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Jean Batten: aviatrix, explorer and glamour queen.

September 17, 2010

A dreadful feeling of loneliness almost overwhelmed me as I left the African coast and steered the aeroplane out into the blackness of the Atlantic on a course for Brazil, nearly two thousand miles away. To the north I could see the blurred gleam of the lighthouse at Dakar sending its friendly beam out into the night. I switched off the navigation lights, for the lighted cabin seemed to make the darkness outside more intense as I peered vainly through the windows trying to distinguish the horizon. “It must get light soon,” I thought, glancing at the clock, to realize that it was only twenty minutes since I had left Thies.”

(Jean Batten – solo round the world aviatrix 1909 -1982)

I’ve often wondered what drives a person like Jean Batten to explore beyond the norm: to set records that exert physical and mental energy, to keep going when loneliness sets in; or was she someone who yearned for solitude?

by Cate

Back then…

During the early 1900’s when flight had taken hold on the modern world, aviators and aviatrixes grew in numbers and so did intrepid flight pursuits. Well known amongst this group were the American Amelia Earhart, British Amy Johnson, Australian Kingsford Smith and New Zealander Jean Batten. Remarkable trips were recorded on a constant basis by these pilots and others: solo Trans Atlantic flights, Trans Tasman, Trans Pacific and England to New Zealand.

These trips are now considered everyday flights taken by ordinary people, but back then when the word plane was prefixed with “aero” not “air”, and designs for efficiency were ongoing, taking a solo flight around the globe was pretty phenomenal.

In the mid 1930’s novice pilot Jean Batten left England for Australia in an attempt to break (or take) the world record that renown aviatrix Amy Johnson made 3 years earlier. And she did, eventually. After three risky attempts, Jean Batten flew from England to Australia in 14 days, in a small plane, a de Havilland Gypsy Moth.

Women like Batten had gumption but they didn’t compromise on their style nor glamour. It is reputed that when Batten went on her record breaking flights, she always carried a dress — and possibly makeup.

by Cate

She lived on thermos tea and coffee, sandwiches and goodwill. She also relied on luck, local knowledge and sheer determination. To me she epitomised adventure: a solo woman who didn’t worry herself sick about personal safety, didn’t carry a personal alarm system or mace spray. Like explorers before and after her, she used a combination of intellect, wit and charm to get what she wanted — to fly the skies.

Roots and Ending

Jean Batten was born on September 15 1909, if she were alive today she would have turned 101 on Wednesday 15 Sept.  She was dubbed Garbo of the Skies for her glamorous looks and introverted lifestyle once her fame died out. A great woman remembered in her home town Rotorua where memorials have been erected in her honour outside the town’s information centre and inside the airport terminal. But sadly she has been forgotten by most of the modern day world. Batten’s mysterious death in Spain 1982 went unnoticed by the press an organisation that used to adore her; she was found in an unmarked grave reputed to have died of complications from a dog bite.

by Cate

As I read her biography “My Life” it felt I was seated next to her, in the passenger’s seat as she flew over the dusty barren terrain of Persia and the mountainous landscape of Europe. She had lunch with officials and tea with expat wives, she worked alongside mechanics on her plane and negotiated flight details with commanders.

Jean Batten is a fine example of how travel defines a person. For more in depth information about the marvels of Jean Batten check out Travel for Aircraft’s recent post.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. travelforaircraft permalink
    September 18, 2010 8:52 am

    She was quite brave and had style according to several references. Jean Batten had a brief but successful resurgence in the 1960s but again, and just as mysteriously, disappeared from the public eye. But who wouldn’t want to be away from the constant scrutiny of the media? Perhaps she made the money she needed and simply retired. Tragically, as you said she died alone from complications of infection from a dog’s bite. No one in the Majorcan hotel in Palma knew who she was, nor did the few people she knew know where she was. She had a few opportunities to marry but never did so as not to interrupt her flying or travelling. She was unique and special.

    • September 20, 2010 5:03 pm

      Truly unique, guess you have to be to do what she did.

  2. September 18, 2010 10:43 am

    She was a real adventurer.

    • September 20, 2010 5:04 pm

      Indeed. Do you know of any Malaysians you would describe as an adventurer?

  3. September 19, 2010 9:48 pm

    What a fascinating life. I’ve never heard of her but I like her style. Another American aviatrix that I admire is Besssie Coleman, she also flew past barriers and maintained her style.

    • September 20, 2010 5:02 pm

      I’ve heard of this person, amazing how nothing seems to faz these wonderfully determined people.

  4. September 22, 2010 12:22 am

    What a fascinating woman! I’ve never heard of her until today, but now I must learn more. Thank you for bringing her story to us. 🙂

    • September 22, 2010 4:46 pm

      You are welcome Krista, my guess is there are so many aviators men and women we all know very little about. The air must have been buzzing with small planes at that time.

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