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Census Office, London
30th July 1873


33 & 34 Vict. C.107

THE Abstracts of the Returns of England and Wales having already, in conformity with the provisions of the Act 33 & 34 Viet. c. 107., been laid before both Houses of Parliament, we have the honour to submit to you our final Report on the Census of 1871.

An Imperial Census

It has been contemplated before, but this is the first time that a Census has been taken of the British Empire. The Imperial Census has not been the work of one, but of several departments, and it has not been executed on one plan, but on plans and by methods suitable to the circumstances of the people. Where uniformity was practicable it has been aimed at, and in the United Kingdom attained in all essential particulars. Even in England the First Census only dates from 1801: confined to an enumeration of the inhabitants and a few particulars respecting them, it is questionable whether a Census could have then been taken so elaborate as that of the United Kingdom for the year 1871. How much more difficult must the enumeration be of various races, speaking divers languages, all free, and living under different forms of local administration? These difficulties have, however, been overcome to a great extent, and everywhere the people have been enumerated. The numbers are not mere estimates, such as are often quoted, but counted facts.

Population of the Empire

Upon summing up the final figures it is found that the population of the Empire in the Census Year was two hundred and thirty-four millions seven hundred and sixty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-three.

They were living upon 7,769,449 square miles of territory, comprising in the two hemispheres these central Islands, the surrounding Islands in the British Seas, parts of Europe, America, Africa, Asia, and Australasia.

The dwelling-places of the people of the Empire have also for the most part been enumerated, and the number of houses inhabited is about 44,142,651. The word "house" here applies to a variety of structures,—palaces, mansions, common houses, cottages, huts, tents,—all agreeing in this respect, that under every variety of climate they are the homes of families, in which the successive generations of men see the light, live, and die.

The houses are sometimes scattered wide over the land, but they are generally, under the influence of the social instinct, grouped together in villages, towns, or cities with some political organization, the number necessarily varying with the definition of town or city; but taking the words as they are generally understood in England, in the Colonies, and in India, the number of towns and cities in the Empire exceeds 2,200. Many of them are great cities, and the Metropolis of the Empire, within its natural circular limits of a 15 miles radius, has 3,885,641 inhabitants.

Such in brief is one of the first results of the vastest Census that has ever been taken in one Empire.1

In this great undertaking the work was sub-divided for convenience of execution— the United Kingdom among three departments, the Census of the several Colonies and of India among their several administrations—under the supreme direction of the Home Secretary, of the Colonial Secretary, of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, of the Governor General, and of the Secretary of State for India.

The success that has been achieved may he accepted as evidence at the same time of the general efficiency of English administrative machinery and of the content and advancing intelligence of Her Majesty's subjects. Some special reports have appeared already and others will appear. The courtesy and cordial co-operation of our colleagues enable us now to bring the general results under one view.

The knowledge of the numbers of a people is itself of great utility; but it is evident that the human unit—if we may use the term—differs so much that analysis and classification are required to enable us to obtain an accurate knowledge of the constituent elements of which a vast society in all stages of civilization from, the savage up to the polished state is composed.

Growth of the Empire

It is not for us here to tell how this Empire subsists or has been built up. Yet the Census will show its essential parts in their relations to each other, constituted not only for continuance but for growth. For it is growing, increasing, and multiplying still. And this development of the nation is the characteristic of its life. How a few shiploads of hardy adventurers from the other side of the North Sea, settling among and mingling with a scanty population of Celts and Gaels, multiplied, and became seven millions in the year 1600, sixteen millions in 1801, and thirty-two millions in 1871, is the problem, to the solution of which the series of facts in the Census must essentially contribute. For the evolution of such a nation is not the result of chance; and although it cannot be traced to the policy or the genius of one man it will be found to be the result of au elaborate and skilful organization acting under constant forces regulated by wiser, diviner laws than Plato gave his commonwealth.

Successive series of Tables show the conjugal condition of the sexes; their progress through the ages of life; their varied employments, by which they preserve the life, develope the genius, and produce the wealth of the country; their dwellings; their cities, and their migrations, and the way the soil is variously occupied under the mountains, on the plains, by the rivers, and by the sea shore.

Under its political organization the numbers and the forces of England have increased; and the stability of the population is not only secured, but its development is proceeding uninterruptedly. Besides increasing at home it sends out every year swarms of emigrants, and as yet there is no sign of diminution in the flow of the stream.

What the population of England will be in future ages no one can prophesy. The problem is beyond us. Who in past ages could have foretold the present state of things? not even Caesar when he first landed on these shores; or Alfred when he defended and civilized his people; or William I. when he conquered the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom; or Elizabeth when she defied Spain; or Chatham, who won the supreme dominion in America, and saw, perhaps evoked, the first great flowing tide of population.2 Dr. Price, who had technical skill, and was an authority before the French revolution (1769 and 1783), contended that the population was falling to decay; and Malthus, who wrote about the time of the first Census,3 and had a profound knowledge of the subject, held that England was oppressed by its population: since he wrote increase in geometrical progression has still gone on, and still the harvest-fields of industry are calling for more arms.

The population contains in itself all the elements of an unlimited expansion; the births, but for the existing restraint, might be multiplied to an incalculable extent; no black death or plague is apparent ahead to cut down the numbers as they were cut down in previous ages. But the new population is collected in cities which require sanitary organization; much of the animal and vegetable food, as well as the materials of industry, have to be brought to these islands over the sea; and the coalfields, as well as the iron highways of the Kingdom, the source of power and the channels of trade, which will probably more than anything else regulate the future growth of the nation, are in a certain sense monopolies. But so long as England has valour, virtue, industry, and invention left there is no ground for despair; facts in this Report afford every prospect of increase of population at home, and of a still greater increase of the English, race in the Colonies, which offer to agriculture millions of acres of fertile land, and to industry coal, iron, gold, copper, and all precious metals.

After premising a few facts respecting the United Kingdom we shall deal first in detail with the population of England and Wales, as falling within our special province, and then treat successively and summarily of the corresponding facts, as far as they are available, so as to present in one view the various populations of the Empire under their different forms of existence. The distinctions of the various nationalities will appear under their respective colours. The cities will be presented distinctly with their populations. The sexes will be separated into two nearly equal companies, and when practicable with their distinctions of age and relation in families; here consisting of husband, wife, children in limited numbers, and servants; there of husband, wives, patriarchal pluralities of children, and servants; but nowhere in the Queen's dominions, of slaves. Herein the English differs from the Roman Census—all men are numbered alike. England has this in it also peculiar, that though the ranks of society are few, the occupations of the people are extremely multifarious; the division of labour being carried further in the works, mines, manufactures, and industries, as well as in the shops for the sale of products foreign and domestic, than in any other country.

The Census of the United Kingdom is unique in one respect; it seeks, not to arrange families in a few industrial groups, as is done in other countries, but to classify every individual under his actual profession at every stage of life—from childhood to old age. If its difficulties have been thereby enhanced, it is believed that its utility will be increased in a still higher degree.

The United Kingdom

The enumerated population of the United Kingdom (including the Army, Navy, and Merchant Seamen abroad), on April 3rd, 1871, amounted to thirty-one millions eight hundred and forty-five thousand three hundred and seventy-nine souls, distributed over two large islands surrounded by 482 smaller islands lying in temperate latitudes, between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

These islands are the centre, as Humboldt remarked, of the largest habitable hemisphere of the globe, and this advantage of situation they cannot lose by the efflux of time. Besides the sea, the mountains of Wales and the Highlands of Scotland are the only other great natural barriers of population, since the rivers have been crossed by bridges, the marshes drained, and the vast ancient forests felled.


The people are of three races—Angles or Saxons, Scandinavians, and Celts, all of the Aryan stock, and speak two distinct languages, divisible into Gaelic, Welsh, or Irish, and English with its various provincial dialects.4 No traces of aboriginal or of Roman blood are visible, but the country contains representatives of nearly all the civilized nations, who have voluntarily sought these shores for the sake of trade, or have been driven at various times by persecutions to a land which has ever been, the sacred asylum and the inviolable home of freedom.

Territorial Divisions of the Kingdom

Instead of completely breaking down, as was done in Franco, the old historical divisions of the country, or leaving them, as in Italy and Germany, divided into small feeble principalities in the presence of the great powers of Europe, the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland were at divers times united into one kingdom under one sovereign and one legislature, without obliterating the original healthy elements of nationality. Thus we have in the Census the four natural divisions of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, embracing the mainland and all the islands except the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are dependencies of England and have been enumerated with it.

Ireland retains four provinces, but Scotland and England have none of the intermediate territories, such as the first British states, the Roman provinces of England, and the Heptarchy showed were natural, between the central government and the county or the borough. Of late, because it was not always well adapted to modern use, the Hundred has been obliterated in England, and the minuter parish, with rating powers, became, very disadvantageously, the main administrative unit. The vestry usurped the place in the Metropolis and in many other places of a municipal organization; country places had no other governing body than this. There are rival bodies now in the petty sessional and in the lieutenancy sub-divisions, but the Poor Law Union, the Registration District, have completely superseded the hundred, and are in possession of officers as well as of the chief rating powers of the parish. The Registration Districts have hence been selected, with the principal towns, for the territorial units of which the sexes, ages, conjugal condition, occupations, and birthplace are separately displayed.


The Enumeration of 1871. Appendix B

The methods of enumeration which were adopted in numbering the people of England are described in the Appendix B., and can be followed in detail in the instructions to the various classes of officers. 32,543 enumerators were employed and paid for their services under 2,195 registrars and 626 superintendent registrars. With every family a schedule was left beforehand and called for upon the Census day by the enumerator, who was instructed to correct or complete imperfect schedules. After the Census day, by the registrars and at the central office, inquiries were made, and advertisements issued requesting the public themselves to come forward and to give notice of any omissions that came to their cognizance. Several schedules were thus received and omissions repaired, so that the Census of 1871 is, we believe, fully as correct as any Census that has ever been taken. The persons sleeping out of doors, in barns, tents, barges, vessels of every kind, men working in mines at night, and people travelling in railway carriages and other conveyances were specially looked after; but experts acquainted with such great operations are aware of the difficulty of enumerating every individual in obscure courts or remote regions, and make some allowance for numbers omitted. That there are such omissions in the English Census is certain, so that the population is somewhat understated; but we are unable to estimate the deficiency, nor do we consider it desirable to insert conjectural numbers which would have no practical bearing on the uses or calculations of which the. Census figures are the basis.

English people abroad

We have brought into account the army, the navy, and the merchant seamen abroad belonging to England and Wales, as they are an integral and determinate part of the population. But we have not reckoned in the population English travellers and residents on the Continent or in different parts of the world; still less have we included the vast number of natives of England returned in the recent Census of the United States of America. The numbers of natives of the United Kingdom in nearly all the civilized states of the world were, however, procured by Her Majesty's Foreign Office, and are given in detail. The war between Germany and Prance, and the Communist Insurrection in Paris raging when the Census was taken, diminished the number of British residents in those countries. The foreigners resident in England have been distinguished, and will be hereafter referred to.

Population on 3rd April 1871

The population actually enumerated on the Census day was 22,856,164; and of this number 11,202,832 were males (including 143,898 men in the army, navy, and merchant service absent from the English shores on the Census night), 11,653,332 were females.

Population in middle of 1871

The population is increasing every day; and by the middle of the Census year, which is a convenient point to fix on, the people would amount at the prevailing rate of increase to 22,926,710.

1 "The Historian", says Gibbon, "may impress a juster image of the greatness of Rome by observing that the empire was above two thousand miles in breadth from the walls of Antoninus and the northern limits of Dacia to Mount Atlas and the Tropic of Cancer; that it extended in length more than three thousand miles, from the Western Ocean to the Euphrates; that it was situated in the finest part of the temperate zone, between the twenty-fourth and sixty-sixth degrees of northern latitude; and that it was supposed to contain above sixteen hundred thousand square miles fo the most part of fertile and well cultivated land."

Gibbon had no Census except that of Roman Citizens by Claudius to rely on, but after weighing with attention every circumstance, he estimated the probable population of the empire at "about a hundred and twenty millions of persons, a degree of population which probably exceeds that of modern Europe [in 1776-88], and forms the most numerous society that has ever been united under the same system of government".—Roman Empire , Chapters 1 and 2. His is probably an under estimate.

2 Shakespeare should perhaps be excepted, for his genius, in the magnificent prophecy at the end of Henry VIII., not only embraced the actual but bodied forth the coming greatness of his country:—

"Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine
His honour and the greatness of his name
Shall be, and make new nations: He shall flourish,
And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
To all the plains about him; our children's children
Shall see this, and bless heaven."

3 Principles of Population. First Editions 1798, 1803, and 1807; last 1826.

4 52,695 schedules in the Welsh language were sent to the Welsh registrars; of this number the enumerators stated that they had translated 17,276 into English. This implies that out of 268,097 families, at least 17,276 speak Welsh and do not speak English; they represent about 77,742 persons.

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