Counting on the census since 1861

There are less than 15 months to go now until the next planned census on 27 March 2011.

2011 is also the 150th anniversary of Scotland’s Registrar General first taking responsibility for the country’s census. Over the coming months I will explore each of the censuses since 1861 to see what kind of legacy they have left.

William Pitt Dundas was the first Registrar General for Scotland as well as the first to have responsibility for our census. Although censuses had been held here every decade since 1801, they had been run from London. Mr Pitt Dundas wanted to improve the quality and presentation of the results for Scottish needs. In Victorian Scotland there was widespread concern about the health and mortality of the population and statistics from the census were increasingly seen as ways to spot opportunities for improving people’s living conditions. So the first Scottish-led census asked a new question, not asked in the rest of the UK, about the number of rooms occupied by each household, as a measure of overcrowding. The particular importance of education in Scotland was underlined by a second different question, about the number of children going to school or being taught at home.

The 1860 Census Act handed my predecessor responsibility for the 1861 Census which was held here – and in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Australia – on the 7th of April. It recorded Scotland’s population at 3.06 million – an increase of around 170,000 from the 1851 Census.

Other interesting points from the 1861 Census are:

• Fewer than 55 per cent of Scots lived in the Central Belt (the Forth Estuary and Industrial West). By our most recent census, in 2001, this had risen to just over 70 per cent.
• Almost three-quarters of people born outside Scotland were born in Ireland
• There were almost two people per room in 1861, compared to more than two rooms per person in 2001.
• 1861 was also the year that the General Register Office for Scotland moved into its purpose-built home: New Register House in Edinburgh, which is still its headquarters.

You can learn more about the 1861 Census on the HistPop website.

%d bloggers like this: