A tribute to Jackie Howe
Born at Killarney (on a property close to Warwick, Queensland) John Robert Howe (26 July 1861 – 21 July 1920), or “Jackie” as he was more affectionately known, is regarded by most as the greatest shearer to ever grasp a pair of hand blades. The story of Jackie Howe is one of Australian legend. A World Champion and record breaking Sheep shearer, Australian Labour Party pioneer, Publican and credited as the inventor of the modern Australian ‘blue singlet’, Jackie shot to fame in pre-Federation Australia when he broke the daily and weekly shearing records across the colonies.
On 10 October 1892, Howe shore 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes at the Alice Down Station (Australian agriculture)”station in Queensland, and he would have shorn more except that he ran out of sheep to shear. Given that a standard working day is eight hours he surely would have done at least another dozen, still a faster tally than anyone before him.
The shearers were – and still are – paid for the number of sheep they shear in four, two-hourly runs thus creating strong competition to get the largest tally for the day. The fastest and cleanest shearer for the day’s tally earns for himself the name of the ‘Ringer of the Shed’ until his tally is broken by another.
In the week before his record-breaking day Jackie Howe also broke the weekly record by shearing 1437 sheep in 44 1/2 hours, a blade tally that remains unbeaten. He was ‘The Ringer of all Ringers’, a legend in the woolsheds.
Jackie Howe was capable of shearing big tallies with both the hand shearing method and by means of the mechanical sheep shearing. He won prizes for his sheep shearing and he famously wore his sheep shearing medals on his waist coat.
Jackie Howe found the sleeves of his flannel restrictive so one day he tore out the sleeves and wore his flannel with no sleeves. Finding it much more useful with the sleeves off, Jack then got his mother to convert all his flannels into ‘singlets’ and later she started making them especially for Jack. The ‘fad’ caught on and, before long, all the shearers were wearing sleeveless flannels. It was not too long before the lighter singlet became popular with all men in all industries and so the ‘Jackie Howe Singlet’ was born.
A dedicated trade unionist, Howe bought a pub at Blackall in 1901 and bought Sumnervale Station in 1919 but died the next year, aged 59. In a telegram to his widow, the then of Premier of Queensland, Tom Ryan, is reputed to have said: ‘I have lost a true and trusted friend and the Labor Party has lost a champion’.