It has long been thought that the first recorded mention of the Mahurangi and Matakana Agricultural Society was a brief reference in the New Zealand Herald to “the first Mahurangi Fair”, a cattle sale held in Warkworth on March 8, 1867.
Official society and show records from then have long been lost or destroyed – many during a fire at a newspaper office in Warkworth where they were stored in the 1940s – and local history books written last century are vague on the subject.
T. F. Otway’ s History of Warkworth claims that the Agricultural Society was founded “in the same year” as the cattle fair, while Jack Keys’ Mahurangi – The Story of Warkworth maintains that “we do not know whether the society was formed in 1866 and first held a show in the following year, or whether the first show was in 1868”.
However, recent extensive research of newspaper archives for this special anniversary publication has revealed that there is indeed a definitive record of the formation, foundation and establishment of the Mahurangi and Matakana Agricultural Society, which can now be added the A&P’ s history.
The first hint that settlers might have been thinking about forming a local agricultural society is found in an article in The New Zealander (January 28, 1863), which mentions plans to build a public hall for Mahurangi.
“Such a building, too … might be used as a resort for the discussion of agricultural topics by the agricultural society which every farming district should seek to establish,” the writer opines.
By September 1866, local farmers were getting themselves organised and R.C. Dyer wrote to the Papakura Agricultural Association asking for a copy of the rules.
In October, a meeting was held at the Mahurangi Public Hall “to take into consideration the advisability of forming an agricultural society for the districts of Mahurangi and Matakana”, and a committee was appointed and report back two weeks later. By that time, the deed was done, as the NZ Herald reported in its November 19 edition.
“A meeting was held in the Public Hall, on Saturday last, November 3rd, for the purpose of forming an Agricultural Association … It was unanimously determined that: ‘In the opinion of this meeting the time has arrived when it is desirable to establish an agricultural association – to be called the Mahurangi and Matakana Association”.
The following were elected (to the committee): Messrs Angove, Cruickshank, Dyer (2), Guthrie, Hill, Palmer and Thomson.
“No time was lost, for they at once commenced operations and resolved to hold a ploughing match on Tuesday, December 4 in a paddock placed at their disposal by C. H. J. Hill, Esq. It is their intention to institute an annual show for the exhibition of live stock and farm produce,and markets or fairs, at such periods as may hereafter be thought most suitable.”
The new society’ s first event, the ploughing match, “proved a most successful affair”, with four horse teams and a bullock team competing, followed by a “first-rate dinner” at Southgate’ s Hotel in Warkworth.
“The tables did not groan, but they were well filled with many and various dishes – roast beef, mutton, turkey, duck, fowl, ham, &c., with all sorts of vegetables, after which came plum pudding and tarts ad lib., all the produce of the district,” the doubtless replete Herald correspondent reported.
Cattle rustling and a degree of dissension in the ranks were on the association’ s minds at their next quarterly meeting in January 1867, as the Daily Southern Cross reported.
“The attention of the society has been drawn to the manner in which cattle have been latterly disappearing, and the committee intend to see what steps can be taken to put a stop to it, as the losses sustained by some of the farmers are becoming serious. It has been determined to hold a special meeting in the school-house, Matakana, on Saturday, February 2nd, when I trust the slight misunderstanding which has arisen between the two districts may be cleared away, and that like a lovers’ quarrel it may tend more firmly to establish that friendship and cordiality which should exist between such near neighbours.”
The ‘ Mahurangi Fair’ (i.e. cattle sale) was held on March 8, then the organisation arranged Warkworth’ s first proper, albeit small-scale, agricultural show, which was staged outside the hotel in November 1867, as reported in the Herald.
“A show of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, produce, &c., under the auspices of the Mahurangi and Matakana Agricultural Society was held on Wednesday, November 13th, at Southgate’s Green, Warkworth. The clerk of the weather was not in a good humour that day, the morning was fine but in the afternoon down came the rain. The attendance was not large, nor yet were the number of stock sent in. Hill & Pulham held a sale immediately after the show and disposed of some cattle, cheese, hay-rakes, flails, &c. At 4 o’clock about 25 sat down to an excellent dinner in Southgate’s Hotel, the usual toasts were given and speeches made, and so ended the show.”
And so began Warkworth’ s A&P long and illustrious show history, still going strong 150 years later.