Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Howe, John Robert (1861–1920)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

John Robert Howe (1861?-1920), shearer and publican, was born probably on 26 July 1861 at Killarney near Warwick, Queensland, son of John Howe, circus acrobat turned stockman, and his wife Louisa, née Stokes, who had come to Queensland as a companion to the wife of Patrick Leslie. Howe probably began shearing in the late 1870s and after a season in New Zealand settled at Blackall. At the Roman Catholic church there on 24 April 1890 he married Margaret Alexandra Victoria Short.

Howe first achieved more than local fame in 1892, when he shore 237 sheep by machine in one day at Barcaldine Downs station early in October, and on the 10th shore 321 weaners with the blades at Alice Downs. In the previous week he had shorn 1437 sheep in 44 hours. An old shearing mate told how other shearers attempted to slow him down by tickling him and jumping on his back, but his feats were recognized by two gold medals, offered for shearing records by Coleman & Sons, eucalyptus manufacturers of Cootamundra, and by the presentation in January 1893 of an inscribed shearing machine from the Wolseley Shearing Machine Co.

Howe was an enthusiastic member of the Queensland Shearers' Union and prominent on its committee. In 1900 he abandoned shearing and bought the Universal Hotel at Blackall. He moved to the Barcoo Hotel in 1902 but repurchased the Universal in 1907 and retained it until 1919. He remained a loyal member of the Australian Labor Party and, as president of the Blackall Workers' Political Organisation in 1909, took the lead in arranging for T. J. Ryan to stand for election to the Legislative Assembly. Late in life he bought Sumnervale and Shamrock Park, pastoral properties near Blackall. When he moved to Sumnervale in 1919 he was given the biggest send-off in the town's history. However his health was already broken and he died aged 58 at Blackall on 21 July 1920. His wife, six sons and two daughters survived him. He was buried in the local cemetery.

An 'extraordinary physical specimen', Howe weighed 18 stone (114 kg), with a 50 ins (127 cm) chest, 27½ ins (70 cm) thigh, 17 ins (43 cm) biceps and a hand the size of a small tennis racket. He is reputed to have run 100 yards in eleven seconds in his socks and to have been well above average in field events. He is also known to have taken prizes for Irish dancing. He became a legend long before he died and the flannel shirt worn by shearers is still widely known as a 'Jacky Howe'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. J. Brixey, Jackie Howe: Australia's All Time Champion Blade Shearer (Warwick, Qld, 1982)
  • Brisbane Courier, 13 Oct 1892
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Oct 1892, 15 Nov 1894
  • Catholic Advocate, 13 Apr 1916
  • Worker (Brisbane), 5 Aug 1920
  • private information.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Howe, John Robert (1861–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howe-john-robert-6746/text11655, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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