Previous Attempts to ascertain the Population of Ireland

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Preliminary Observations.

I. — Previous Attempts to ascertain the Population of Ireland p. vi
II. — Grounds of the present Act, and Proceedings under it p. viii
III. — Parish Registers p. xvii
IV. — Summary; and Comparative View of the Population as taken in the Years 1813 and 1821, and of the proportions of Houses and Inhabitants to the Acre and the Square Mile in each County pp. xviii & xix
V. — The Metropolis of Ireland p. xxi


AS the Act of the 55th Geo. III. has afforded the first opportunity of ascertaining the POPULATION OF IRELAND, by the actual ENUMERATION of its Inhabitants, carried on under the sanction of the Legislature, a Preliminary Statement of the principles on which this process has been conducted may be necessary, both to shew the propriety of having deviated, in some points, from the Plan which had been pursued in GREAT BRITAIN, and adopted here, in the attempt at taking the Census in the years 1812 and 1813; and also for the purpose of proving the accuracy of the Result in the present instance: And as the following Return is, consequently, the first authentic Statement of the Actual Number of Souls in IRELAND, it may also appear not uninteresting, to present a brief Sketch of the various attempts heretofore made to solve this great National Problem.


Previous Attempts to ascertain the Population.

Sir William Petty's estimate, in 1672.

THE first attempt worthy of notice was that made by the celebrated Sir WILLIAM PETTY. The circumstances in which he stood, with respect to this country, gave him great local advantages towards the solution of a question, to the investigation of which his mental powers and habits of study peculiarly qualified him. He had superintended the great Territorial Survey of Ireland, instituted, during the Protectorate, for the distribution of Forfeited property; the importance and accuracy of which may be estimated from the consideration, that, though undertaken for a special and limited object, and therefore not pervading the whole country, it still, after a lapse of more than two centuries, continues, to be the standard of reference, in the courts of Judicature, as to points of disputed property, and the only authentic source of information, as to the minuter subdivisions of the Land, as well as to many circumstances relating to local taxation. His estimate, taken in the year 1672, gives a Total of 1,100,000 Souls1 .

Captain South's, 1695.

The result of a subsequent attempt, made by Captain SOUTH, in the year 1695, appears in the. Transactions of the Royal Society of London. It is not easy, from the brief and unsatisfactory memoranda there given, to ascertain the value of the data on which his calculation rests. The total Number of Souls is stated by him at 1,034,102.

Thomas Dobbs, Esq. 1712, &c.

Mr. DOBBS, in the second part of his Essay on the trade and improvement of Ireland, published in 1731, gives an account of the number of Houses in the years 1712, 1718, and 172G. The calculations on which they are formed, are taken from the Returns of the Hearth-money Collectors; and give the following results, at an average of six Souls to a house:—For 1712 - - - 2,099,094;—for 1718 - - - 2,169,048;—for 1725 - - - 2,317,374;—and for 1726 - - - 2,309,106.

Established Clergy, 1731.

In the year 1731, an Inquiry was instituted by order of the HOUSE OF LORDS of Ireland, for ascertaining the Population thereof, through the medium both of the Magistracy and of the Established Clergy. On reflecting on the state of Ireland at that period, when large tracts of the country were not subject to the jurisdiction of the former of those classes. Or to the influence of the latter, the result of an inquiry made by either of them, when unsupported by the authority of an Act of the Legislature, must be deemed far from satisfactory. The Number of Souls is stated to have been - - - 2,010,221.

Hearth Money Collectors, 1754, &c.

Several subsequent attempts were made to ascertain the Population; all of which rest on the same basis as that just stated. Their Results gave, in the year 1754, a Population of - - - 2,372,034;-—in 1767, of - - - 2,544,276;—in 1777, of - - - 2,690,556 and in 1785, of - - - 2,845,932.

Mr. Bushe, 1788.

In 1788 an Inquiry was instituted by Mr. GERVAIS PARKER BUSHE, one of the Commissioners of the Revenue; the result of which is published in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. Like the preceding attempts, it is founded on the Returns of the Hearth-money Collectors; and the details stated in Mr. Bushe's Memoir prove, that he considered this basis to stand in need of much correction and amendment. The Total is computed by him to amount to - - - 4,040,000.

Hearth Money Collectors, 1791.

From a Return of the number of Hearths, made to the Irish House of Commons in 1791, the Population is estimated at - - - 4,206,612.

Dr. Beaufort, 1792.

In the subsequent year Dr. BEAUFORT published his Ecclesiastical Map of Ireland. The Memoir which accompanies it, affords a vague estimate of the Population of each county, averaged according to difference of local circumstances, at from 5 to 6 Souls to a house. The Total thus amounts to - - - 4,088,226,

Major Newnham's, 1805.

MAJOR NEWENHAM, in his inquiry into the progress and magnitude of the Population of Ireland, published in the year 1805, endeavours to correct the inaccuracies of the Hearth- money Returns, by a variety of ingenious calculations, formed on other bases. His corrected Estimate gives a Total of - - - 5,395456 Souls.

Act of 1812.

In 1812 an Act passed for taking an account of the Population of Ireland, and of the Increase or Diminution thereof: it was chiefly copied from that of 1810 for Great Britain; to the provisions of which it adhered in all the practical details, more closely than the different circumstances of the two Islands would justify. At the expiration of two years employed in endeavouring to accomplish the object of the Legislature, it was found, on examining the Returns, that out of the forty Counties and Counties of Cities and Towns into which Ireland is divided, ten only furnished complete Returns; in four, no steps whatever were taken in pursuance of the Act; and those of the remaining twenty- six were inaccurate or defective. The Act therefore may be considered to have been wholly inoperative as to its main object, that of ascertaining the number of Souls by actual Enumeration. By the aid of comparative calculations founded on previous inquiries and on the partial results of the Act, the amount of the Population in 1813 has been conjectured to be - - - 5,937,8562 .

The following TABLE presents a SYNOPTICAL VIEW of the estimated Population of Ireland at the several periods already noticed. The Calculations are all formed at an average of six individuals to a house; whence arises a difference in the Population of 1672, when compared with that already given from Sir William Petty, who forms his calculations on an average of five to a house.

1672 Sir William Petty 1,320,000
1695 Captain South 1,034,102
1712 Thomas Dobbs, Esq. 2,099,094
1718    The same 2,169,048
1725    The same 2,317,374
1726    The same 2,309,106
1781 Established Clergy 2,010,221
1754 Hearth-money Collectors 2,372,634
1767    The same 2,544,276
1777    The same 2,690,556
1705    The same 2,845,932
1788 Gervais Parker Bushe, Esq. 4,040,000
1791 Hearth-money Collectors 4,206,612
1792 The Rev. Doctor Beaufort 4,088,220
1805 Thomas Newenham, Esq. 5,395,456
1814 Incomplete Census under Act of 1812 5,937,856

1 In the course of his calculations to ascertain the actual number of the People, at the period at which they were made, Petty introduces another, as to the numbers living in Ireland previously to the civil War of 1641 which, from a variety of ingenious suppositious, he estimates at 1,466,000. A previous conjecture was made by MORYSON, who visited Ireland, under Lord Mountjoy, at the close of the reign of Elizabeth. This writer states, that, at the termination of the war which his patron had just brought to a successful issue, the total of Souls left did not exceed - - - 700,000.

2 Although in a recapitulation of this general nature, the attempts at ascertaining the Population of particular districts are not properly admissible, yet it would be scarcely justice to the memory of a most intelligent and persevering character, the late Rev. JAMES WHITELAW, to suffer his account of the Population of the city of Dublin to pass wholly unnoticed. The peculiar circumstances of that city, during the rebellion of 1798, led him to undertake an account of its Population by actual Enumeration. At that period every householder was obliged to affix on the outside of his door, a list of the names of every person then residing in the house. The numbers were thence collected by Mr. WHITELAW and published by him, together with a Comparative statement of the numbers, taken in 1803, by the conservators of the peace, after the insurrection in that year. The Totals, in both cases, were:

In 1798 Houses 16,401 Inhabitants 172,091
In 1804 " 15,958 " 169,528
Decrease in six years 443   2,563

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