Batesons in South-East Asia


Australia and New Zealand


There is next to no background information on the Batesons in Australia and New Zealand.  Most of what is known is noted in the BMD and PAF listings and in the following snippets of information.


William Jennings Bateson, who was born in 1845, married Emily Tetley in Otley on 23 December 1865. His middle name came from his maternal grandmother.  A daughter, Ruthetta, born in Otley, was living with her grandparents at the time of the 1871 Otley Census.  She married a Thomas Forrest and had two daughters, both in Otley.


William was probably a steerage passenger onboard the SS Samarang on 15 February 1869, sailing from London to Sydney. This is from the NSW Unassisted Passenger List.


In April 1872, he married Annie Goldsmith in Candello, New South Wales.


The couple are known to have raised at least 5 children, all sons. Joseph Harold (b 1873), Edgar Theodore (b 1875), Frank Edwyn (b 1877) and William Henry Vincent (b 1879) had at least 17 children between them. Roy EV Bateson was born in 1882 but died in infancy.


In Windhill, William Jennings Bateson had been employed, like many bright teenagers of the day, as a Pupil Teacher.  It is not surprising, therefore, to find that in April 1891, a William Bateson was appointed Principal of Adamstown (Newcastle, NSW) Public School.


Of his many descendants, most appear to have remained in New South Wales – 9 are recorded in the NSW Electoral Rolls.

One, Eric Hugh Bateson, was killed in the Battle of Pozieres in France on 4 August 1916.


One other Bateson went directly to Australia: 

James Bateson, son of Samuel Cowling Bateson and the nephew of William Jennings Bateson emigrated at some time in the 1880s but died in 1890 in Camperdown, NSW. 


Mary Ellen Bateson, born in late 1860 to Charles Bateson, married Dixon Rollinson in 1885 and had four children – John (b 1886), Maggie (b 1888), Emma (b 1890 but died in infancy) and Sarah Ellen (b 1894). Maggie married Thomas Atkinson, a Shoemaker, shortly before leaving for New Zealand in September 1913 onboard the Corinthic.  The rest of the family emigrated onboard the Ruahine in October 1913 and set up home at Napier, Hawkes Bay. Dixon, a Joiner by trade, established a shop supplying building materials.  Thomas Atkinson, sadly, was killed in the great earthquake of 1931.  Maggie died in Napier in 1972.  Both John and Sarah emigrated to Australia.  John, a Plasterer, married in 1927 and died in Brisbane in 1947, while Sarah married in 1922 and died in Brisbane in 1975.


Malaya and Borneo


Ernest Bateson, the 3rd child of William Henry and Elizabeth Bateson, was born on 26 January 1883 and christened at Baildon Parish Church on 20 June 1883.

At 18 he was a Correspondence Clerk, possibly working in central Bradford for Thomas Cook.

He became interested in botany and attended classes at Bradford Technical College. His teacher was William West, a specialist in cryptogams.

He is reported to have obtained a teaching post in Thornbury and to have passed his University of London matriculation exams, securing a scholarship in Botany worth £90 pa to the Royal College of Science (Imperial College) in 1907. [1]

He is said to have obtained a first class in the examination for the Associateship of the RCS in 1910.

An Associateship was usually offered to graduates but could also be bestowed on undergraduates. It may be that Ernest curtailed his studies in order to take up a post in the Colonial Service and may have been awarded the Associateship in lieu of a degree.

Ernest met his future wife Elsie Prior at Imperial College (she graduated with a BSc honours degree (2nd class) in Botany in 1911).

Ernest did an additional 3 months training, presumably in tropical botany, at Kew Gardens and Imperial College in the summer of 1910 before taking up a post as Assistant Mycologist to the Federated Malay States in early 1911. [2]

He would spend the next 40 to 50 years of his life in South-East Asia.



On 13 Jan 1911 he sailed 2nd class on the SS India from London to Penang. [3]

In 1912 it was reported that he had arrived in Siam, having been sent by the FMS Government to investigate the paddy system. One of his duties in Malaysia was to instruct local officials, land officers and district officers on irrigation and planting. [4]

In 1913 he wrote an article for the Agricultural Bulletin on the quality of the plantation rubber tree. [5]

In 1914 he wrote articles on the Artificial Stimulation of Branching in Rubber Trees and on The Tapping of the Para Rubber Tree. [6] [7]

The Agricultural Bulletin of the same year carried his account of ‘padi’ experiments on fungal plant pathogens in Krian, a district of Java. [8]

Elsie Prior left London on 20 February 1913 on the SS Nile bound for Penang. [9]

On 13 March the ship arrived in Colombo where she was met by an engineer called Wayland, a friend of hers. During a brief stopover, he took her to Louis Siedle’s gem shop where, she wrote, he bought her a ruby, two sapphires and a moonstone. [10]

The ship docked in Penang on 24 March, Easter Monday.

On Easter Tuesday Elsie and Ernest were married at St George’s Church.

They left the following day for a fortnight’s honeymoon in the Taiping Hills just to the south of Penang.

The Batesons set up two homes – one in a Government-built bungalow in Parit Buntar, a district of Penang – the other in a house in a district to the west of Kuala Lumpur.

While Elsie managed the household and the social calendar, Ernest would work in the office in Penang or go on extended tours round his patch. They would play golf and tennis and travel by rickshaw, car or motorbike to visit their new expat acquaintances on nearby estates. 

Elsie wrote happily: “it is such a healthy out-of-door life here” [10], ignoring the fact that the family often succumbed to tropical illnesses, including malaria and dysentery.

By February 1914 they were on leave, returning to England onboard the SS Nankin. An article in the Straits Times noted that Ernest visited the Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya, Ceylon on his way home. [11]

It also reported that he had been appointed Mycologist in Borneo.

The North Borneo State Rubber Limited noted in its 1915 Report: "his appointment as mycologist to our estate is most valuable...” [12]

The couple arrived back in London in March 1914. [13]


In June 1914 Ernest embarked in London on the SS Delta, arriving in Singapore en route for Borneo on 24 July. [9]

Elsie stayed in Sittingbourne and gave birth to her first child, Elsa (Wendy), in August.

With her baby daughter she sailed back to Singapore 13 months later, onboard the SS Khyber. [15]

By early 1915 the Batesons were well-ensconced in Jessleton (Kota Kinabalu), which Elsie described as “idyllic and peaceful in the extreme”. [10] Their house was a large one, built on stilts. The approach road was later to be called Bateson’s Drive. [16]

The family’s second child, Vera (Bunty), was born in Jesselton on 13 October 1916. Elsie notes that she weighed 9lb 12oz.

Elsie’s letters home related a continuous round of social visits, garden parties and shopping trips. [9]

Mrs Bateson,” said a later report, “is an adept at entertainments of this sort (her annual garden party) and her party was a great success”. [17]

Elsie did manage to find time to assist her husband in his work – she translated a paper from the original German, for example. And she used her expertise in botany in a project to classify the local flora.

Although Ernest was officially the Government Mycologist and Agricultural Advisor, several publications around this time referred to him as Director of Agriculture.

There were a few disturbances to the idyll described by Elsie: plagues of locusts decimated the vegetation and crops. The family suffered frequent attacks of fever.  Ernest was stricken by appendicitis. There were strikes by servants.  [18]

North Borneo was a long way from the Western Front: “The war doesn’t touch us at all, except in increased prices,” wrote Elsie.

To compensate the suffering expats, the British Government added 5% to their salaries. [10]

Sadly, a few weeks after writing: “the war news is very good, isn’t it?” news came of her brother Harry Leonard Prior’s death in a flying accident in 1918.


After the war, in 1919, Elsie and her sick children were allowed to return to England, onboard the ambulance ship, SS Egypt. [19]

When Ernest was able to join them, probably in 1920, they went to live in Jersey for 6 months so that he could avoid becoming a British resident liable for income tax.  [16]

On 10 June 1921 Ernest and Elsie embarked in London on the SS Manela bound for Singapore. They were travelling First Class to Borneo, without their children. [9]

In June 1924 Elsie arrived back in London on the SS Ethiopia. [20]

She was followed a year later by Ernest, travelling on the SS Morea. [21]

Briefly, they rented a secluded house – White Cottage at Holmwood, near Dorking.

On 26 Sept 1925 the entire family embarked in London on the SS Haruna Maru. They were travelling First Class but only as far as Marseille, en route to a first floor apartment in Menton. [9]

This was to be the home of part of the family for the next 5 years.

At the end of December 1925, Ernest had to return to England for his mother's funeral in Bradford.

In June 1926 Ernest returned to Jesselton onboard the SS Marudu. [22]

Elsie remained in Menton with her two girls, who attended a local school.  Vera wrote that her days there were the happiest she could remember. Of her mother’s life she wrote: “We were sure of finding Mummy if we asked everyone we knew. She would be established in a deck chair in the shade of the bushes near the bandstand with chance acquaintances”. [16]


Ernest continued to commute between Borneo and Europe.

In October 1929 he sailed home on the P&O Karmala. [23]

In June 1930 he sailed back to Singapore on the P&O Morea. [24]

In June 1933 he was onboard the SS Kaisar-I-Hind bound for Penang, Colombo, Bombay and Europe. [25]

In January 1934 he left London bound for Singapore onboard the P&O Chitral. [26]


Some of his work was publicised in the 1920s and 1930s:

In 1925 the British North Borneo Company issued a paper by him on Oil Palm Cultivation. [27]

In July 1926 the Straits Times reported that Mr E Bateson, Agricultural Advisor and formerly Assistant Mycologist, was controller of locust extermination operations in Jesselton. [28]

In October 1926 the paper reported on his experimental and sensationally successful treatment of diseased rubber trees. [29]


The family left Menton in 1930, probably returning to England.

Elsa got married in 1938, Vera in 1939.

By this time Ernest seems to have retired from Government service – in the 1939 Register he and Elsie were living with her brother Jack in Twickenham. His occupation was given as Director of Public Company. This was likely to have been Sapong Rubber Estates Ltd.

Sapong, the largest rubber plantation in Borneo, was south-west of Jesselton. It also cultivated tobacco.

By 1945, Ernest and Elsie were living in a house they almost certainly built for themselves in Greville Park Avenue, Ashstead in Surrey.

In 1939, Greville Park Avenue had only recently been constructed. A dozen detached houses had been built.  Three plots remained on the north-west side of the avenue. [30]

By the end of the War, 3 houses had been built on the empty plots. One of them, Number 19, as it is known today, is a handsome 5 bedroom house set in pine woods. In 1945 its occupants were Ernest and Elsie Bateson. [31]

It was called Far Fold, after the smallholding near Oxenhope farmed by Ernest's maternal grandfather Benjamin Hartley.


In 1950 Ernest was reported to be in Kuala Lumpur: he was listed as a member of a committee called the Arts and Crafts Circle. [32]

In 1957 Ernest resigned as a director of Sapong Rubber Estates Ltd. [33]

Elsie died in 1971 at Little Denmead in Epsom, where relatives of Vera’s husband lived.

It is likely that after her death, Ernest moved to Dorset to live with his daughter Vera. But his frailty soon prompted a move into a care home in Blandford Forum, where he died in 1975 aged 92.



SFPMA = Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advisor
TST = The Straits Times

1        From his curriculum vitae reported in SFPMA, 21 Nov 1910

2        Kew Journal, Vol 1910 No 8

3        Passengers leaving UK – National Archives

4        Report that Mr E Bateson arrived in Siam having been sent by the FMS Government to investigate the paddy system – TST, 18 June 1912

5        Report on article by E Bateson in Agricultural Bulletin on the quality of the plantation rubber tree – TST, 10 Dec 1913 

6        The Artificial Stimulation of Branching in Rubber Trees by E Bateson ARCSc, Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 23, 1914, reported in TST 2 June 1939 p15

7        The tapping of the Para Rubber Tree: some physiological experiments, Bateson (E)  – FMS, Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 23, 8, 1914

8        Report on article by Mr E Bateson on padi  experiments in Krian – SFPMA, 6 Jan 1914

9        Passengers leaving UK – National Archives     

10      Elsie Prior / Bateson’s private letters 1911-1919

11      Mr E Bateson was reported visiting Peradeniya Botanic Gardens in Ceylon on 21 Feb 1914 on his way home from Malaya. Appointed Mycologist in Borneo – TST, 12 March 1914

12      Report by North Borneo State Rubber Limited, 20 July 1915 : "his appointment as mycologist to our estate is most valuable..." 

13      17 March 1914, Mr E Bateson and Mrs Bateson arrived in London onboard SS Nankin from Port Swettenham (now Port Klang)

14      TST, 25 July 1914

15      Sept 1915, Mrs Bateson & child onboard SS Khyber from London to Singapore – “Bookings to the Straits”, Malaya Tribune, 20 Sept 1915

16      Vera Bateson’s memoir 1916-1930

17      British North Borneo Herald, 17 Sept 1923

18      Here we suffer, as do others, from the tyranny of servants…” – SFPMA, 6 July 1926

19      TST, 27 Aug 1919

20      SFPMA, 31 May 1924

21      SFPMA, 5 June 1925

22      SFPMA, 29 June 1926

23      SFPMA, 18 Oct 1929

24      STS, 17 June 1930

25      SFPMA, 23 June 1933

26      STS, 17 Feb 1934

27      Oil Palm Cultivation by E Bateson, 1925 – held by The National Archives, Kew

28      TST, 16 July 1926

29      TST, 13 October 1926

30      1939 Electoral Register for Parish of Ashstead

31      1945 Electoral Register for Ashstead West

32      TST, 24 Sept 1950

33      TST, 21 May 1957