The first Hawke's Bay A&P show was held in 1863 in a paddock in Havelock North.

An agricultural and pastoral society and its annual show was recognised as being important to Hawke's Bay by the early pioneers as they knew the future wealth of the province would be generated by agriculture and horticulture.

By the 1920s, the Hawke's Bay A&P Society's annual show had been based at the Hastings Racecourse for more than 40 years.

The society had owned the property from 1878, but in 1884, sold then leased the property back from the Hawke's Bay Jockey Club for the show.


It was suggested at the 1906 AGM that the society once again look at owning a property.

This occurred in 1911 when 51 acres (21ha) of Nelson Bros land at Tomoana was judged to be an excellent location after advertising for possible sites.

The purchase by the A&P Society was assisted by William Nelson's generosity in making the financial arrangements. However, it would however be many years before this site would be used.

At the Hastings Race Course, the buildings belonging to the A&P Society had been erected in the middle of the race track.

They weren't allowed to be high as to block the view of spectators, and were only temporary. The oval was not that suitable for parades of stock, and inadequate for future growth. There was not good enough for the A&P Society, which wanted better.

The land at Tomoana was debt-free from 1918, and the A&P Society in 1920 had about £10,000 (2018: $879,000) in the bank.

Building an infrastructure of cattle and horse pavilions, produce hall, latrines, grandstand and offices at Tomoana was going to be expensive and thought to cost another £30,000 ($2.67 million). Moreover, the talk of shifting to "the northern boundary" of Hastings was upsetting to some, who didn't see the move from the racecourse as necessary and too remote.

Responding to the criticism of those who saw no need to shift, the A&P Society said "such reasoning is fundamentally wrong, and would not be advanced by anyone experienced in agricultural societies and who had attended shows at other centres". Furthermore, the buildings at the Hawke's Bay Jockey Club's premises are "shacks with no hope on their being enlarged".


Championing the cause was the Hawke's Bay Tribune, which promoted the new site at Tomoana.

The fundraising didn't get off to a good start. When £640 had been raised, the chairman of the A&P Society expressed his disappointment publicly, especially as Wanganui's A&P Society had raised more funds in a shorter time frame. However, a tent was set aside at the 1920 show to collect funds, and some A&P members went door-to-door in rural districts to get pledges.

Funds were used to extend the show ground property from 51 to 62 acres, and in developing the property in 1923. The property was ready for a show, so in October 1924 the A&P Society called for building tenders.

In 1925, the first show was held at the Tomoana and a record 20,000 of the about 65,000 Hawke's Bay population attended.

The fundraising did not enable many buildings to be erected as desired. They consisted of "a large iron exhibition hall, some shelter stalls for sheep and cattle and a tiny office" (the exhibition hall remains in use today). However, it was a start for the showgrounds at Tomoana, which remains the home of the Hawke's Bay A&P Show to this day.

• I am taking pre-orders for my Historic Hawke's Bay book due out in late November, which is a collection of my best HB Today articles from 2016-2018, with additional photos and story material. The book has 160 pages with 26 in colour. Cheque to Michael Fowler Publishing of $59.90 to PO Box 8947, Havelock North or email below for bank details. Includes free delivery in Hawke's Bay. Please state if you want it signed. It will not be available in bookshops.


*Michael Fowler FCA ( is a chartered accountant and contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.