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australian rowers profiles and history

James G Howden

Yarra Yarra Rowing Club (VIC), Melbourne University Boat Club (VIC) and then Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

James Guthrie Howden 4 Sept 1934 – 10 October 1993

1956 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship four seat - First

1956 – Olympic Games – Men’s Eight four seat – Bronze

1959 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship two seat - Second

1960 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship two seat - Third

1962 – World Championships – Men’s Coxed Four stroke - Fifth

1976 – Olympic Games – Selector

1977 – World Championships – Selector

1978 – World Championships – Selector

1979 – World Championships – Selector

1980 – Olympic Games – Selector

Jim Howden grew up in Point Lonsdale where he attended Queenscliff High School and later Geelong College. He stroked the Geelong College second crew in 1950 to a second placing. In the following year he stroked the first crew but did not the final and in 1952 was in the six seat of the second placed first crew.

Jim did his most of his competitive rowing at MUBC and later joined Yarra Yarra with other noted rowers Tony Walker, Peter Gillon and Ian Bult. Jim was Captain of Yarra Yarra Rowing Club. Later he joined Mercantile Rowing Club as his children started rowing. Three of his children raced for the Club.

Above: A young James Howden seated second from right next to coach Bob Aitken whilst rowing in a intercollegiate Ormond College crew

The highlight of Jim’s rowing career was his bronze medal in the eight at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 after winning the King’s Cup in the same year.

Above: Race finish at the Olympic Games in 1956

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the sport was as Rowing Australia Chairman of Selectors at a crucial time in the sport, the introduction of a professional Head Coach in Reinhold Batschi. Jim was one of the initiators of this change and a great supporter of Reinhold when he arrived. This was a controversial and big change for the sport and could not be done without the support of people of the ilk of Jim Howden.

The sport changed dramatically for the better as a result of this decision.

Jim Howden was a lawyer who was appointed a County Court judge. In his obituary, County Court Chief Judge, Judge Waldron described Jim as “a man of great physical and personal charm” who earned high respect from all who came in contact with him.  “He had a genuine empathy with and understanding of the less fortunate in our society.”

15 months after his appointment to the County Court on 11 March 1986, he was diagnosed as having a malignant melanoma. He finally lost his battle with cancer six years later but continued to sit for most of this time. Judge Waldron noted that: “We, his fellow judges, marvelled at his heroic fighting spirit and his conscientious determination to continue to discharge his judicial duties.”

Jim and Elaine Howden had five children, three boys and two girls, most of whom rowed, and at Mercantile. Jim is buried at Point Lonsdale.

The following further information is supplied by Jim Skidmore focussing on his Yarra Yarra Rowing Club years.

Yarra member 1961/62 season to 1975/76 season

Captain 1965/66 & 66/67

Committee 1968/69 

Recorded wins at Yarra Yarra:-

1964 - Victorian championship regatta, enior four (stroke)

1964 - Henley regatta, senior four (stroke)

1964 - Barwon regatta,  senior four (stroke) and Senior four coxless (stroke)

1964 - Colac regatta, senior four (stroke)

1964 - Metropolitan Rowing Committee regatta, championship 2 ½ mile (stroke)

1965 - Head of the Yarra, open section (stroke)

1965 - Footscray regatta, senior eight (stroke)

1966 - Yea regatta, senior four (stroke) and Senior pair (stroke)

1966 - Sydney regatta, senior eight (stroke)

1966 - Metropolitan regatta, open eight (coach)

1968 - Head of the Yarra, veteran eight (6)

1969 - Universities regatta, veteran eight (6)

1968 Head of the Yarra veteran eight six seat

From the 1961/62 Yarra Yarra Rowing Club Annual report: -


As Corio Bay, who won the coxed four event, have withdrawn from World Championship event in Switzerland, we understand that the composite crew comprising of P Edwards (Melbourne Rowing Club), R Jones (University Boat Club), J Castle (Yarra Yarra Rowing Club), J Howden (Yarra Yarra rowing Club) are now eligible to take their place, as this crew finished second to Corio Bay.

We congratulate the crew and wish them the best of luck.

From the 1993/94 Yarra Yarra Rowing Club annual report:-

The committee regrets to announce the passing of members during the year.

Mr James (Jim) Howden. Jim who passed away recently was an icon to rowing and no doubt believed in the old saying “you only get out of what you put into it’ as he put plenty in.

Born in Queenscliff educated at Queenscliff primary and then at Geelong College where he began rowing in 1949. He rowed in the first’s in1951 at the age of 16 and again in 1952. He played in the school first 18 for two years and also got his colours in athletics, Jim was also awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal as a Life Saver.

.He started his legal career in Geelong and came to Melbourne University to complete his law degree. He stroked the MUBC senior eight when they used to beat Mercantile. In 1956 he rowed in the Olympic eight for a bronze medal, 4 seconds behind the winners. In 1962 he rowed in the Australian coxed four in the first world rowing championships at Lucerne coming fifth.

In 1968 he transferred to Yarra Yarra R/C and rowed in the 1968 Head of the Yarra in a veteran eight and won. Jim was also a Victorian selector for many years.

After illness was diagnosed Jim could still be seen on his bike coaching his daughter Lucy in the scull.

Jim also rowed in the winter handicap sculling series along with Ron Mitchell. The only race that mattered for the two was the one against each other and the winner would always be accused of cheating.

All who have known Jim consider yourself privileged.

To his family go our most sincere condolences.

Andrew Guerin (using material from an obituary in The Age newspaper) and Jim Skidmore providing the Yarra Yarra Rowing Club information
October 2018

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