The Pietermaritzburg Agricultural Society was formed in 1851 and hosted its first Show, advertised as ‘The Pietermaritzburg Fair’ next to the Market Square – behind the current City Hall – on 23 December of that year. Although heavy and persistent rain continued throughout, the organising committee remained undaunted.
The Society’s first President was the Hon. Henry Cloete who was the Recorder of the District Court of Natal and with the exception of the war years and the Bambatha Rebellion, the Society has held a Show every year since its formation. This almost certainly entitles it to claim the status of South Africa’s senior agricultural show.
In 1889 the Society was able to obtain its own showyard on a small site to the south of the city. These grounds rapidly became inadequate as support grew and in 1902 moved to the present Showgrounds one and a half kilometres to the north of the City Hall and with a convenient railway siding abutting the premises. Slowly the size of the land acquired or leased from the supportive Pietermaritzburg City Council increased until the Showgrounds reached its present size of approximately 18 hectares.
In the years following the Anglo Boer War the annual Show in Pietermaritzburg became recognised as Natal’s leading agricultural and commercial exposition and it was largely for this reason that with the assent of King Edward VII, the Society was granted ‘Royal’ status in 1904. The necessary notice appeared in the Natal Government Gazette of 29 November of that year and South Africa’s first Royal Show took place in 1905. Although South Africa became a Republic in the sixties, the Society’s name has remained unchanged and the province’s premier mixed exhibition continues to be referred to as ‘The Royal’ with pride and affection throughout Southern Africa.
Today the Show is held in late May through early June – the duration being 10 days including two full weekends.
Customarily and dependent on weather conditions, the annual attendance figures are of the order of 220 000.
In line with changing circumstances, the emphasis of the Royal Show has moved away from being exclusively bucolic
and today activities relating to the land and its myriad of usages are complemented with a substantial commercial and service sector component.