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Betty Batham

Marine biologist (1917-1974)

When Betty Batham received the Hamilton Memorial Prize for early-career scientists in 1947, she became the first woman to receive a Royal Society Te Apārangi honour. Batham had graduated from the University of Otago with first-class honours degrees in both botany and zoology. After the Second World War she won a scholarship to study overseas and received a doctorate from Cambridge University for experimental work on sea anemones.    

Batham returned to New Zealand in 1950 and took over turning an old fisheries station into the Portobello Marine Laboratory. This required dedication – for a time there was no road and she often had to take equipment to the site by canoe or on foot. Batham was the director of the laboratory for 23 years, became a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi in 1962, and learned to scuba dive late in her career. She stepped down as director in 1974 due to ill health, then disappeared off the coast of Wellington in mysterious circumstances.


New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu Taonga, ‘Batham, Elizabeth Joan’, Web page, accessed 29 October 2017, 5b13/batham-elizabeth-joan.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.