The Agricultural Society of NSW was formed in 1822, holding its first Show the following year. The Shows, known originally as ‘Exhibitions’, were initially held at Parramatta, then moved to Prince Alfred Park. In 1882 the Show moved to specially build showgrounds at Moore Park. The Society became the Royal Agricultural Society in 1891, an honour bestowed by Queen Victoria, and the annual event became known as the Sydney Royal Easter Show. In 1998 it moved to a new showground at Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush Bay.
The Agricultural Society of NSW was not the first such society in Australia. It was preceded by the Van Diemen’s Land Agricultural Society, which was formed in Hobart Town on 1 January 1822. Both fledgling colonies sought to promote interest in agriculture and animal husbandry.
The stated aim of the NSW society was “furthering Australia’s primary production through contest and competition”. It was formed in July 1822 by a group of landowners, stock owners and merchants. As well as holding an annual exhibition, the Society collected annual subscriptions to import improved breeding stock, and promoted better agricultural knowledge through literature and education.
The first exhibition was held in October 1822 at Parramatta and was called the Parramatta Fair. It seems the first recorded prize was a silver quart tankard awarded to a free settler named Jonas Bradley, for 1 cwt. of tobacco. The 1824 fair included classes for Australian Merino sheep, colonial bred bulls, heifers, stallions, boars, sows, and teams of horses and bullocks as well as for tobacco and beer.
The award of ten Spanish dollars for the best colonial cheese was won by William Howe of Glenlee (near Campbell Town). However, it was noted that his cheese was the only one submitted, so perhaps the prize counted for little.
From 1834 to 1857, drought and challenging economic conditions caused the Society and its exhibitions to lapse, but it re-formed in 1857 as the Cumberland Agricultural Society and two years later was renamed the Agricultural Society of NSW.