Content associated with: Report, Ireland, 1841    Page 325

Sir William Wilde (1815–1876)

Matthew Woollard

Sir William Robert Wills Wilde played an important role as a medical and cultural commentator in four Irish censuses. He was born in 1815 in County Roscommon, studied at the Park Street Medical School in Dublin from 1832 where he qualified as a doctor in 1837. In 1841 he was contracted by the census commissioners to analyse the data on deaths which had been collected at this census. Two years later his report analysing the 1.2 million deaths since 1831 was published for which he received £315. (Froggatt, 1975, 265). This detailed report also includes a classification of disease with English and Gaelic equivalences.

In 1851 Wilde was appointed the Assistant Census Commissioner, in this census he carried out a special study of deaf-dumbness, along with an analysis on mortality. Furthermore he also carried out a study of "the blind, the lunatic, the idiotic, the paralytic, and the lame and decrepit".

In order to carry out his special study, the Irish census of 1851 included an follow-up questionnaire for those earlier returned as deaf-and-dumb. This form of enquiry was possibly the first undertaken, and remained for over a century as the best method for such surveys. Froggatt considered Wilde's questionnaire as remarkable and pronounced that most of the questions would have been asked in a contemporary (1965) genetic study. The results were curious; the ratio of congenital to acquired deafness was very high (over 8:1) showing a disparity to the Belgian census of 1835, where the ratio was 4:1.

In conjunction with his work on the census for 1851 Wilde also produced a detailed review of "pestilences, cosmical phenomena, epizöotics, and famines" in Ireland. (Census of Ireland, 1851, Part. V. Tables of deaths. Vol. I). This detailed work on the history of illness and weather in Ireland is an incredible work of sythesis of many hundreds of sources. (Clarkson and Crawford). For the 1851 census Wilde also produced a second volume (in two parts): Tables of Deaths. The introductory section covering over 500 pages is a compendium of the medical and climatic history of Ireland. Of special interest are the sections on causes of death and the sanitary report on Dublin.

Wilde's census work was only part time — simultaneously he was in charge of St Mark's Hospital, Dublin. For his part time work he was paid the munificent sum of £1,500. Wilde carried out further analyses for the 1861 and 1871 censuses. In both cases his reports were published in two parts. The importance of Wilde's work on mortality from the census returns should not be underestimated especially given that death registration was not introduced in Ireland until 1864. William Wilde received a knighthood in 1864 for his census work and died in 1876.

REFERENCES

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

Leslie A. Clarkson and E. M. Crawford, Famine and Disease in Ireland. Volume 1 (London, 2005).

P. Froggatt, 'The demographic work of Sir William Wilde', Irish Journal of Medical Science, 6 (1965), 213–30.

P. Froggatt, 'Sir William Wilde, 1815–1876. A centenary appreciation. Wilde's place in medicine', Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (C10), 77 (1977), 261–278.

P. Froggatt, 'Sir William Wilde, 1815–1876: Demographer and Irish Medical Historian', in Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin, ed., The Wilde Legacy (Dublin, 2003), 51–68.

T. G. Wilson, Victorian doctor: life of Sir William Wilde (London, 1942).

Census of Ireland, 1841, Report of the commissioners appointed to take the census of Ireland for the year 1841 BPP 1843 XXIV.1 (504). This volume contains the Report upon the tables of deaths, by William Robert Wilde. [View this document: Report, Ireland, 1841]

Census of Ireland, 1851. Part III. Report on the status of disease in Ireland, BPP 1854 LVIII.1 (1765).[View this document: Report on the status of disease, Ireland, 1851]

Census of Ireland, 1851, Part V. Tables of deaths. Vol. I, BPP 1856 XXIX.261 (2087-I) [View this document: Tables of deaths, Vol. I, Ireland, 1851]

Census of Ireland, 1851, Part V. Tables of deaths. Vol. II, BPP 1856 XXX.1 (2087-II). [View this document: Tables of deaths, Vol. II, Ireland, 1851]

Census of Ireland, 1861, Part III. Vital statistics. Vol. I. Report and tables relating to the status of disease, BPP 1863 LVIII.1 (3204-II). [View this document: Report and tables relating to the status of disease, Vol. I, Ireland, 1861]

Census of Ireland, 1861, Part III. Vital statistics. Vol. II. Report and tables relating to the status of disease, BPP 1863 LVIII.1 (3204-II). [View this document: Report and tables relating to the status of disease, Vol. II, Ireland, 1861]

Census of Ireland, 1871, Part II. Vital statistics. Vol. I. Report and tables relating to the status of disease, BPP 1873 LXXII. Pt. II.477 (C.876). [View this document: Tables of deaths, Ireland, 1871]

Census of Ireland, 1871, Part II. Vital statistics. Vol. II. Report and tables relating to deaths, BPP 1873 LXXIV.Pt. III.1 (C.1000). [View this document: Status of Disease, Ireland, 1871]