New Zealander Jean Batten's flying feats of the 1930s made her an international celebrity, and her leading-lady good looks dubbed her the nickname Garbo of the skies, after the sultry moving pictures star, Greta Garbo.

The daring and record-breaking aviatrix from Rotorua inspired many women. While it would take decades before society would even contemplate women being equals with men in terms of vocations and societal standing, many women who listened to Jean speak must have quietly gathered inner confidence in what it was possible for them to achieve.

Many men in positions of authority were uncomfortable with a woman achieving aviation feats and probably would have much preferred to welcome the Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

In Hawke's Bay a local authority leader was reputed to have said Jean Batten should be honoured to meet him, not the other way around.


Auckland mayor Ernest Davis said to her condescendingly at a ceremony to celebrate her record-breaking solo flight from England to New Zealand: "Jean, you are a very naughty girl and really I think you want a good spanking for giving us such a terribly anxious time."

Jean Batten came to Hawke's Bay in August 1934, and eagerly awaiting her was 100-year-old Mary Ann Adamson (1833-1934) of Hastings, who was quite a character.

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Mary had become a national celebrity in her own right when, aged 99, in November 1932, she went for a flight with Hawke's Bay and East Coast Aero Club's pilot, flying-officer Gerrant. On landing, she was made a life member of the aero club.

After the flight, as part of Hastings' rebuilding carnival after the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, Hastings mayor G F Roach, crowned Mary the carnival queen. Napier commissioner J S Barton and Napier mayor J Vigor Brown were also present to offer their congratulations.

Napier's rebuilding carnival occurred in January 1933, and Charles Kingsford Smith flew into Napier for the occasion while on a New Zealand tour. Mary, who had the flying bug, went up with him.

Mary's August 1934 flight with Jean Batten took place from the Hastings aerodrome. They made history for being the youngest and oldest members of an aero club, as Jean was also made a life member on arrival in Hastings.

Mary Adamson was thought to be the oldest born British colonial, having been born in Hobart, Australia, in 1833.


Her family came to New Zealand in 1835, living in Hokianga first.

They had walked to the Bay of Islands through roadless bush and asked a group of Maori to guide them, but instead were robbed of everything except their clothes they wore.

Fortunately, one of the older Maori in the party returned and pointed them in the direction of Russell.

At age 7, Mary was present at the ceremony when Governor Hobson declared British sovereignty over New Zealand in January 1840.

She remembered the incident when Hone Heke destroyed the flagstaff at Russell and was present at the ceremony when it was formally re-erected.

When a Maori, Maketu, was convicted of murder in 1842, Mary and a friend skipped school to watch his hanging on March 7. He was the first person legally hanged in New Zealand.

Mary came to Napier in 1864 and remembered it being the "merest village".

Ten days after celebrating her 101st birthday, she passed away on November 30, 1934.

At her birthday, where she wore a frock she made at age 30, she told a reporter that "gardening is a little past me now".

The Reverend D J Shaw from her church (Presbyterian) told her she was known the world over because of her aeroplane flights.

There were 101 candles crowded on to her cake, and she blew them all out.

"My hair never seems to get white, but I thank God I am as well as I am," she told assembled friends and family.

Mary was a tireless worker for the community, and a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Just before her death, she had said: "When I pass on, I hope no one will spend money on costly wreaths for me. Let them bring flowers, their own flowers, but give their money to feed and clothe the needy."

• I am taking pre-orders for my Historic Hawke's Bay book due out in late November, which is a collection of my best HB Today articles from 2016-2018, with additional photos and story material. The book has 160 pages with 26 in colour. Cheque to Michael Fowler Publishing of $59.90 to PO Box 8947, Havelock North or email below for bank details. Includes free delivery in Hawke's Bay. Please state if you want it signed. It will not be available in bookshops as it is a small print run.

• Michael Fowler FCA ( is a chartered accountant and contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.