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A look back at Census

While we know that 9 August was the official date of Census night in Australia, you actually have until Friday (23 September) to complete the survey.

To reward those of you who’ve completed the Census already (and perhaps to inspire the stragglers out there) we trolled through our collection of digitised NSW Government Gazette to find some of the questions from Census past.

If you were completing the Census of the Year 1841 among the questions you’d be asked were:

  • if your Dwelling-house built of Stone? Of Brick? or of Wood? 
  • if your home was completed, or unfinished? and inhabited, or uninhabited? 
  • the Name of the Person at the head, or in charge of your house
  • how many of the people living in the house were Free?

By 1856 - in the interest of 'greater simplicity and consequent accuracy' - the questions got down to the particulars of:

  • name
  • age
  • place of birth
  • married or single
  • occupation or employment
  • religious persuasion

Education was also summaries in the question - 'Can you read and write?'

The Gazetted entry concludes that 'in answering these questions it is hardly possible to go wrong, unless wilfully'.

As the colony expanded beyond New South Wales and following Australian Federation, census taking soon became a nationalised activity however the Gazette continued to document valuable statistical information about our state.

Here are some tips to help you search for interesting stats hidden in the Gazette:

To find statistician's report in the NSW Government Gazette search the phrases:

'Government statistician's report on the vital statistics' (1887-1906 available)

'Registrar General's report on the vital statistics' (1866-1900 available)

To find historical health statistics, try searching the phases:

'Health of Sydney' (1857-1866 available)