Content associated with: Parish register abstract, 1801    Page 246

Census of Scotland, 1801

Matthew Woollard

The Act passed on the last day of December 1800 which authorised the census in the following year was entitled: 'An Act for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain, and of the Increase or Diminution thereof'. It was designed explicitly for the whole of Great Britain, though the differences in local administration between Scotland and England (and the climate!) meant that the two censuses were administered rather differently. The first Scottish census was not taken at the same time as in England and Wales. In Scotland, the sheriff deputes and stewart deputes (for each county or stewartry), set a date on or before 10 March 1801 for the justices of the peace to appoint a schoolmaster or other fit person in each parish to carry out the provisions of the act. The clerks of the peace were supposed to deliver the set of questions to be answered by that date to the schoolmaster or other 'fit' person. These enumerators were then to "proceed to take account of the number of persons at that time within the limits of their respective parishes, and inform themselves of the several particulars relating to all the matters specified in the said schedule, by proceeding from house to house, or otherwise as they shall judge expedient" and "prepare an answer or return to all the said questions according to the form prescribed in the said schedule".

It was also enacted that the sheriff deputes or stewart deputes should meet with the justices and the schoolmasters on a date after 1 June 1801 with the returns and answers for an oath to be administered. Thus, enumeration, could conceivably have taken place at any time between 10 March and 1 June. Once "signed off" the results were to be transmitted to the Secretary of State by 10 November in Scotland — a number of months after the deadline set for England and Wales of 15 May 1801. The whole of the timetable for the collection of population information meant that in Scotland it is much more likely that double counting occurred, as some people may have been enumerated in more than one place. Rickman writing in his observations in the Enumeration abstract, 1801 supported the argument that the Scottish census was to be taken later because of the "in the colder climate... it was not certain that all parts of the country would be easily accessible so early in the year."

Rickman's attempts to estimate the population of Scotland back to 1700 as he had done for England and Wales was hampered by the paucity of parish registers from Scotland. Less than 100 abstracts were returned from a total of around 850 parishes in Scotland, and many of those were from manufacturing districts which would have evinced higher rates of increase. Furthermore a number of parish returns were missing when the 1801 census report was published.

However, the remainder of the questions seem to have been answered satisfactorily and the abstract of returns contains parish level population details broken down by sex, including the numbers of houses (inhabited and uninhabited). The occupational groupings of 'persons chiefly employed in agriculture', 'persons chiefly employed in trade, manufactures, or handicraft' and 'all other persons not comprised in the two preceding classes' were captured as they were in the rest of Great Britain.

One surviving set of returns has been edited by George Gilchrist and published by the Scottish Record Society. These returns for Annan, in Dumfriesshire were collected by a schoolmaster, Richard Forrest. It can be inferred that, while Forrest listed the inhabitants along a route, he did not carry out the census in a single day. Annan covered seventeen and a half square miles, and it is unlikely that Forrest could have perambulated that area and collected details of all the inhabitants within one day.


Census of Great Britain, 1801, Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an Act, passed in the forty-first year of His Majesty King George III. intituled "An act for taking an account of the population of Great Britain, and the increase or diminution thereof". Enumeration. Part I. England and Wales. Part II. Scotland BPP 1801–02 VI (9). [View this document: Enumeration abstract, 1801]

Census of Great Britain, 1801, Abstract of the Answers and returns made pursuant to an Act, passed in the forty-first year of His Majesty King George III. intituled "An act for taking an account of the population of Great Britain, and the increase or diminution thereof". Parish-registers BPP 1801–02 VII (112). [View this document: Parish register abstract, 1801]

G. Gilchrist, ed., Annan parish censuses, 1801–1821 (Edinburgh, 1975).

C. Sinclair, Jock Tamson's Bairns. A history of the records of the General Register Office for Scotland (Edinburgh, 2000).