Content associated with: Report, Ireland, 1841    Page 325

Thomas Aiskew Larcom (1801–1879)

Matthew Woollard

Thomas Aiskew Larcom was one of the three census commissioners appointed to take the census of Ireland in 1841. His personal involvement in this undertaking shaped the way in which many of the subsequent Irish censuses were taken, and in his subsequent career he helped shaped the Irish registration system. His impact on population statistics in nineteenth-century Ireland should not be underestimated.

Larcom was born in Gosport, Hampshire in 1801, he graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1820 and subsequently joined the Royal Engineers. In 1826 he joined the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, a position which led to him becoming one of the three census commissioners for the 1841 census. He was not directly involved with its successor, as between 1845 and 1853 he held various posts within the Board of Works. (Linehan suggests he declined the role of chief commissioner for the 1851 census due to ill health.) His further rise came in 1853 when he became Under Secretary for Ireland (a sinecure, giving him responsibility for the routine working of the Irish Administration.) In this role Larcom ensured that responsibility for the Irish censuses from 1861 onwards remained in the hands of the Registrar-General, and also that Ireland's registration system covered births and deaths as well as marriages. Amongst other achievements Larcom was one of the founders of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland.

Larcom's involvement in Ireland started by joining the Ordnance Survey of Ireland in 1826. Here he was editorially responsible for the so-called Memoirs, which were to provide statistical, social, geological and topographical guides for Ireland. Only one was published (Larcom, 1837); as a result Larcom used the census to carry out surveys for which he had previously been responsible. (Linehan, 99) The oft quoted comment from the 1841 census report (1841 Census of Ireland, Report of the commissioners appointed to take the census of Ireland for the year 1841, vi.): "We felt, in fact, that a Census ought to be Social Survey, not a bare Enumeration" is made more understandable given a knowledge of Larcom's work for the Ordnance Survey.

Larcom's supremacy amongst his other commissioners in the 1841 census is probably based on their other posts at the time: William Tighe Hamilton, the Chief Commissioner was a civil servant in the chief secretary's office and Henry Brownrigg was Inspector General of the Constabulary, which played a vital role in the collection of information at this census.

Larcom, and his fellow commissioners also introduced a number of important innovations to the censuses of Ireland, none of which had been carried out in other British censuses before. The first was the classification of dwellings, by number of rooms, windows and durability, which underpinned later comparisons in housing improvements; the second was the design of an occupational classification system, described by Jordan as a theoretical model of 'social economy'. The third important innovation was in the use of maps and diagrams. The census report contains a number of national chloropleth maps and diagrams showing the age structure of different provinces.

In his role as Under Secretary for Ireland it is probable that Larcom also helped to ensure that the Registration of Births and Deaths (Ireland) Act (26 & 27 Vict. c.11) was passed in 1863. The passing of this act completed registration arrangements in Ireland after the earlier Registration of Marriages (Ireland) Act (7 & 8 Vict. c.81). He retired from this post in 1869 to Hampshire where he died in 1879.


Elizabeth Baigent, 'Larcom, Sir Thomas Aiskew, first baronet (1801–1897)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, OUP, 2004).

E. Margaret Crawford, Counting the people. A survey of the Irish censuses, 1813–1913 (Dublin, 2003).

Thomas E. Jordan, An imaginative empiricist. Thomas Aiskew Larcom (1801–1879) and Victorian Ireland (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter, 2002).

T. A. Larcom, Ordnance Survey of the County Londonderry. Memorial of the city and north western liberties of London. Parish of Templemore (Dublin, 1837).

T. Linehan, 'The development of official Irish statistics', Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, 27 (1998), 91–132.

Census of Ireland, 1841, Report of the Commissioners appointed to take the census of Ireland for the year 1841. 1843 BPP XXIV [504]. [View this document: Report, Ireland, 1841]