Short Guide 7 - NRS 685, 1901 Census Collectors' Books
Alphabetical list of districts
- The original spelling of place names has been retained in a number of instances eg: Musclebrook; Narrowmine.
- Districts 8, 47 and 65 are missing.
Until 1828 when the first census was held, musters were used to number people and to note whether they would be victualled from public stores. They were used as a means of assessing whether the population could be self-supporting and as a control over the convict population. General musters, which included all inhabitants of the colony, appear to have been held annually between 1795 and 1825. Different classes of musters, such as settlers' musters, musters of livestock, and musters of convicts, were taken more frequently. It appears that the earliest surviving muster is the 1800 Settlers' Muster, which, together with the 1788 Victualling Book and the 1792-96 Norfolk Island Victualling Book, constitute the earliest records of this kind for the colony.
The first census was held in November 1828 after if was found that a Governor had no right to compel free men to come to a muster. Although the census fulfilled the same functions as a muster, there were some differences. The census was taken by appointed collectors, responsible to the Commissioner or Bench of Magistrates, who completed printed forms for each household in the district allotted to them. The magistrates then checked the returns and forwarded them to the Colonial Secretary's Office where they were gathered together in order to extract statistics.
The 1828 Census does not record the military, although their wives and children were probably included in the general population. Separate military returns may have been submitted to the Home Office.
A census was then held thereafter in 1833, 1841, 1846, 1851, 1856, 1861 and then every ten years to 1901. Unfortunately however, records of individuals have only survived for the 1841, 1891, and 1901 Census.
A notable census was the 1841 Census which showed a marked advance over all preceding enumerations. The population was recorded in police districts, counties and towns. The tabulation of results was more scientific; age groups were adopted, notes were made of the conjugal condition of residents as well as their civil conditions and religious denomination. The 1841 Census records only the heads of households by name. It is arranged by district. An index is available in State Records' reading room.
The 1891 Census is also arranged by district. It is the first to survive in substance after that taken in 1841. Records of the intervening censuses are believed to have been destroyed in the Garden Palace Fire on 22 September 1882.
The 1901 Census (NRS 685)
The final census in the custody of State Records is the 1901 Census, taken on 31 March of that year. Act No. 65 of 5 December 1900 made provision for:
"the taking of a census of New South Wales in 1901, and for obtaining certain statistics and certain particulars relating to livestock and crops, and the occupations for the said and subsequent years; and for purposes incidental to or consequent on the aforesaid objects."
The above description suggests that the 1901 Census may contain a wealth of information about the people of NSW, their occupations, land held and information regarding the produce of the land. Unfortunately, the only records created under the Census that have survived are the Collectors' Books for household returns.
Previously Section 24 of the Census Act made it an offence for any person to divulge the contents of any householders' schedule and this led to the restriction of the Collectors' Books. However, the 1901 Census Act was repealed on 8 October 1992 by the NSW Statute Law Act.
The Collectors' Books are arranged alphabetically by census district. Each subdistrict is allocated a number or letter and is arranged chronologically within the census district. Many of the subdistricts include a map and a brief description of the area boundaries; all identify the collector responsible for the area.
Within the subdistrict, the Collectors' Books record the locality (including names of the street, road, gully or other variations), occasionally the number of the house, the name of the householder and the total number of persons in the household (divided into male and female). The books also list separately how many of the residents are Chinese or Aboriginal. Additional information may include the type of dwelling.
There are also census details for ships berthed in NSW ports on 31 March 1901, but these do not record names of people on board. The Collectors' Books only record the name of the ship, the type of ship and the number of people on board for each district.
Other details recorded in the Collectors' Books are the county, borough, or municipal district or ward, township/village if not a municipality, or goldfield. The number of the census district and name is also replicated on each page. At the base of the page, the statistics are aggregated and the totals are summarised in the last pages of each Collectors' Book.
This guide provides a list of the 1901 Census Collectors' Books. It was previously published as Information Leaflet 46.