans conquered France before she was dispatched there and the unit was subsequently disbanded. She then began working at a munitions factory in Poole, Dorset, renting an apartment nearby.[204] Her mother moved to Dorchester and on her days off, Batten would visit her.[205] In 1943 she moved to London, taking up a residence in Baker Street with her mother, and began working for the National Savings Committee. She helped in its efforts to encourage donations from the public in aid of the war effort, visiting factories, industrial facilities and town halls throughout the country and urging people to donate.[206] According to her unpublished memoirs, during this time she met and fell in love with a RAF bomber pilot. Identified only as Richard, she claimed to have made plans with him for the future but he was reported missing on a bombing raid later in the war.[207]

Later life[edit]

In the postwar period, Batten and her mother moved to Jamaica. Ellen Batten had struggled with her health for most of the winter months of the war years and desired to live in a more hospitable climate. Jamaica, which Batten and her mother has visited in 1939, appealed as a place to settle permanently. Arriving in November 1946, few of their friends knew where they were living; they maintained a poste restante at Thomas Cook and Son in London.[208]

After the war she retired from public life except for a few anniversary appearances. Batten became a recluse and lived in several places around the world with her mother until her mother's death in 1965. In 1977 she was guest of honour at the opening of the Aviation Pioneers Pavilion at Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology, after which she returned to her home in Spain.[209] In 1982 she was bitten by a dog on the island of Majorca. She refused treatment and the wound became infected. She died alone in a hotel on Majorca, from complications from the dog bite, and was buried on 22 January 1983. She was buried under her middle name, Gardner, in a pauper's grave in Majorca in 1983 – she had been there for only a week and her identity unknown – which was not discovered until five years later. Thus the world, and her relatives, did not learn of her passing until September 1987.[2]

Batten's autobiography, My Life, was published by George G. Harrap in 1938 and is available online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, part of the Victoria University of Wellington Library. An extended version was printed under the title Alone in the Sky by N.Z. Technical books in 1979. In October 2008 a musical, Garbo of the Skies written by Paul Andersen-Gardiner and Rebekah Hornblow had its inaugural performance in Opunake by the Opunake Players at the Lakeside Playhouse. It was based on Ian Mackersey's biography.


Batten's Percival Gull on display at the Jean Batten Terminal at Auckland Airport
Memorial panels to Batten at Rotorua Airport
Statue of Jean Batten at Auckland Airport

Houses in Macleans College, Howick Intermediate, Pukekohe Intermediate School, Westlake Girls High School, Southland Girls' High School, Forrest Hill School, Kelston Girls’ College, Tauranga Girls' College and Wellington Girls' College are named after her, as is Batten (Blue) House at Orewa College and in the whanau system of Aorere College in South Auckland. A primary school in Mangere is named after her as are streets in Auckland, Christchurch, Mount Maunganui, Wellington, Wallington and in her birthplace of Rotorua. The historic Jean Batten building occupies the small block between Fort and Shortland Streets also bounded by Jean Batten Place in Auckland and has been incorporated into the new Bank of New Zealand head office building (36°50′47″S 174°46′00″E / 36.8462611°S 174.7666611°E / -36.8462611; 174.7666611).

The Auckland Airport International Terminal is also named after her. The Percival Gull G-ADPR in which she made the first solo trip from England to New Zealand in 1936 and many other record-breaking trips now hangs in the Jean Batten International Terminal. For her aviation exploits, she was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.[210]

In 1939, after Batten had paid a visit to Walter Peak Station, near Lake Wakatipu, a 1,971 metres (6,467 ft) peak in the nearby Ailsa Mountains of Fiordland was named for her.[211][212]

A bronze sculpture of Batten is located in the main terminal of Rotorua Regional Airport and memorial panels are installed in the building. A small park in the middle of Rotorua city is named after her and the Jean Batten Memorial is located there.[213]

In September 2009, a Qantas Boeing 737 ZK-ZQA, the first International configuration plane of its type and Qantas's 75th 737 was named after Batten.[214]

Also in September 2009, a street in the area of Palma where Batten died was renamed Carrer de Jean Batten, or Jean Batten St.[215]

Major flights[edit]

  • 8 May to 23 May, 1934 – England–Australia (solo women's record) 16,900 kilometres (10,500 mi) in 14 days 22 hours 30 minutes, breaking Amy Johnson's record by over four days.[2][216]
  • 8 April to 29 April, 1935 – Australia–England (solo women's record) in 17 days 16 hours 15 minutes. First woman ever to make a return flight.[216]
  • 11 November to 13 November, 1935 – England–Brazil: 8,000 km (5,000 mi) in 61 hours 15 minutes, setting world record for any type of aeroplane. Also fastest crossing South Atlantic Ocean, 13 hours 15 minutes, and first woman to make England–South America flight.[217]
  • 5 October to 16 October 1936 – England–New Zealand 22,891 km (14,224 mi) in 11 days 45 minutes, including two days 12 hours in Sydney. World record for any type.[217]
  • 19 October to 24 October 1937 – Australia–England in 5 days 18 hours 15 minutes, giving her solo records simultaneously in both directions. Her last long-distance flight.[2][217]

List of honours[edit]


  • Batten, Jean, Solo Flight, Jackson and O'Sullivan Ltd., 1934.
  • Batten Jean, My Life, George G. Harrap and Company Limited, 1938.
  • Batten, Jean, Alone In The Sky, N.Z. Technical books, 1979 (an extended version of her book My Life, originally published in 1938).



  1. ^ In later life, Batten would claim that her maternal grandfather served with a British regiment in the New Zealand Wars although there is no evidence to support this. She also claimed her grandfather was related to the author of Lorna Doone.[1]
  2. ^ Batten's biographer is skeptical of this claim noting that Batten's brother John did not believe his mother had any property to sell.[18]
  3. ^ The aircraft was acquired from the King's Flight; it had previously been flown by the then Prince of Wales.[40]
  4. ^ Robbiano was killed a few days later, when he crashed his aircraft into the Bay of Bengal.[45]
  5. ^ The loan of the lower wing was on the condition that it be refurbished and shipped back to Italy, mostly at Batten's expense.[65]
  6. ^ Johnson's flight was the first, and a German pilot, Elly Beinhorn, made the second, in 1932, which took 110 days to complete due to lengthy stopovers for sightseeing.[82]
  7. ^ The Gipsy Moth was sold to Michael Sassoon, the brother of poet Siegfried Sassoon,[114] for what Batten claimed was a "small profit".[120] It was destroyed by a fire during the Second World War, having been passed onto the National Women's Air Reserve.[114]
  8. ^ Earhart had made the first solo flight from Hawaii to California, hence her recognition with the Harmon Trophy.[126]
  9. ^ This record would be short-lived; the following year a commercial flight made by a flying boat would reduce it by over an hour.[153]
  10. ^ Another attempt in 1937 also ended in failure, but the following year, flying a Vega Gull, he lowered Batten's record for the solo flight from Australia to England by eight hours.[185]
  11. ^ Johnson died of exposure in January 1941, when she bailed out and landed in the Thames estuary after her aircraft ran out of fuel in bad weather.[201]
  12. ^ The Gull would be in use for six years with various RAF units around the United Kingdom, often for as a target for anti-aircraft and searchlight training.[204]


  1. ^ Mackersey 2014, pp. 20–21.
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  • Batten, Jean (1979). Alone in the Sky. Shrewsbury, United Kingdom: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 0-906393-01-9.
  • King, John (1998). Famous New Zealand Aviators. Wellington: Grantham House. ISBN 1-86934-066-3.
  • Lainé, Shirley; Collings, Pam (2010) [1989]. Silver Wings: New Zealand Women in Aviation. Wellington: New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation. ISBN 978-0-473-16549-9.
  • Mackersey, Ian (2014). Jean Batten: The Garbo of the Skies. Auckland: David Bateman. ISBN 978-1-86953-852-1.

External links[edit]