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state library of queensland
John Oxley Library

Australia's greatest ever shearer - The legend of Jackie Howe

By Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland | 10 October 2012

Portrait of John (Jackie) Howe, 1861-1920. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 67491

Portrait of John (Jackie) Howe, 1861-1920. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 67491.

"His big hand could grasp the animal in a way that has never been excelled, and his shears, propelled with a mighty wrist, made no mistakes"

The 10th of October 1892 marks the anniversary of the day the legend of shearer Jackie Howe was born. On this day Howe sheared a record 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 mins at Alice Downs Station in Blackall. This feat is even more amazing considering the fact that he used blade shears (hand shears), not machine shears. In the previous week he also achieved a new weekly record of 1437 sheep in 44 hours and 30 mins. Jackie Howe was to become a household name for generations to come.

So how physically challenging is it to shear sheep? An article published in the Sunday Mail back in 2000 looked at a study conducted by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission which found that shearing sheep is one of the most physically demanding jobs as far as stress to the human body. The study, which measured the heart rate, oxygen consumption and fluid loss found that one shearer working in 47 degree heat lost 9 litres of sweat in 2 hours.

Jack Howe has been variously described as an "extraordinary physical specimen" and "one of the best physically built men in Australia" with "a hand the size of a small tennis racket". He is recorded to have been 5ft 10 inches tall, his chest measuring 50 inches (127 cm) and his biceps 17.5 inches (44.45 cms). His weight has been given variously in different sources as 14 stone, 15 stone and 18 stone (between 89-114 kg). Apart from being a champion shearer, Jack was also quite an athlete. He reputedly ran 100 yards on a grass track in bare feet (or possibly wearing socks) in 11 seconds. He was also a good dancer; once at a sports event in Warwick he won the Irish Jig and the Sailor Hornpipe dancing competitions .

The State Library of Queensland holds the Jack Howe Scrapbook, collated by his son John Howe, containing a variety of newspaper clippings about Jackie Howe, as well as employee references for John Howe. Pasted at the front of the scrapbook is a letter written in 1910 to Jack Howe from his son’s boarding master at Nudgee College telling him how well regarded his son was among teachers and students.

Monument to Jackie Howe in Blackall, Queensland, 1991. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 72225

Monument to Jackie Howe in Blackall, Queensland, 1991. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 72225

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