…suitable yards have been fenced in, and from the interest taken in this movement by the residents of the district, the attendance is likely to be large…
The Whittlesea Fair of 1859 was the forerunner to the holding of regular fairs and agricultural shows at Whittlesea, under the auspices of the Victoria Agricultural Society. Ploughing matches and exhibitions were also held at different district locations.
The Age, Agricultural Report dated 13 April 1859, reported that ‘Some of the people in the Whittlesea district are endeavouring to introduce there the old country institution of fairs for the sale of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, &c. …
The next week’s report stated that ‘The farmers around Whittlesea, having suffered much loss and inconvenience from being obliged to send any stock they may have to dispose of to Melbourne, are making a strenuous effort to set up a good fair for the first day appointed, the 3rd of May. Suitable yards have been fenced in, and from the interest taken in this movement by the residents of the district, the attendance is likely to be large.’
On 7 May 1859, the Argus published a detailed report of activities at the first Fair. ‘The first Whittlesea fair, for the sale of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, dairy produce, fruits and vegetables, &c, was held on Tuesday last, and must have far exceeded the most sanguine expectations of the promoters. The great number and the good quality of the stock brought forward were worthy of the spirit of the Upper Plenty farmers; but it was evident from the first there was a lack of buyers. ’
‘The amusements were characteristic of the Australian bush it must be questioned whether that well-known horseman, Pablo Funque, (1796-1871), could produce anything in the side saddle equal to the dashing bush ladies, who attended in strong force, and, as the racecourse was at hand, they had an opportunity of displaying their skills. The gentlemen, too, contributed materially to the day’s amusements, by several creditable races.’
An advertisement in the Argus stated that the second Fair will be held on Tuesday July 6, 1859 at 9 o’clock a.m. ‘for the sale of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and farm produce in the township of Whittlesea near the Yan Yean reservoir and on the First Tuesday in the months of March, May, July, September and November in each year.’
Mr. David Johnston’s yards, located near the future site of the railway yards in Laurel Street, were used for the first five Whittlesea fairs. Anthony Nicholson of Lamplough Hall in his capacity as Secretary, circulated subscription lists to raise funds to meet necessary expenses. There were forty original subscribers. ‘The majority donated one pound, a few 10 shillings, and two 5 shillings each.’
A dampening effect on cattle sales was caused by the introduction into the Plenty district of shorthorn cattle, unknowingly infected with pleuro-pneumonia. The Argus reported on September 25, 1859, that ‘Mr. Boadle’s infected cattle have been all carefully destroyed – a most wise and proper precaution, though not an infallible guarantee that the disease is extirpated.’
Annual district ploughing matches were scheduled to be held on Mr. Gibb’s farm, ‘Glenvale’, Upper Plenty’, on Friday 18 May 1860, and on land near Dr. Martin’s house, at Heidelberg, on Wednesday 23 May 1860.
The annual general meeting of the Victoria Agricultural Society, was held at the Old England Hotel, Heidelberg, on Tuesday 14 August 1860. The meeting was informed that, ‘It (was) now 11 years (1849) since a few spirited agriculturists in the neighbourhood of Heidelberg, conceiving that some of their number had been unjustly treated by the Port Philip Farmer’s Society, seceded from the same to form a new association which ultimately assumed the name of the Victoria Agricultural Society… The committee expressed the opinion ‘that all exhibitions, shows &c., under the auspices of the society, should be held in the society’s yard at Heidelberg (now substantially enclosed), except such district shows as the Whittlesea branch of this society may determine on holding in the show yard Whittlesea, lately granted to this society by the government…
An annual public meeting, for the election of a committee of management for the Whittlesea Fair, was held in the school on the evening of Saturday 16 February 1861. The Whittlesea branch secretary read his report to the meeting. ‘The fairs have been held, as usual, in the yards belonging to David Johnston, Esq., who was kind enough to enlarge them at his own expense when it was found necessary for the public convenience to do so. ‘Of the five fairs, three may be said to have been highly satisfactory. The thin attendance at the other two may be attributed to the inclemency of the weather and almost impassable state of the roads. ‘The fairs throughout have been best supplied with milch cows and springers, of which a great number changed hands. A fair number of horses have been disposed of…
‘When the present committee of management came into office, application had been made by George Sherwin, Esq., J.P., to the President of the Board of Land and Works, for the grant of a plot of three acres of land on the township, for the purpose of holding fairs and agricultural shows. The land was granted. Collectors were immediately appointed to visit the district for the purpose of raising a fund for fencework. The collections proved satisfactory; tenders were called for the partial grubbing and clearing, and for the erection of the boundary and one division fence. The work has been completed in a very satisfactory manner; and it is certainly a great satisfaction to see such good accommodation provided.’
The land set aside in April 1860, was adjacent to the recreation ground, ‘commencing on the east side of Forest Street.’ It was ‘partially made known that, in future, the fairs will be held in the new yards. …After the adoption of the report, the secretary submitted the rules, orders, and regulations he had been requested to draw out… ‘The following gentlemen were elected a committee of management for the ensuing year – Messrs George Sherwin, J.P. (treasurer), D. Johnston, J. Wishart, A. Nicholson, J. McNab, R. Christie, and C. Cookson (secretary).
At the 1870 Cattle and Horse Show and Fair, held at Whittlesea on Tuesday 4 October 1870, ‘The number of exhibits, particularly in first-class dairy stock, was scarcely equal to the display of former shows at this time of the year, owing to some extent to the noticeable absence of the late Mr. J. F. Boadle, one of the warmest patrons of the society, whose varied and well-selected stock formed a remarkable feature among the most prominent exhibits. The entire draught horse section attracted the largest share of attention’…‘Messrs. Nicholson, Taylor, Cookson, Robinson, and Johnston, the indefatigable fair committee, with their friends, late in the evening adjourned to Mr. Cocker’s Royal Mail Hotel, where the ceremonial of the day was happily concluded.’
There was a large attendance at the annual fair and show held at the yards, Whittlesea on 3 October 1876. ‘There were upwards of 20 samples of butter shown, all of excellent quality. There were no exhibits in cheese, though the district produces some of the best samples sent to the Melbourne market’… ‘The blood stock was represented by Mr. (John) Ryder’s ‘Whalebone’…Mr. (William) Reid, of ‘Hazel Glen’, showed a dark bay entire by ‘Peter Wilkins’, having many of the good points of this well-known sire.’
‘The annual Spring Fair and Horse and Cattle Show of the Plenty district was held at the yards, Whittlesea, on Tuesday, October 1, (1878),’ reported the Kilmore Free Press,’ and ‘as regards the number and superior class of draught stallions, blood horses and draught and brood mares, was the best held in the district, and would be creditable in any show-yard of the country.’
Amongst the visitors to the annual show of the Whittlesea Agricultural Society, held on Thursday 12 November 189l, were the Governor of Victoria, Lord Hopetoun and the Premier Mr. Munro. The Vice-Regal party was met at the railway station, where the Governor was presented with an address of welcome by Secretary, Mr. James Ryan, on behalf of the Whittlesea Shire Council. The Evelyn Observer reported – ‘The annual show in connection with the Whittlesea Agricultural Society took place yesterday, at the show yards, Whittlesea, and can justly be classed amongst the most successful ones ever held there.’
The Whittlesea Show continues many of its fine traditions to this day.