Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson

Born in Hull at 154 St George’s Road, Hull, on 1 July 1903, Amy Johnson was the daughter of John William Johnson from the family firm of Andrew Johnson, Knudtzon and Company, fish merchants. She was also the granddaughter of successful mill-owner William Hodge, who was Mayor of Hull in 1860.

Amy attended the Boulevard Municipal Secondary School, later known as Kingston High School, until she was almost nineteen and whilst there passed the entrance exam to study a BA degree in Economics at Sheffield University.

Before leaving Hull for university Amy began a relationship with Swiss businessman, Hans Arregger, and although she had hoped they would marry, the relationship broke down and Hans married another woman. Despite this, Hans kept Amy’s letters for the rest of his life and in 1985 the Hull Local Studies Library purchased the 286 letters at auction for the City of Hull.

Visit our page on Amy Johnson’s Letters for more information and to download the letters.

After completing her degree, Amy returned to Hull to undertake a secretarial course at Wood's College, which led to work as a shorthand typist and in November of 1926 she had her first taste of flying on a five shilling pleasure trip.  She wrote to Hans: "...Mollie and I went up in the aeroplane. We both enjoyed it, but I would have liked to have done some stunts." (Amy Johnson’s Letters, reference L DIAJ/92.)

The following year she moved to London where there were more opportunities to find work and she eventually obtained a post at Crocker Solicitors which had prospects in the legal profession.

In September 1928 Amy began to take flying lessons at the London Aeroplane Club. After her first six lessons, she wrote home saying: "I have an immense belief in the future of flying," and from then on it became the most important thing in her life. Eager to work as a mechanic, Amy left her job at Crocker’s to work full time at the de Havilland aerodrome. Within two years Amy became a qualified pilot and the first woman to qualify in Britain as a ground engineer.

In May 1930 Amy made a solo flight to Australia in a Gypsy Moth D.H.60 G-AAAH which she named Jason (the trademark of the Johnson family fish business). Although she failed to break Bert Hinkler’s record, she was the first woman to complete the 11,000 mile trip, and as a result she was given considerable press coverage, the newspapers naming her "Queen of the air". She received telegrams of congratulation from across the world including King George V and Queen Mary and the British Prime Minster Ramsay MacDonald.

When she returned to England she was presented with a CBE, gold medals from the Society of Engineers and the Royal Aero Club. The national newspaper Daily Mail had clinched the rights to her story for the sum of £10,000, which included a publicity tour, and as part of the deal "Jason" was presented to the nation for the Science Museum. Amy was also given a civic reception at the Guildhall in Hull, and whilst at a rally for young people at Hull City Hall Amy proposed that a special trophy be awarded to recognize any act of outstanding bravery by a Hull child. The Amy Johnson Gold Cup for Courage came into existence, paid for by golden sovereigns given to Amy by schoolchildren in Sydney, Australia. The cup is awarded annually to a Hull child under the age of 17 who displays courage of the highest order.

Further record flights followed, including London to Moscow with co-pilot Jack Humphreys in January 1931 and then Moscow to Tokyo. In 1932 she met and married the Scottish aviator Jim Mollison and in December of the same year she broke his record for a solo flight from England to South Africa, gaining the Segrave Trophy. In July 1933, the couple attempted a non-stop flight from England to New York via Canada. Their plane ran out of fuel just 50 miles from their destination and they both received minor injuries when the plane crashed. Despite this they were given a ticker-tape parade through New York.

In 1934 Amy and her husband made a record flight to Karachi in India as part of the Australia MacRobertson Air Race, but they had to withdraw from the full race. In 1936 Amy regained her record for a flight between London and Cape Town and the record for the fastest return flight.

In May 1940, Amy joined the women's section of the Air Transport Auxiliary flying both machines and men to wherever they were needed. On 5 January 1941 on a routine flight from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington (near Oxford) she went off course, possibly due to the poor weather and a suspected faulty compass. With fuel tanks running dry, she bailed out into the Thames estuary and although she was heard crying for help, the rescue attempt failed and her body was never recovered. She was officially presumed dead in December 1943.

In July 1974, a memorial statue was erected to her honour in Prospect Street, Hull.

In 2003 the Royal Mail issued commemorative stamps to mark the centenary of her birth.

A life size bronze statue of Amy was unveiled by Maureen Lipman in September 2016 near St Georges Road where Amy was born.

For more information about the books and collections relating to Amy Johnson at the History Centre, download our guide: Discovering Amy Johnson at the Hull History Centre (PDF, 0.9MB).