History of the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of South Australia

History of the Royal Agricultural & Horticultural Society of South Australia

In 1839, a group of far-sighted settlers in the Colony of South Australia met to form an organisation that would underpin and promote agriculture, pastoralism and horticulture. Those pioneers believed that, through the exhibitions of livestock, grain and produce, and the interchange of ideas, South Australians would learn the potential of rural industries. It was a precedent venture and became in time, the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia.


Australian Curriculum linked activities, quiz, and resources about the Royal Adelaide Show history developed by the National Museum of Australia can be found here:



1836 to 1851

Of Lasting Benefit to the Colony


In 1839, an Agricultural Society was first formed in South Australia, based on the principals of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Another Society with broader horizons encompassing greater interest in horticulture was formed in 1842 and over time the two amalgamated. 

The first Produce Show was staged in the yards of Fordham’s Hotel, Grenfell Street, Adelaide on 8 December 1840. The exhibits included vegetables, cereals, and cheese, wool and leather goods.

The first Livestock Show was held on 20 October 1843 at Payne’s Hotel yards in Hindley Street. The first Ploughing Match was held on Dr Mayo’s block at Thebarton and one of the ploughs was manufactured locally.

In 1844, the Autumn Show was held in a large marquee in Botanic Park. A feature of the machinery exhibits was John Ridley’s reaping machine, invented and manufactured in his Hindmarsh workshop. Local beer was exhibited for the first time.

1851 to 1871

An Age of Transition


In 1851, samples of South Australian wheat were sent to compete in the great Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. One sample grown at Mt Barker, won first prize ‘against the world’.

The Show was cancelled in 1852 due to the exodus of South Australians to the gold fields of Victoria. 

The Colony’s first exhibition building was constructed in Botanic Park in 1860, and a night Show was included for the first time.

HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh visited the Colony and opened the Show in 1867.

The role of Patron was accepted by Prince Alfred in 1868, triggering the use of the ‘Royal’ prefix.

1871 to 1901

Testing Times


Entries for the wine classes increased to such an extent that the Wine Show became a separate event in 1871.

The first September Show was held in 1888, in the new Jubilee Pavilion, with Electricity was installed in the Jubilee Building and around the oval in 1889. 

The first of the annual pruning matches were held in 1893 at Mrs Holbrook’s vineyards at Underdale with 23 competitors. 

From 1895, Shows were exclusively held at the Jubilee Pavilion and oval (on the grounds of the University of Adelaide).

1901 to 1925

Moving to Wayville


In 1907, membership reached 2,000, meaning the RA&HS of SA become the first Society in Australia to reach that figure.

The Autumn Show was disbanded in 1923, leaving the Spring Show as the annual exhibition of South Australia’s endeavours.

1925 to 1947

A New Showground


The first Show was held at the new Wayville site in 1925.

In 1936, Centennial Hall was built to commemorate South Australia’s centenary year.

Between 1939 and 1946, the Showground was occupied by the Armed Forces for the duration of WWII.

1947 to 1980

Primary Industry or Secondary?


The Animal Nursery was first featured in 1965.

In 1967, the College of Arms granted the Society its armorial bearings.

Queen Elizabeth II confirmed the Society’s entitlement to the ‘Royal’ prefix in 1969.

The Showground was used to assist Northern Territory residents affected by Cyclone Tracy which devastated Darwin and surrounds on 24 December 1974.

1980 to present

A Heritage Rekindled


The Show was staged on a Sunday for the first time in 1985.

The first Royal Farm Expo was introduced in 1997, focusing on diversification in modern farming and included seminars, workshops, commercial exhibits and demonstrations.

In 2002, the newly developed Hamilton Boulevard and Jubilee Pavilion extension was officially opened by HRH Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

A railway station was re-introduced on the western boundary of the Showground in 2003 and Adelaide Showground is named State’s Best Venue and Best National Venue.

In 2007, Centennial Hall was demolished and work commenced on the building of the Goyder Pavilion, which was officially opened 18 August 2008 by Kate Ellis, Federal MP.

In 2009, following the installation of 10,000 square meters of solar panels, the Adelaide Showground is declared an official power station. Underground water storage capacity of 3.5 million litres enhances the Society’s ‘green’ credentials.