Happy to be part of the death business

20:51, Dec 02 2012
PRECISE: Palmerston North's Hamish Batchelor has on an award for being the top practical student in an embalming course.

It is a greeting that elicits all manner of reactions, but it is something Palmerston North's Hamish Batchelor is not afraid to say: "Hi, I'm Hamish. I'm an embalmer."

"I introduce myself as an embalmer. I don't believe I should hide away, that's not the kind of society we live in," he said. "It gets people talking.

"The creeped-out ones are like, ‘why would you want to do that?' But the fascinated ones start asking all the things they've always thought of but could never ask."

Mr Batchelor, 27, is now in elite company in his field.

The head embalmer at Beauchamp Funeral Home won this year's Noel McNee Memorial Award for top practical student during Weltec's National Diploma in Embalming.

His reputation for being pedantic was what set him apart, he said.


"It makes me happy knowing that I am creating a lasting image for the family.

"Getting the comment that she looks so good compared to how she was or he was is what we strive for.

"Everyone wants to see a serene look on the person's face," he said.

"Some people I can get a little smile on them. It [the smile] is not easy and I'm not always successful, but when I am, it's great."

Marton-born and Dannevirke-raised, Mr Batchelor began his career in Christchurch in 2008. He did not even know what a funeral home was when he accepted the offer of a job at one from a friend's mother. It spiralled from there.

He moved back to Palmerston North in 2010 and decided to complete Weltec's embalming course this year while working fulltime at Beauchamps.

It was a good decision - as well as winning the award, Mr Batchelor met his girlfriend on the course.

He has tough days - like when he has to do facial reconstructions - but he is happy to get on with it.

The only real misconception about embalming was the belief that embalming chemicals were bad for the environment, he said.

"Formaldehyde itself, yes it is not a very pleasant chemical - it burns, stings and if you get it in you it can cause cancer - but the thing people don't realise is that formaldehyde breaks down in oxygen to carbon dioxide and water."

He describes what he does as an art form that requires full personal protective equipment including gumboots and a respirator.

He says his biggest weakness is applying "makeup" to deceased women - one of the final steps in the process.

"It's not makeup as such, certainly not what we'd use on the living. It's like coloured paints on a piece of art. But if a woman needs eyes or eyelashes done we get a stylist in, which is good because I'm not the best at all that."

Manawatu Standard