Batten was born in Rotorua, New Zealand, on September 15, 1909, to a
modest dentist's family. From her earliest days, Jean seemed
predestined to become a great aviator. In a seemingly serendipitous
act, Batten's mother pinned a photo of the famous French pilot
on the wall next to Jean's crib.
Jean was an excellent student. She won several academic prizes and
was a gifted pianist. During her teenage years, she developed into
an extremely attractive woman, but she often appeared quite aloof.
As Mackersey noted, Jean was "a loner: a highly intelligent,
solitary person whom few could warm to."
Jean and her mother Ellen had a close bond, partly brought about by
living with her mother after her parents had separated. Her mother
was an early feminist and influenced her daughter dramatically,
passing along her extreme independence and strong-willed nature.
Batten became particularly interested in flight when
Charles Lindbergh crossed the
Atlantic in 1927. She was also inspired by Charles Kingsford-Smith's
the following year. By 1929, she was so anxious to fly that she
convinced her mother to approach Kingsford-Smith and persuade him to
take her up in his plane, the Southern Cross. Jean flew high above
Sydney, Australia, with "Smithy," and from then on, there was no
turning back. She was determined to become a top-notch pilot. Her
mother, wanting to give her daughter the best opportunities, decided
to move to London, one of the era's great aviation centres.
Jean earned her individual pilot's license in London in December
1930. Her immediate goal was to break the solo flight record from
England to Australia that aviator Amy Johnson had established
earlier that year. The only problem was that she needed a plane.
Because she did not have enough money to buy her own aircraft, she
decided to try to attract a corporate sponsor. But without a
commercial pilot's license, her chances were slim. Furthermore, Jean
did not have the $500 needed to secure a commercial certificate.
Fortunately for her, a young New Zealand pilot named Fred Truman,
the first of many suitors, gave her the money. It was his life
savings. Batten remained romantically involved with Truman just long
enough to get her license and then ended the relationship. She
quickly became involved with another man, an Englishman named Victor
Doree, who gave her the money to purchase her first plane, a bi-wing de Havilland Gipsy Moth.
Batten finally took off in pursuit of Amy Johnson's 20-day
England-to-Australia flight record in April 1933. Unfortunately, a
sandstorm caused her engine to fail and she crashed in Karachi,
Pakistan. Although Jean escaped serious injury, the plane was a
wreck. After returning to England, she asked Doree for another
aircraft, and when he refused, she stopped seeing him. Fortunately
for Batten, the Castrol Oil Company had taken notice of her and
bought her another Gipsy Moth.
Batten's second attempt at Johnson's record began on April 21, 1934,
but she ran into trouble very quickly. Batten miscalculated her fuel
consumption and damaged her plane among a series of radio towers
while making an emergency landing outside of Rome. While Batten
escaped the flight unscathed, the plane required too many repairs to
continue, and she returned to England. There, she repaired her plane
by using the bottom wing from an aircraft owned by her latest
suitor, Edward Walter, a London stockbroker who would become her
On May 8, 1934, Batten was ready to try again. This time she
succeeded. After flying more than some 10,500 miles (16,898
kilometres), she bettered Johnson's record by more than six days.
Batten reached Darwin, Australia, with an official time of 14 days,
22 hours, 30 minutes, and became an international hero. Soon after,
she broke her engagement to Walter and went on to the next man,
Beverly Shepard, an Australian airline pilot, a man who many
believed she truly loved. Walter, furious with Jean, billed her for
the wing she had used to repair her Moth.
Soon after bettering Johnson's mark, Batten bought a new aircraft, a
Percival Gull monoplane, which, with its extra fuel tank, was
perfectly suited for long-distance record attempts. On November 11,
1935, Batten took off in pursuit of another record, the best time
from England to South America. After flying to Dakar, Senegal,
Batten began the most dangerous part of her journey, a 1,900-mile
(3,058-kilometer) leg over the treacherous South Atlantic to Port
Natal, Brazil. Using only a watch and compass to guide her, Batten
made the transatlantic trip in 13 hours, 15 minutes. The entire trip
from England, a distance of approximately 5,000 miles (8,047
kilometres), had taken only 61 hours, 15 minutes, a new record.
Batten had also become the first woman to pilot a plane across the
A year later, she was back at it again. On October 5, 1936, Batten
climbed into her Gull and set out to better the England-to-New
Zealand record. She made it to Australia, the first major section of
the trip, in six days and shattered her own record set two years
earlier. Then, after waiting a few days for acceptable weather over
the Tasman Sea, she left for New Zealand. Batten made it in 10
hours, 30 minutes. The total journey of 14,224 miles (22,891
kilometres) had taken 11 days, 45 minutes, and set a record that
would stand for 44 years.
Soon after, Batten faced some personal hardships. During her hero's
tour of New Zealand, she suffered a nervous breakdown and went into
seclusion with her mother. After recuperating, she travelled to
Sydney in February 1937 to reunite with her fiancé Shephard, but on
the day she arrived, he died in a plane crash. With the only man she
truly loved gone, Batten sunk into a deep depression. It took her
mother almost eight months to coax Jean out of her despair and get
her to fly again.
In October 1937, Jean set another record--her final one--by flying
from Australia to England in five days, 18 hours, 15 minutes. As a
result, Batten became the first person--man or woman--to
simultaneously hold the solo flight records between England and
Australia in both directions.
After establishing her final record, Jean and her mother travelled
the world in relative seclusion. Although Jean resurfaced for a
while during World War II, she and her mother returned to seclusion
after the war. When her mother died in 1966, Jean was heartbroken.
She lived in solitude for many years. Despite a celebrated return to
public life in 1969, Batten eventually became a recluse again. On
November 22, 1982, while living on the Spanish island of Majorca,
Batten died of an infection caused by a dog bite; the wound had
turned septic and spread to her lungs after she refused medical
treatment. Because people on Majorca did not know who she was,
Batten received a burial in an unmarked pauper's grave. The world
would not learn of her death for several years, and then only after
her publisher had launched an investigation as to her whereabouts.
Throughout her remarkable career, Batten received a number of
prestigious awards. From 1935 to 1937, she held the Harmon
International Trophy, a prize for the most outstanding flight in a
given year. She also received the Brazilian Order of the Southern
Cross and "The Freedom of the City of London," among other honours.
To this day, many people still remember and greatly admire Batten.
Fittingly, New Zealand's Auckland International Airport bears her