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William Percy (Skipper) Batt (1879–1947)

by Jeffery Boyes

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Harry Cyril Leslie Batt

William Percy Batt (1879-1947) and Harry Cyril Leslie Batt (1885-1947), yachtsmen, were born on 3 December 1879 and 10 May 1885 in Hobart, sons of Tasmanian-born parents Henry Batt, carpenter, and his wife Ellen, née Rose. Percy, nicknamed 'Skipper' by his mother, was fascinated by the activity of the slipways below their Battery Point home and amused himself by fashioning boats from slivers of wood. Educated at Battery Point Model School and Macquarie Street State School, he had his first taste of competitive sailing with the Derwent Model Yacht Club where the serious production and racing of model boats awakened his interest in hull and rig design.

Percy joined his father in the building trade, then served apprenticeships to a tinsmith and a cooper. By the 1907-08 season he was an accomplished helmsman and won four Derwent Dinghy Sailing Club races in the 15-foot 'boxie', Lalla Berri. From 1911 he was a master cooper, working from Salamanca Place. On 16 October 1916 he married Myrtle Agnes Bisdee with Anglican rites at the Church of St James the Apostle, New Town. Eight days later he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Embarking for England on 11 May 1917, Skipper served briefly in France with the 1st Field Artillery Brigade; he returned to Tasmania where he was discharged in September 1919.

Harry shared his brother's passion for sailing. He, too, had raced model yachts before his first appearance in the Hobart Regatta of 1905. As helmsman of the 'boxie', Lahloo, he won at the New Norfolk Regatta and was Derwent Dinghy Sailing Club champion (1905-10). After working for a watchmaker and jeweller, he became an ironmonger's assistant. On 17 August 1911 he married a 19-year-old bookbinder Emily Eden Jones at St George's Anglican Church, Hobart; they were to have two sons and three daughters. Harry graduated to class-yachts in 1912 when he and Skipper purchased Weene; in 1914 he won the Ocean Race and a first-class event at the Hobart Regatta.

In 1924 Skipper was commissioned to design the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania's challenger for the Forster cup. Presented in 1922 to stimulate interstate competition between one-design, 21-foot, restricted class yachts, the cup was one of Australia's premier yachting trophies. The Tassie's keel was laid on 18 December and construction completed in four weeks. Described as a 'rough Huon Pine yacht' and given little chance against the opposition, on 7 February 1925 she won an intense tacking duel to take the first heat by 50 seconds; the five man crew with Skipper as helmsman and Harry as for'ard hand increased that margin in the two remaining heats.

Having again won in Perth (1926) and Adelaide (1927), Skipper was defeated in 1928 by a yacht of his design, Tassie Too, sailed by his brother Harry. A third yacht designed by Skipper, Tassie III, was launched late in 1929 and, with Harry as helmsman, won in Hobart in 1931. As helmsmen, Percy and Harry Batt dominated the competition until 1938. Skipper's yachts won the Forster cup seventeen times, the Albert cup seven times, and were victorious in the associated Mosman and Griffith cups. Five ft 6½ ins (169 cm) tall, with fair hair and blue eyes, Percy closely resembled his brother; they behaved like twins and each seemed to be able to read the other's mind. Both men thoroughly understood the theory of hull and rig design, had the uncanny knack of sensing wind shift and were highly respected by their crews.

Following his retirement from active competition in the late 1930s, Percy spent his time encouraging young sailors, and designing and building boats for his family and friends. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died of heart disease on 7 April 1947 at his Battery Point home and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. The Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania named a trophy in his memory.

Harry Batt served as rear commodore (1925-28, 1932-33 and 1940-41) and vice commodore (1934-37, 1942 and 1944) of the club; he continued to race Weene and won the Commodore's Trophy (1947). He died of coronary vascular disease on 4 December 1947 at Battery Point and was also buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery; his wife and five children survived him. His son Neall became a distinguished helmsman and winner of the Stonehaven and Forster cups. The names of the Batt brothers are commemorated in the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Webster, A Hundred Years of Yachting (Hob, 1936)
  • Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Sailing On (Hob, 1980)
  • G. Norman, Yachting and the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club (Syd, 1988)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 7, 9 Feb 1925, 10 Apr, 5 Dec 1947
  • Batt family records (privately held).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jeffery Boyes, 'Batt, William Percy (Skipper) (1879–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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