The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria was formed in 1890. It was previously known as the Port Phillip Farmers Society, formed in 1848 from a number of earlier farmers' societies in Victoria.

The first farmers' societies were formed with the intention of matching farming methods with the needs of a steadily increasing Australian population. In 1840 the Pastoral and Agricultural Society of Australia Felix was formed, but was disbanded after the failure of its first show in 1842. However sufficient support and enthusiasm remained to launch the Moonee Ponds Farmers' Society in early 1848, focussing on ploughing trials around the Flemington area. A few months later this Society gave way to the larger, more broadly based Port Phillip Farmers' Society. One of its founders was Peter McCracken, founder of McCracken & Robertson Brewing, a company that later became part of Carlton and United Breweries.

The Port Phillip Farmers' Society conducted ploughing matches in the area around Flemington. In 1855 it established showgrounds in Parkville, opposite the present site of The University of Melbourne. The Society established a model farm on 59 ha in nearby Royal Park. Later in 1870, it invested its assets in a new organisation, the National Agricultural Society of Victoria, which set up a new show site at Emerald Hill in South Melbourne. On 15 May 1882 land at Flemington was permanently reserved as a site for the use of the National Agricultural Society of Victoria for Show Yards and other purposes - the site of the current showgrounds. The first Agricultural Society show was held there in 1883. On 27 August 1886 the land was given by Crown grant to Trustees upon trust to be maintained and used as a site for show yards of the National Agricultural Society of Victoria (Royal Agricultural Showgrounds Act 2003). The site has been the base for the Royal Melbourne Show ever since.

In May 1890, Queen Victoria assented to the use of the 'Royal' prefix by the Society in recognition of its ongoing contribution to the improvement of agriculture. The Society then became the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and the Show, the Royal Melbourne Show. The Society adopted the motto 'Speed the Plough', which still exists today. In 1884 a half day holiday (later a full day holiday) was proclaimed for Show Day. The Show Day Public Holiday continued until 1994 when it was revoked by the Victorian Government.

Until 1913 the Show was held during the last week in August. Shortly after, the last week in September was adopted for staging the Show. In 2002 the Royal Melbourne Show attracted about 600,000 people a year and was the most popular event held in Victoria.

Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria website accessed 2/10/2003.
Essendon Network for Employment, Education and Training website accessed 2/10/2003.
Glyn Rimmington, University of Melbourne, website accessed 2/10/2003.
Royal Agricultural Showgrounds Act 2003 accessed 2/10/2003.
Victorian Heritage Register website accessed 2/10/2003.

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