Rowena Othlie Jackson was born in Invercargill on 24 March 1926, the daughter of William Ernest Jackson and Lilliane Jane, née Solomon. She was educated at Epsom Girls' Grammar School, Auckland, and in 1941 won the first Royal Academy of Dancing Scholarship in New Zealand. In 1946 she attended the Sadler's Wells School and later in the same year joined the Sadler's Wells (now the Royal Ballet) Co. winning the Adeline Genée Gold Medal in 1947.
From 1954 to 1959 she was a ballerina with the Royal Ballet and toured extensively, visiting Europe, America, and Australia. She gave dance recitals in New Zealand in 1954 and 1957. On 4 February 1958 Rowena Jackson married Philip Chatfield. She retired from the Royal Ballet in 1959 and returned to New Zealand, where she was artistic director of the New Zealand Ballet Co. She was awarded the M.B.E. in 1961.
A Dictionary of Modern Ballet (1959) says of her: “Rowena Jackson has a special gift for fast and brilliant turns. She holds the world record for multiple fouettés performed sur place. She has danced a sensitive Odette-Odile, a good Aurora and a likeable Swanhilda. Invaluable in secondary roles, her speed, ease and precision are best seen in the Bluebird pas de deux, as one of the “Blue Girls” in Les Patineurs, and in the solos which Ashton composed for her in Variations on a Theme of Purcell and Birthday Offering. She danced Giselle for the first time in 1958”.