The Australian Census: 1828 and 2016 Comparing the Questions

Tuesday the 9th of August 2016 was an important day in Australia’s history. It was Census Day. A day that many find a chore (and not just because of the census website crash). But to say it’s a day that all genealogists and historians look forward to is an understatement.

Anyway while I was filling out my paper copy of Australia’s 2016 Census (all 60 questions worth), I was thinking about what questions were actually asked in Australia’s first ‘official’ census. But before we get on to that, let’s take a step back.

It is a well known fact that Australia conducts a census, extracts the data and then destroys them … much to the horror of historians and researchers. Anyway as a result, very few Australian censuses even exist. But one that does is Australia’s very first one. It was held in New South Wales in November 1828 … ok, technically it was New South Wales not Australia, as Australia wasn’t a country until Federation in 1901, but I’m not going to debate that here.

New South Wales 1828 Census
As you would expect, the aim of the 1828 census was to “record all inhabitants of the colony” (both convict and free). We are not only fortunate that this incredible record has survived, but we also get to see images of it online on both the Ancestry and Findmypast websites. Listing people alphabetically by surname, the questions asked for this census were:
1. Name of inhabitant
2. Age
3. Free or bond
4. Ship name on which arrived
5. Year arrived
6. Sentence
7. Religion
8. Employment
9. Residence
10. District
11. Total number of acres
12. Number of acres cleared
13. Number of acres cultivated
14. Number of horses
15. Number of horned cattle
16. Number of sheep

sample from the NSW 1828 Census on Ancestry

sample from the NSW 1828 Census on Ancestry

Who would have thought that you had to give the number of acres cleared or cultivated, or the number of sheep, cattle or horses? Even the religion question (the one that has caused contention in our 2016 one) was in the census was back then. And I wonder if people back then felt as many do this year, in that “they don’t need to know that information”.

Australian 2016 Census
I thought it would be useful to list the questions out not only for future reference, but also for those overseas who might find it useful to see what information is asked in our census.

1. What is the address of this dwelling?
2. Name of each person ‘including visitors’ who spent the night of Tuesday, 9 August 1916 in this dwelling?
3. Is the person male or female?
4. What is the person’s date of date of birth?
5. What is the person’s relationship to Person 1/Person 2?
6. What is the person’s present present martial status?
7. Is the person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?
8. Where does this person usually live?
9. Where did the person live one year ago (at 9 August 2015)?
10. Where did the person usually live five years ago (at 9 August 2011)?
11. Is the person an Australian citizen?
12. In which country was the person born?
13. In what year did the person first arrive in Australia live here for one year or more?
14. In which country was the person’s father born?
15. In which country was the person’s mother born?
16. Does to person speak a language other than English at home?
17. How well does the person speak English?
18. What is the person’s ancestry?
19. What is the person’s religion?
20. Does the person ever need someone to help with, or be with them for, self care activities?
21. Does the person ever need someone to help with, or be with them for body movement activities?
22. Does the person ever need someone to help with, or be with them for communication activities?
23. What are the reasons for the need for assistance or supervision shown in Questions 20, 21, and 22?
24. Is the person attending a school of any other educational institution?
25. What type of educational institution is the person attending?
[only continue for persons aged 15 years or more]
27. What is the highest year of primary or secondary school the person has completed?
28. Has the person completed any educational qualification (including trade certificate)?
29. What is the level of the highest qualification the person has completed?
30. What is the main field of study of for the person’s highest qualification completed?
31. Did the person complete this qualification before 1998?
32. For each female, how many babies has she ever given birth to?
33. What is the total of all income the person usually receives?
34. Last week, did the person have a job of any kind?
35. In the main job held last week, was the person working for an employer of working in own business/
36. Was the person’s business Unincorporated or Incorporated?
37. Does the person’s business employ people/
38. In the main job held last week, what was the person’s occupation?
39. What are the main tasks that the person usually performs in that occupation?
40. For the main job held last week, what was the employer’s business name?
41. For the main job held last week, what was the person’s workplace address?
42. What best describes the industry or business of the employer at the location where the person works?
43. What are the main goods produced or main services provided by the employer’s business?
44. Last week, how many hours sis the person work in all jobs?
45. How did the person get to work on Tuesday, 9 August 2016?
46. Did the person actively look for work at any time in the last four weeks?
47. If the person had found a job, could the person have started work last week?
48. In the last week did the person spend time doing unpaid domestic work for their household?
49. In the last two weeks did the person spend time providing unpaid care, help or assistance to family members of others because of a disability, a long term health condition or problems related to old age?
50. In the last two weeks did the person spend time looking after a child, without pay?
51. In the last twelve months did the person spend any time doing voluntary work through an organisation or group?
52. Were there any people away on the night of Tuesday, 9 August 2016 who usually live in the dwelling?
53. Name each person who usually lives in his dwelling, but was away on 9 August 2016.
54. How many registered motor vehicles owned or used by residents of this dwelling were garaged or parked at or near this dwelling on the night of Tuesday, 9 August 2016?
55. How many bedrooms are there in this dwelling?
56. Is this dwelling owned outright, owned with mortgage, being purchase under equity scheme, being rented, being occupied for free, other?
57. If this dwelling is being rented, who is it rented from?
58. How much does your household pay for this dwelling?
59. Does any member of this household access the internet from this dwelling?
60. Does each person agree to his/her name and address and other information on this form being kept by the national Archives of Australia and then made publicly available after 99 years?

the all important Question 60!

the all important Question 60!

Don’t you think it’s interesting to compare? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what people’s reactions were back in 1828 to being asked all these questions? Probably much the same as today’s I would think. And what questions will be asked in the Australian 2021 Census? For that one only time will tell.


3 Responses to “The Australian Census: 1828 and 2016 Comparing the Questions”

  1. Derek says:

    Interesting to read the questions on the first census! Unfortunately I haven’t found any ancestors who were in Australia in 1828, but haven’t completed the line of my grandmother on dad’s side yet so hopefully there’s someone there.

    Do you know if there was a similar question to Q60 on previous censuses? If so, I wonder how far back and will they be releasing any results soon?

    • Graeme says:

      Question 60 has only been asked in the last 2 (or maybe 3?) censuses, so it would be 2100 before any of that information will be released.

      • Derek says:

        Thanks Graeme. Unfortunate it hasn’t been there longer, but at least future generations will have the chance to pick through the details of their ancestors.

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