Jean Batten

Jean Batten

Jean Batten in 1937
Full name Jean Gardner Batten
Born (1909-09-15)15 September 1909
Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand
Died 22 November 1982(1982-11-22) (aged 73)
Palma, Majorca, Spain
Cause of death Complications following dog bite
Nationality New Zealand
Aviation career
Known for Record 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

Jane Batten (named "Jane" at birth, her name soon metamorphosed into "Jean")[1] was born to Frederick Batten, a dental surgeon, and Ellen Batten (who would become her strong supporter in her choice of a pilot career). She had two older brothers.[1] In 1913 the family moved to Auckland. In 1924 Batten was enrolled into a girls' boarding college in Remuera in Auckland where she studied ballet and piano. Though she was a gifted pianist, at age 18 she determined to become a pilot after the Australian pilot Charles Kingsford Smith took her for a flight in his Southern Cross airplane.

Early flying

In 1929, she and her mother moved to England, to join the London Aeroplane Club. She took her first solo flight in 1930 and gained private and commercial licences by 1932, borrowing £500 from Fred Truman, a New Zealand pilot serving in the Royal Air Force who wanted to marry her, to fund the 100 hours flying time required. After completing her "B" license in December 1932, she left Truman and turned to Victor Dorée, who borrowed £400 from his mother to buy Batten a Gipsy Moth biplane. According to NZ History Online, "Raising money by taking advantage of her relationships with men was a theme that continued throughout her flying career."[1]

Batten made two unsuccessful attempts to beat Amy Johnson's time to Australia. In April 1933 she hit two sandstorms before the engine failed, and wrecked the aircraft. She crash-landed near Karachi. Returning to London she could not persuade Dorée to buy her another aircraft, so she turned to the Castrol oil company, which bought her a second-hand Gipsy Moth for £240. She made another attempt in April 1934, but ran out of fuel at night on the outskirts of Rome. Crashing into a maze of radio masts, she nearly severed her lip. The plane was repaired and she flew it back to London, where she borrowed the lower wings from the aircraft of her fiancé, stockbroker Edward Walter, for a third attempt.[2]

Breaking records

In May 1934, Batten successfully flew solo from England to Australia in the Gipsy Moth. Her trip of 14 days and 22 hours beat the existing England-to-Australia record of English aviator Amy Johnson by over four days.[2] For this achievement and for subsequent record-breaking flights, she was awarded the Harmon Trophy three times (1935, 1936, 1937). She also received an endorsement contract with Castrol oil. Batten's book about her trip, Solo Flight, was published by Jackson and O'Sullivan Ltd in 1934. Batten took a boat to New Zealand with the Gipsy Moth (which could not have flown across the Tasman Sea) and made a six-week aerial tour there before returning to England.

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

After her first Australia flight Batten bought a Percival Gull Six monoplane, G-ADPR, which was named Jean. In 1935 she set a world record flying from England to Brazil in the Percival Gull, for which she was presented the Order of the Southern Cross, the first person other than Royalty to be so honoured.[3] In 1936 she set another world record with a solo flight from England to New Zealand. At her birthplace of Rotorua she was honored by local Māori, as she had been after the 1934 journey. She was given a chief’s feather cloak and given the title Hine-o-te-Rangi – "Daughter of the Skies".

Because of her striking looks, her glamorous appearance at receptions (she always took a white silk dress with her on her record-breaking flights, and repaired her lipstick before exiting her aircraft), and her later reclusive ways, Batten became known as the "Greta Garbo of the skies".


Batten was created Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1936, and she was also given the Cross of Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour that year. Also in 1936, for the second successive year, Batten was again awarded the Royal Aero Club's Britannia Trophy for most meritorious performance in aviation during the previous year.

In 1938 she was awarded the medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, aviation's highest honour; she was the first woman to receive the medal. Throughout the 1930s she was very social and made many friends with other aviators internationally, as she described in her autobiography.

Life after flying exploits

World War Two ended Batten's flying adventures. Her Gull was commissioned to active service but Batten was not permitted to fly it. During the war she was involved in campaigns giving lectures in England to raise money for guns and aeroplanes, but her flying days were over. After the war she retired from public life except for a few anniversary appearances.[4]

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.[5] In 1982 she was bitten by a dog on the island of Majorca. She refused treatment and the wound became infected.[6] 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 only been there for a week and her identity unknown – which was not discovered until five years later.[7] Thus the world, and her relatives, did not learn of her passing until September 1987.[8]

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, 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 on the corner of Fort and Shortland streets in Auckland has been incorporated into the new Bank of New Zealand head office building, and the Auckland Airport International Terminal is 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.

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.

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.[9]

Also in September 2009, a street in the area of Palma where Batten died was renamed Carrer de Jean Batten, or Jean Batten St.[10]

During the 1980s Britannia operated 737–200 G-BGYL, named Jean Batten.

In 2016, Google Doodle commemorated her 107th birthday.[11]

Major flights

List of honours



  1. 1 2 3 "Jean Batten | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 2016-09-17.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Mackersey, Ian. "Batten, Jean Gardner (1909–1982)". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  3. My Life, by Jean Batten, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1938
  4. "Jean Batten Bio (compilation)". Monash University Centre for Telecommunications and Information Engineering. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  5. Jean Batten Hine-o-te-Rangi: Daughter of the skies
  6. "Jean Batten – A Female Pilot". (Beate Cisse). Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  7. "The flying ace known as the 'Greta Garbo of the skies' who ended in a pauper's grave -". Retrieved 2016-09-17.
  8. Mackersey, Ian. "Batten, Jean Gardner 1909–1982". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  9. "Jetconnect's New Build Boeing 737-838s". 14 September 2009. Retrieved 18 September 2009.
  10. Welch, Denis (12 September 2009). "Hero who flew out of our affection". New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  11. "Jean Batten's 107th birthday". Retrieved 14 September 2016.

Further reading

External links

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