Jean Batten was a record setting female explorer of the air who left her mark in aviation history. Immortalized, her bronze sculpture decorates the airport terminal in Rotorua and the main terminal at Auckland airport bears her name. So does a place in Auckland downtown. The place is opposite the corner of Shortland Street and High Street and a school in the south of Auckland.
At a visit of the aviation pavilion at Motat, the "Museum of Transport and Technology", in Auckland we heard the first time about her astonishing achievements.
In September 1909, two months after the first English Channel crossing in an aircraft by the French pilot Bleriot. Jane Gardner Batten was born as the forth and youngest child of Ellen Blackmore and her husband, the dentist Frederick Batten. In the mother’s own fascination of daring achievements to conquer the sky, she pinned a newspaper cut of Bleriot above her daughter’s cot.
Before the outbreak of the war the family moved to Auckland. Her father served in war which left Ellen with the children by herself. During this time regular visits to Mission Bay to watch flying boats take off in the Auckland harbour. This was a flying school lead by the brothers Walsh.
The war ended and Jean’s father returned but the parents grew apart and split up after one year of disputes.
Solo Flight NZ
Jean’s interest in flying gained momentum despite a quite traditional female education in piano, ballet, and secretarial studies. Her father’s opinion to her voiced idea on learning how to fly was: "ludicrous".
Jean and her Mum had a particular close relationship. She became Jean’s ally in preceding her dreams to fly.
Ellen managed in 1929 to arrange a flight for Jean in Australia with Ace Charles Kingsford Smith, an Australian bomber pilot. This experience nurtured Jean’s aspiration for becoming a pilot and set the foundation for her triumphs as an aviatrix.
Both women sailed to England, for Jean to take up flying lessons. In 1931 Jean was the first New Zealand female pilot to obtain the "A" licence. Her next goal was to challenge the set record, flying from England to Australia, by Amy Johnson. Her efforts to raise funds were fruitless. In response she desired to improve her license with the "B" licence. She used her feminine charm on unsuspecting men to gain funding for realising her ambitious dreams.
Two times nature and circumstances thwarted her plans. Her persistence paid off. The third time she beat the set record on the flight from England to Australia by more than four days.
At that time flying was considered a dangerous endeavour and, was usually pursued by men. Just relying on her own navigational abilities with watch, compass, and map as requisites her flights were astonishing achievements marked in aviation history.
Breaking many more world records and winning numerous awards, Jean Batten stepped into the ring of famous aviatrixes. During public lectures in many places she impressed with her poise and charm.
When she flew from England to New Zealand to land at the Auckland airport in Mangere she caused a traffic jam. At this occasion Jean visited Rotorua her birth place. The Arawa tribe honoured her with a chief’s cloak an the title 'Hine-O-Te-Rangi' - Daughter of the Skies.
After The War
Jean and her Mum kept a close relationship and lived in Jamaica, various places in Europe and later in Spain. Ellen died on a holiday in Tenerife in 1965 leaving a grieving and depressed Jean Batten who stayed in Tenerife for the next 16 years.
Despite her popularity during her sixties, Jean died, age 73, a lonely death in Majorca in 1982. She was bitten by a dog. The wound got infected and she refused treatment. No one knew about her death, until five years later.
Amongst her many accomplishments as a female pilot and making an impact on aviation history, she wrote a biography, "My Life" readable online in the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre.
de Havilland Gipsy Moth
Jean Gardner Batten
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