Content associated with: Population tables and report. Scotland. [Vol. I.], 1861    Page xxxvii

Census of Scotland, 1861

Matthew Woollard

The 1861 census was the first census of Scotland which was administratively separate from that of the rest of Great Britain. Civil registration had been introduced in Scotland in 1855 under the control of a Registrar General for Scotland, following an act of Parliament in the previous year. (Census (Scotland) Act, 1860 (17 & 18 Vict. c.80.)). The foundation of the General Register Office for Scotland provided much of the administrative infrastructure for taking a 'separate' census, including the formation of Registration Districts. Duly a discrete act was passed in 1860 for taking a census in Scotland on the 7th April of the following year. (An Act for taking the Census in Scotland (23 & 24 Vict. c.98)). This Act is almost identically worded to its English equivalent; the main exceptions relate to the Scottish administration. However, two differences are of particular interest. The first allowed the Scottish census to explicitly collect information relating to school attendance: "How many, of such persons, being of the age of from five to fifteen years, attended school during the week preceding." The second relates to the collection of information on "the number of rooms having a window or windows in each dwelling house" which according to the act was to be the responsibility of the enumerator who was to add this information to his enumerators' book.

In all other details the scope of this census was the same as that for both England and Wales in the same year and for Scotland in 1851, where the basic data collected were name, relationship to head of family, marital condition, sex, age, occupation, birthplace and infirmity.

In preparation for the taking of the census, registrars were given permission to divide their Registration Districts into enumeration divisions. The County Sheriff or the Chief Magistrate of the Burgh checked and agreed these divisions and approved the list of enumerators submitted by the registrars. Institutions with over fifty inmates were treated, as in England, as separate enumeration divisions. The 1,001 local registrars used a total of 8,075 enumerators who distributed the schedules and completed their enumerators' books.

The manner of collection of information was in most essentials identical to that used in the English census where the enumerators delivered householders' schedules to each household, the householders completed their schedules and the enumerator collected these schedules and copied the information to their enumerators' books.

The motivation for collecting information on school attendance was probably simply to ascertain the numbers of children who were receiving education, but for a number of reasons this information was faulty. The Preliminary Report notes that the 'Scholar' column did "not perfectly fulfil the object for which the information was sought". Two important problems were raised: First, the question was answered too literally: children who were sick and absent from school were not recorded; second, a number of schools traditionally closed in April to allow children to carry out farm work. (Tables of the number of the population, 3.) However, the first volume of the report suggested that "[i]t is difficult to say now what was the exact object sought to be obtained by that inquiry". (Population tables and report. [Vol. I.] Number of the inhabitants..., xxxvi.)

The collection and tabulation of information regarding the number of rooms with windows was primarily for 'sanitary' reasons. It showed that 'town' accommodation was little worse in terms of persons per room(s) with windows than their 'rural' counterparts. The report suggested that the reason for the higher mortality in towns was due not to insufficient space, but due to overcrowding coupled with "deficient ventilation", which led to the "constant breathing of impure air". (Population tables and report. [Vol. I.] Number of the inhabitants..., xxxi.)

In another slight deviation from the English census, the enumerator was asked to enquire of the householder whether or not there were any people either temporarily absent or present within each household. The purpose of this was partially to check on the number of fishermen absent. This enquiry ascertained that some 22,004 males and 12,341 females were temporarily absent from their households across the country, and some 18,418 males and 17,470 females were temporarily present in others' households. (The differences presumably relate partially to fishermen, but also to cross-boarded holidaying.)

Table II in the first volume (Population tables and report. [Vol. I.], 102–109) shows the considerable differences between civil and registration counties for each census year up to 1861. These differences were caused by the arrangement of parishes into registration counties – where parishes crossed (civil) county boundaries, the parish was included in the registration county where the parish church was situated. This table shows, by calculation, that in 1801 and 1861 the population of, for example, the registration county of Nairn was 37 per cent and 17 per cent lower than its civil counterpart, and the registration county of Kinross was 7 per cent and 9 per cent greater than its civil counterpart. Given these differences it is worth applying care when using any county-level figures.

The census reports were signed by W. Pitt Dundas, the Registrar General, and James Stark, M. D., Assistant to the Registrar-General in the matter of the census. According to the preliminary report the taking of the census in 1861 cost £18,464, some £7,778 less than its predecessor.

At this census for the first time, a separate Report was issued for Scotland. It comprised two volumes. The first reported on the population and housing of the various different administrative units, while the second focussed on ages, marital status, occupations and birthplaces. This volume contains discussions relating to the marriage laws of Scotland and their erroneous understanding by the English census commissioners, as well as the English occupational classification scheme. In the latter analysis the writers of the report suggest a novel method of occupational classification whereby dependants (of 'heads of families') are tabulated with those heads of family.

This part of the report also introduced what was to become a common feature to the Scottish census reports of the nineteenth century: a discussion on the value and worth of the English census authorities' definition of a 'house'.

The term 'Dwelling House' was explicitly mentioned in the Act in the following statement: "the Words "Dwelling House" shall include all Buildings and Tenements of which the Whole or any Part shall be used for the Purpose of Human Habitation."

However, the English census authorities' definition of a house was different. They defined it as "a distinct building separated by others by party walls". The Scottish census authorities thought this unintelligible. In their discussion they made much of the point that the 'common' definition and the Scottish legal definition of a house was different. They quoted Dr. Johnson who defined a house as "a place of human abode", or "a place where a man lives"; a household as "family living together", and a householder as "master of a family". Their legal definition referred to Acts of Parliament (most notably the Act to amend the representation of the people of Scotland (2 & 3 Will. IV c. 65)) where the term house was used in Johnson's sense. (Population tables and report. [Vol. I.], xxv ff.)

Scottish architectural practice is somewhat to blame here. The report describes how 'party walls' — a term which was not defined in the report — may bisect blocks of houses and even dwellings. The tradition of building tenement blocks made up of flats (also known as tenements) in urban areas led to further confusion.

The Scottish were willing to concede to national uniformity. They suggested that the definition to be used in the following census should be: "a dwelling, consisting of one or more Apartments, entering by a separate door from the Street...;, or by a door opening directly upon, or into a common stair." This definition may be somewhat perplexing to non-Scottish readers. In it the word 'apartments' does not fully equate to a twentieth century definition of an apartment, meaning self-contained living quarters; rather it refers to a group of rooms which may, either on its own, or in conjunction with others make up a single dwelling. Thus a tenement flat may be made up of one or more apartments, and a tenement block would be made up of many houses.

The main consequence of this definitional misunderstanding was that in many cases complete tenement buildings were enumerated as single houses, and that there was a lack of uniformity in the enumeration of houses. For practical purposes the census authorities seem to have corrected the errors introduced by the enumerators for most of these tables. However, the published tables relating to the number of rooms with windows had to be refined in a different way to take account of a Scottish definition of 'house' which referred to the number of rooms occupied by a single family (which included lodgers if they lived in the same rooms).


Census of Scotland, 1861, Tables of the number of the population, of the families, and children at school, of the houses, and rooms with windows, in Scotland and its islands, on 8th April 1861, BPP 1861 L. (2870). [View this document: Preliminary report, Scotland, 1861]

Census of Scotland, 1861 Population tables and report. [Vol. I.] Number of the inhabitants, families, children at school, houses, and rooms with windows in the civil counties and parishes, registration counties and districts, burghs, towns, villages, and islands of Scotland: also a classification of families according to their sizes, the number of persons they contain, and their relative house accommodation, BPP 1862 L. (3013). [View this document: Population tables and report. Scotland. [Vol. I.], 1861]

Census of Scotland, 1861, Population tables and report. Ages, civil or conjugal condition, occupations, and birth places of the people in Scotland: with the number and ages of the blind, the deaf-dumb. and the inmates of poorhouses, prisons, lunatic asylums, and hospitals. Vol. II, BPP 1864 LI. (3275).[View this document: Population tables and report. Scotland. [Vol. II], 1861]