By Steven Moore
It was horses, above all other aspects of the first show held at Balmoral in 1896, that stole the limelight.
“Were any argument required to warrant the large expense incurred in forming the fine trotting track and jumping enclosure at Balmoral it would be found in the entry list of the show and in the remarkable concentration of public interest which occurred about half-past three in the afternoon,” declared the Northern Whig newspaper.
“The entry list shows the horses on exhibition nearly double the number recorded in any previous year, and the public are interested in the track and jumping-ground to a far more absorbing degree than in any other department of the show, good as all departments are.”
One of the greatest successes that year, however, was the display of machinery and farming equipment.
“On entering the grounds one is struck with the formidable array of implements and farming accessories which is situated exactly inside the enclosure facing the opening, and we think it can be stated without fear of contradiction that the display of machinery this year has exceeded that of any former year, and with a good deal to spare.”
Cattle entries, while “second in importance” at that first show, were less impressive, stated the newspaper, though along with the improvement of quality were “most satisfactory”.
The paper pointed out: “It has been a subject of regret to all interested in the organisation and its work that in years past cattle breeders over the province did not evince a deeper and more general interest in the show, and the fact caused them not a little anxiety.
“Unquestionably the limited accommodation of the old locale of the show may have had something to say to the apparent apathy on the part of Northern breeders and farmers and to the paucity of the entry year after year, but this excuse can no longer be urged.
“In the fine grounds at Balmoral there is the most ample room for a really great collection of cattle, and it is a highly gratifying circumstance that on this very start of the onward movement of the Society the entry of cattle has increased by the respectable figure of 69, the number registered for 1895 being 137, as against 206 for the present show.
“There is every probability, we think, in the absence of course of any unforeseen eventuality, that the entry on this occasion, satisfactory as it is, does not indicate the high-water mark of future years.”
The trend among the sheep farmers of this period to give the show a miss was even more pronounced.
In 1895 the entry of sheep had been exactly 100 – at the first show held at Balmoral it increased by only five.
“In these there is maintained a high standard of quality, but it is most desirable that a bigger lot should be brought together,” noted the Whig.
“An efficient system of sheep breeding should be a profitable business, and unquestionably exhibitions such as that promoted by the North-East Society give a valuable stimulus to the industry.”
No agricultural show would be complete unless it embraced the “not particularly handsome, but withal very useful, quadruped, the pig,” argued the paper.
Entries that year were up 15 on the previous show to 47: “They are all a sturdy, healthy lot, and the judges were well pleased with the material presented for their adjudication,” it was reported.
Likewise, poultry entries were up on the previous year with the quality of birds said to be of a high standard; butter, honey and flax were judged in a tent at one end of the grounds, with 27 entries in both the first and last of these, while honey was being exhibited for the first time.