Robert Thompson Batley, the son of Jane Thompson and George Batley, a mariner, was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, on 15 November 1849. He was educated in Portsmouth, and at about the age of 13 joined the crew of the Royal Bride, which sailed from London to Auckland, New Zealand, arriving on 29 April 1863. On 22 June the ship was wrecked in a north-east gale while anchored in the Napier roadstead, Hawke Bay. Maori gathered on the beach and formed a human chain to assist the crew ashore. Deciding to stay in Hawke's Bay, Robert Batley found employment at Donald McLean's Maraekakaho station. About the end of 1867 he went to live at Kuripapango, and travelled further inland seeking work.
In 1868 he was employed by A. S. and W. J. Birch, pioneer sheepfarmers of Erewhon station, at inland Patea (the upper Rangitikei region). In the spring of 1869 he drove livestock from Erewhon to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas McDonnell's camp at Poutu, Lake Rotoaira, during the campaign against Te Kooti. In 1870 Batley went into partnership with Henare Kepa (also known as Henare Akatarewa) at Moawhango, running sheep and exporting wool, but by 1874 he had returned to the employment of the Birch brothers as manager of Erewhon station. He visited England in 1877, and at Portsmouth met Emily Snelling whom he married on 11 September 1877 at Portsea. They were to have seven sons and three daughters. They returned to New Zealand in 1878 and after a period in Hawke's Bay moved inland. By 1880 Batley was managing a sheep run at Te Henga on the Rangipo block in the Tongariro district.
In 1882 Batley returned to Moawhango where he opened a store and later a post office. He expanded his business, establishing teams for the cartage of produce from the inland sheep stations and leasing land for his own increasingly large flocks. He farmed much of the natural clearing in the Moawhango and Taoroa districts. Batley gained a good knowledge of Maori language, and in the Native Land Court assisted Ngati Whiti (who adopted him as Pape Patere) to establish their ownership of land in the district. Until the opening up of the North Island main trunk railway and the establishment of Taihape, Moawhango was the business centre of inland Patea. Batley was instrumental in getting a teacher appointed to Moawhango in 1897, and established a large number of buildings in the township. He became known as the 'King of Moawhango'.
He expanded his farming interests, including property in Taranaki, and in 1905 stated that he and his sons were farming 22,000 acres, 2,000 of them freehold, with stock comprising 25,000 sheep, 2,000 cattle and 300 horses.
Robert Batley died on 14 July 1917 in Wellington. He was survived by three sons and two daughters, and was buried in the family plot at Moawhango. Emily Batley died on 7 April 1927.