How the census was organised in 1901 – Victoria, Australia
Here is an article from The Argus, March 27, 1901 on the eve of the 1901 Victorian census. Given the technology of today, it makes interesting reading. Once the information has been collected, organising and sorting it relied on a system of cards – one for every person in the state of Victoria.
THE COMING CENSUS.
HOW IT WILL BE WORKED.
Next Sunday, a census of Victoria will be taken. The schedules which have been issued for the purpose are three in number. First, there is the householder’s, which sets out thirty odd questions relating to names, sexes, ages, conditions as to marriage, professions and occupations, sickness and infirmity; nationality, religion, education, description of dwelling, land occupied and cultivated, and live stock and poultry kept. Next, there is the educational schedule, which is intended solely for the use of the Education Department, and which demands particulars of all persons under 15 years of age, as, for instance their names and ages; whether they are receiving instruction, and where; and if by chance they happen to be infirm or feeble-minded. The third schedule deals with land and live stock in greater detail than in the householder’s Schedule, and is to be filled in by persons occupying an acre of land and upwards. Such, in brief, is the nature of the documents which every self-respecting, public-spirited citizen throughout the length and breadth of Victoria – every man or woman in the fortunate position of owning or occupying an house, with or without those rarer blessings of fertile acres, bounteous milk cows, and good laying fowls is invited to give his best attention on Sunday evening.
A census, as may be imagined, is a costly undertaking, and involves an enormous amount of labour. To prepare the public mind for the approach of the event, thousands of printed notices have to bo scattered broadcast throughout the country. Then special circulars have to be prepared for the Chinese residents. The work of distributing and collecting schedules at the 1891 census cost over £14,000. The outlay can scarcely be any less on the present occasion. The census districts into which the state is divided follow as nearly aspossible the electoral boundaries, and number 94. For each district there is an enumerator, who employs sub-enumerators in sufficient number to meet requirements. Last census the latter totalled 2,375. This time about 2,500 sub-enumerators will be engaged in actual house-to-house collection. Schedules are to be left at every inhabited house on or before Saturday, the 30th inst., and collected on the 1st prox or as soon thereafter as practicable.
Though delays will be more or less inevitable in the sparsely populated areas, the assistant Government statist hopes to be able to issue within a few weeks a preliminary return based on summaries obtained from the enumerators. The compilation of this preliminary return in 1891 occupied about four weeks.
The tabulation of the whole returns, schedule by schedule, is of course a work of considerable magnitude, and will probably keep a staff of 50 or 60 clerks going for 15 or 18 months. But the usefulness of a census depends upon an intelligent and careful treatment of the information which it brings to light. Statistics of every conceivable sort are to be extracted fiom the returns. To facilitate compilation, the card system will be used. There will be a card for “dwellings and households,” and another for individuals. Every man, woman and child in the state will have a card, upon which are to be entered a score or more of particulars regarding his or her person whose identity for the nonce is concealed under a number ranging from 1 to 10,000 in an alphabetical series. The cards having been filled in, and their correctness verified by examination, the results have next to be reduced to tabular form. This involves an almost incredible amount of sorting and re-sorting, according to the kind of inquiry to be worked out. Nor is this all. Special particulars have to be extracted respecting the Chinese and aborigines; the inmates of hospitals, asylums, and gaols; employers, employed, and unemployed, and a variety of other matters; and, to finish up with numerous compilations have to be made showing averages, percentages and comparisons with former censuses, not only of Victoria, hut with those of other states and other countries.
After all, the chief interest for the majority of people will centre in the total population return. Last census showed the population to be 1,140,405, and of the number, 490,896 resided within the metropolis.