An Essay on the Principle of Population

Thomas Robert Malthus
Malthus, Thomas Robert
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London: John Murray
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Book II, Chapter VIII

Of the Checks to Population in England.


The most cursory view of society in this country must convince us, that throughout all ranks the preventive check to population prevails in a considerable degree. Those among the higher classes, who live principally in towns, often want the inclination to marry, from the facility with which they can indulge themselves in an illicit intercourse with the sex. And others are deterred from marrying by the idea of the expenses that they must retrench, and the pleasures of which they must deprive themselves, on the supposition of having a family. When the fortune is large, these considerations are certainly trivial; but a preventive foresight of this kind has objects of much greater weight for its contemplation as we go lower.


A man of liberal education, with an income only just sufficient to enable him to associate in the rank of gentlemen, must feel absolutely certain that, if he marry and have a family, he shall be obliged to give up all his former connexions. The woman, whom a man of education would naturally make the object of his choice, is one brought up in the same habits and sentiments with himself, and used to the familiar intercourse of a society totally different from that to which she must be reduced by marriage. Can a man easily consent to place the object of his affection in a situation so discordant, probably, to her habits and inclinations? Two or three steps of descent in society, particularly at this round of the ladder, where education ends and ignorance begins, will not be considered by the generality of people as a chimerical, but a real evil. If society be desirable, it surely must be free, equal and reciprocal society, where benefits are conferred as well as received, and not such as the dependent finds with his patron, or the poor with the rich.


These considerations certainly prevent many in this rank of life from following the bent of their inclinations in an early attachment. Others, influenced either by a stronger passion or a weaker judgment, disregard these considerations; and it would be hard, indeed, if the gratification of so delightful a passion as virtuous love did not sometimes more than counterbalance all its attendant evils. But I fear it must be acknowledged that the more general consequences of such marriages are rather calculated to justify than disappoint the forebodings of the prudent.


The sons of tradesmen and farmers are exhorted not to marry, and generally find it necessary to comply with this advice, till they are settled in some business or farm, which may enable them to support a family. These events may not perhaps occur till they are far advanced in life. The scarcity of farms is a very general complaint; and the competition in every kind of business is so great, that it is not possible that all should be successful. Among the clerks in counting-houses, and the competitors for all kinds of mercantile and professional employment, it is probable that the preventive check to population prevails more than in any other department of society.


The labourer who earns eighteen pence or two shillings a day, and lives at his ease as a single man, will hesitate a little before he divides that pittance among four or five, which seems to be not more than sufficient for one. Harder fare and harder labour he would perhaps be willing to submit to for the sake of living with the woman he loves; but he must feel conscious, that, should he have a large family and any ill fortune whatever, no degree of frugality, no possible exertion of his manual strength, would preserve him from the heart-rending sensation of seeing his children starve, or of being obliged to the parish for their support. The love of independence is a sentiment that surely none would wish to see eradicated; though the poor-laws of England, it must be confessed, are a system of all others the most calculated gradually to weaken this sentiment, and in the end will probably destroy it completely.


The servants who live in the families of the rich have restraints yet stronger to break through in venturing upon marriage. They possess the necessaries, and even the comforts of life, almost in as great plenty as their masters. Their work is easy and their food luxurious, compared with the work and food of the class of labourers; and their sense of dependence is weakened by the conscious power of changing their masters if they feel themselves offended. Thus comfortably situated at present, what are their prospects if they marry? Without knowledge or capital, either for business or farming, and unused and therefore unable to earn a subsistence by daily labour, their only refuge seems to be a miserable alehouse, which certainly offers no very enchanting prospect of a happy evening to their lives. The greater number of them, therefore, deterred by this uninviting view of their future situation, content themselves with remaining single where they are.


If this sketch of the state of society in England be near the truth, it will be allowed that the preventive check to population operates with considerable force throughout all the classes of the community. And this observation is further confirmed by the abstracts from the registers returned in consequence of the Population Act*62 passed in 1800.


The results of these abstracts shew, that the annual marriages in England and Wales are to the whole population as 1 to 123 1/5,*63 a smaller proportion of marriages than is to be found in any of the countries which have been examined, except Norway and Switzerland.


In the earlier part of the last century, Dr. Short estimated this proportion at about 1 to 115.*64 It is probable that this calculation was then correct; and the present diminution in the proportion of marriages, notwithstanding an increase of population more rapid than formerly, owing to the more rapid progress of commerce and agriculture, is partly a cause, and partly a consequence, of the diminished mortality observed of late years.


The returns of the marriages, pursuant to the late act, are supposed to be less liable to the suspicion of inaccuracy than any other parts of the registers.


Dr. Short, in his New Observations on Town and Country Bills of Mortality, says, he will `"conclude with the observation of an eminent Judge of this nation, that the growth and increase of mankind is more stinted from the cautious difficulty people make to enter on marriage, from the prospect of the trouble and expenses in providing for a family, than from any thing in the nature of the species." And, in conformity to this idea, Dr. Short proposes to lay heavy taxes and fines on those who live single, for the support of the married poor.*65


The observation of the eminent Judge is, with regard to the numbers which are prevented from being born, perfectly just; but the inference, that the unmarried ought to be punished, does not appear to be equally so. The prolific power of nature is very far indeed from being called fully into action in this country. And yet when we contemplate the insufficiency of the price of labour to maintain a large family, and the amount of mortality which arises directly and indirectly from poverty; and add to this the crowds of children, which are cut off prematurely in our great towns, our manufactories and our workhouses; we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that, if the number born annually were not greatly thinned by this premature mortality, the funds for the maintenance of labour must increase with much greater rapidity than they have ever done hitherto in this country, in order to find work and food for the additional numbers that would then grow up to manhood.


Those, therefore, who live single, or marry late, do not by such conduct contribute in any degree to diminish the actual population; but merely to diminish the proportion of premature mortality, which would otherwise be excessive; and consequently in this point of view do not seem to deserve any very severe reprobation or punishment.


The returns of the births and deaths are supposed, on good grounds, to be deficient; and it will therefore be difficult to estimate, with any degree of accuracy, the proportion which they bear to the whole population.


If we divide the existing population of England and Wales by the average of burials for the five years ending in 1800, it would appear, that the mortality was only 1 in 49;*66 but this is a proportion so extraordinarily small, considering the number of our great towns and manufactories, that it cannot be considered as approaching to the truth.


Whatever may be the exact proportion of the inhabitants of the towns to the inhabitants of the country, the southern part of this island certainly ranks in that class of states, where this proportion is greater than 1 to 3; indeed there is ample reason to believe, that it is greater than 1 to 2. According to the rule laid down by Crome, the mortality ought consequently to be above 1 in 30;*67 according to Sussmilch, above 1 in 33.*68 In the Observations on the Results of the Population Act,*69 many probable causes of deficiency in the registry of the burials are pointed out; but no calculation is offered respecting the sum of these deficiencies, and I have no data whatever to supply such a calculation. I will only observe, therefore, that if we suppose them altogether to amount to such a number as will make the present annual mortality about 1 in 40, this must appear to be the lowest proportion of deaths that can well be supposed, considering the circumstances of the country; and, if true, would indicate a most astonishing superiority over the generality of other states, either in the habits of the people with respect to prudence and cleanliness, or in natural healthiness of situation.*70 Indeed, it seems to be nearly ascertained that both these causes, which tend to diminish mortality, operate in this country to a considerable degree. The small proportion of annual marriages before mentioned indicates that habits of prudence, extremely favourable to happiness, prevail through a large part of the community in spite of the poor-laws; and it appears from the clearest evidence, that the generality of our country parishes are very healthy. Dr. Price quotes an account of Dr. Percival, collected from the ministers of different parishes and taken from positive enumerations, according to which, in some villages, only a 45th, a 50th, a 60th, a 66th, and even a 75th, part dies annually. In many of these parishes the births are to the deaths above 2 to 1, and 4n a single parish above 3 to 1.*71 These however are particular instances, and cannot be applied to the agricultural part of the country in general. In some of the flat situations, and particularly those near marshes, the proportions are found very different, and in a few the deaths exceed the births. In the 54 country parishes, the registers of which Dr. Short collected, choosing them purposely in a great variety of situations, the average mortality was as high as 1 in 37.*72 This is certainly much above the present mortality of our agricultural parishes in general. The period which Dr. Short took, included some considerable epidemics, which may possibly have been above the usual proportion. But sickly seasons should always be included, or we shall fall into great errors. In 1056 villages of Brandenburgh, which Sussmilch examined, the mortality for six good years was 1 in 43; for 10 mixed years about 1 in 38½.*73 In the villages of England which Sir F. M. Eden mentions, the mortality seems to be about 1 in 47 or 48;*74 and in the late returns pursuant to the Population Act, a still greater degree of healthiness appears. Combining these observations together, if we take 1 in 46 or 1 in 48, as the average mortality of the agricultural part of the country, including sickly seasons, this will be the lowest that can be supposed with any degree of probability. But this proportion will certainly be raised to 1 in 40, when we blend it with the mortality of the towns and the manufacturing part of the community, in order to obtain the average for the whole kingdom.


The mortality in London, which includes so considerable a part of the inhabitants of this country, was, according to Dr. Price, at the time he made his calculations, 1 in 20¾; in Norwich 1 in 24; in Northampton 1 in 26½; in Newbury 1 in 27½;*75 in Manchester 1 in 28; in Liverpool 1 in 27½,*76 &c. He observes that the number dying annually in towns is seldom so low as 1 in 28, except in consequence of a rapid increase produced by an influx of people at those periods of life when the fewest die, which is the case with Manchester and Liverpool,*77 and other very flourishing manufacturing towns. In general he thinks that the mortality in great towns may be stated at from 1 in 19*78 to 1 in 22 and 23; in moderate towns, from 1 in 24 to 1 in 28; and in the country villages, from 1 in 40 to 1 in 50.*79


The tendency of Dr. Price to exaggerate the unhealthiness of towns may perhaps be objected to these statements; but the objection seems to be only of weight with regard to London. The accounts from the other towns, which are given, are from documents which his particular opinions could not influence.*80 It should be remarked; however, that there is good reason to believe, that not only London, but the other towns in England, and probably also country villages, were at the time of these calculations less healthy than at present. Dr. William Heberden observes, that the registers of the ten years from 1759 to 1768,*81, from which Dr. Price calculated the probabilities of life in London, indicate a much greater degree of unhealthiness than the registers of late years. And the returns pursuant to the Population Act, even after allowing for great omissions in the burials, exhibit in all our provincial towns, and in the country, a degree of healthiness much greater than had before been calculated. At the same time I cannot but think that 1 in 31, the proportion of mortality for London mentioned in the Observations on the Results of the Population Act,*82 is smaller than the truth. Five thousand are not probably enough to allow for the omissions in the burials; and the absentees in the employments of war and commerce are not sufficiently adverted to. In estimating the proportional mortality the resident population alone should be considered.


There certainly seems to be something in great towns, and even in moderate towns, peculiarly unfavourable to the very early stages of life; and the part of the community, on which the mortality principally falls, seems to indicate that it arises more from the closeness and foulness of the air, which may be supposed to be unfavourable to the tender lungs of children, and the greater confinement which they almost necessarily experience, than from the superior degree of luxury and debauchery usually and justly attributed to towns. A married pair with the best constitutions, who lead the most regular and quiet life, seldom find that their children enjoy the same health in towns as in the country.


In London, according to former calculations, one half of the born died under three years of age; in Vienna and Stockholm under two; in Manchester under five; in Norwich under five: in Northampton under ten.*83 In country villages, on the contrary, half of the born live till thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-six, and above. In the parish of Ackworth, in Yorkshire, it appears, from a very exact account kept by Dr. Lee of the ages at which all died there for 20 years, that half of the inhabitants live to the age of 46;*84 and there is little doubt, that, if the same kind of account had been kept in some of those parishes before mentioned, in which the mortality is so small as 1 in 60, 1 in 66, and even 1 in 75, half of the born would be found to have lived to 50 or 55.


As the calculations respecting the ages to which half of the born live in towns depend more upon the births and deaths which appear in the registers, than upon any estimates of the number of people, they are on this account less liable to uncertainty, than the calculations respecting the proportion of the inhabitants of any place which dies annually.


To fill up the void occasioned by this mortality in towns, and to answer all further demands for population, it is evident that a constant supply of recruits from the country is necessary; and this supply appears in fact to be always flowing in from the redundant births of the country. Even in those towns where the births exceed the deaths, this effect is produced by the marriages of persons not born in the place. At a time when our provincial towns were increasing much less rapidly than at present, Dr. Short calculated that 9/19 of the married were strangers.*85 Of 1618 married men, and 1618 married women, examined at the Westminster infirmary, only 329 of the men and 495 of the women had been born in London.*86


Dr. Price supposes that London with its neighbouring parishes, where the deaths exceed the births, requires a supply of 10,000 persons annually. Graunt, in his time, estimated the supply for London alone at 6,000;*87 and he further observes, that, let the mortality of the city be what it will, arising from plague, or any other great cause of destruction, it always fully repairs its loss in two years.*88


As all these demands, therefore, are supplied from the country, it is evident that we should fall into a very great error, if we were to estimate the proportion of births to deaths for the whole kingdom, by the proportion observed in country parishes, from which there must be such numerous emigrations.


We need not, however, accompany Dr. Price in his apprehensions that the country will be depopulated by these emigrations, at least as long as the funds for the maintenance of agricultural labour remain unimpaired. The proportion of births, as well as the proportion of marriages, clearly proves, that, in spite of our increasing towns and manufactories, the demand on the country for people is by no means very pressing.


If we divide the present population of England and Wales by the average number of baptisms for the last five years,*89 it will appear, that the baptisms are to the population as 1 to very nearly 36;*90 but it is supposed, with reason, that there are great omissions in the baptisms.


Dr. Short estimated the proportion of births to the population of England as one to 28.*91 In the agricultural report of Suffolk, the proportion of births to the population was calculated at 1 to 30. For the whole of Suffolk, according to the late returns, this proportion is not much less than 1 to 33.*92 According to a correct account of thirteen villages from actual enumerations, produced by Sir F. M. Eden, the proportion of births to the population was as 1 to 33; and according to another account on the same authority; taken from towns and manufacturing parishes, as 1 to 27¾.*93 If, combining all these circumstances, and adverting at the same time to the acknowledged deficiency in the registry of births, and the known increase of our population of late years, we suppose the true proportion of the births to the population to be as 1 to 30; then assuming the present mortality to be 1 in 40, as before suggested, we shall nearly keep the proportion of baptisms to burials which appears in the late returns. The births will be to the deaths as 4 to 3 or 13 1/3 to 10, a proportion more than sufficient to account for the increase of population which has taken place since the American war, after allowing for those who may be supposed to have died abroad.


In the Observations on the Results of the Population Act it is remarked that the average duration of life in England appears to have increased in the proportion of 117 to 100,*94 since the year 1780. So great a change, in so short a time, if true, would be a most striking phenomenon. But I am inclined to suspect that the whole of this proportional diminution of burials does not arise from increased healthiness, but is occasioned, in part, by the greater number of deaths which must necessarily have taken place abroad, owing to the very rapid increase of our foreign commerce since this period; and to the great number of persons absent on naval and military employments, and the constant supply of fresh recruits necessary to maintain undiminished so great a force. A perpetual drain of this kind would certainly have a tendency to produce the effect observed in the returns, and might keep the burials stationary, while the births and marriages were increasing with some rapidity. At the same time, as the increase of population since 1780 is incontrovertible, and the present mortality extraordinarily small, I should still be disposed to believe, that much the greater part of the effect is to be attributed to increased healthiness.


A mortality of 1 in 36 is perhaps too small a proportion of deaths for the average of the whole century; but a proportion of births to deaths as 12 to 10, calculated on a mortality of 1 in 36, would double the population of a country in 125 years, and is therefore as great a proportion of births to deaths, as can be true for the average of the whole century. None of the late calculations imply a more rapid increase than this.


We must not suppose, however, that this proportion of births to deaths, or any assumed proportion of births and deaths to the whole population, has continued nearly uniform throughout the century. It appears from the registers of every country which have been kept for any length of time, that considerable variations occur at different periods. Dr. Short, about the middle of the century, estimated the proportion of births to deaths as 11 to 10;*95 and if the births were at the same time a twenty-eighth part of the population, the mortality was then as high as 1 in 30 4/5. We now suppose that the proportion of births to deaths is above 13 to 10; but if we were to assume this proportion as a criterion by which to estimate the increase of population for the next hundred years, we should probably fall into a very gross error. We cannot reasonably suppose that the resources of this country should increase for any long continuance with such rapidity as to allow of a permanent proportion of births to deaths as 13 to 10, unless indeed this proportion were principally caused by great foreign drains.


From all the data that could be collected, the proportion of births to the whole population of England and Wales, has been assumed to be as 1 to 30; but this is a smaller proportion of births than has appeared in the course of this review to take place in any other country except Norway and Switzerland; and it has been hitherto usual with political calculators, to consider a great proportion of births as the surest sign of a vigorous and flourishing state. It is to be hoped, however, that this prejudice will not last long. In countries circumstanced like America or Russia, or in other countries after any great mortality, a large proportion of births is a favourable symptom; but in the average state of a well-peopled territory there cannot well be a worse sign than a large proportion of births, nor can there well be a better sign than a small proportion.


Sir Francis d'Ivernois very justly observes, that, "if the various states of Europe kept and published annually an exact account of their population, noting carefully in a second column the exact age at which the children die, this second column would shew the relative merit of the governments, and the comparative happiness of their subjects. A simple arithmetical statement would then perhaps be more conclusive than all the arguments that could be adduced."*96 In the importance of the inferences to be drawn from such tables, I fully agree with him; and to make these inferences, it is evident, that we should attend less to the column expressing the number of children born, than to the column expressing the number which survived the age of infancy and reached manhood; and this number will almost invariably be the greatest, where the proportion of the births to the whole population is the least. In this point, we rank next after Norway and Switzerland, which, considering the number of our great towns and manufactories, is certainly a very extraordinary fact. As nothing can be more clear, than that all our demands for population are fully supplied, if this be done with a small proportion of births, it is a decided proof of a very small mortality, a distinction on which we may justly pride ourselves. Should it appear from future investigations that I have made too great an allowance for omissions both in the births and in the burials, I shall be extremely happy to find that this distinction, which, other circumstances being the same, I consider as the surest test of happiness and good government, is even greater than I have supposed it to be. In despotic, miserable, or naturally unhealthy countries, the proportion of births to the whole population will generally be found very great.


On an average of the five years ending in 1800, the proportion of births to marriages is 347 to 100. In 1760, it was 362 to 100, from which an inference is drawn, that the registers of births, however deficient, were certainly not more deficient formerly than at present.*97 But a change of this nature, in the appearance of the registers, might arise from causes totally unconnected with deficiencies. If from the acknowledged greater healthiness of the latter part of the century, compared with the middle of it, a greater number of children survived the age of infancy, a greater proportion of the born would of course live to marry, and this circumstance would produce a greater present proportion of marriages compared with the births. On the other hand, if the marriages were rather more prolific formerly than at present, owing to their being contracted at an earlier age, the effect would be a greater proportion of births compared with the marriages. The operation of either or both of these causes would produce exactly the effect observed in the registers: and consequently from the existence of such an effect no inference can justly be drawn against the supposed increasing accuracy of the registers. The influence of the two causes just mentioned on the proportions of annual births to marriages will be explained in a subsequent chapter.


With regard to the general question, whether we have just grounds for supposing that the registry of births and deaths was more deficient in the former part of the century than in the latter part; I should say, that the late returns tend to confirm the suspicion of former inaccuracy, and to shew that the registers of the earlier part of the century, in every point of view, afford very uncertain data on which to ground any estimates of past population. In the years 1710, 1720, and 1730, it appears from the returns that the deaths exceeded the births; and taking the six periods ending in 1750,*98 including the first half of the century, if we compare the sum of the births with the sum of the deaths, the excess of the births is so small, as to be perfectly inadequate to account for the increase of a million, which, upon a calculation from the births alone, is supposed to have taken place in that time.*99 Consequently, either the registers are very inaccurate, and the deficiencies in the births greater than in the deaths; or these periods, each at the distance of ten years, do not express the just average. These particular years may have been more unfavourable with respect to the proportion of births to deaths than the rest; indeed one of them, 1710, is known to have been a year of great scarcity and distress. But if this suspicion, which is very probable, be admitted, so as to affect the six first periods, we may justly suspect the contrary accident to have happened with regard to the three following periods ending with 1780; in which thirty years it would seem, by the same mode of calculation, that an increase of a million and a half had taken place.*100 At any rate it must be allowed, that the three separate years, taken in this manner, can by no means be considered as sufficient to establish a just average; and what rather encourages the suspicion, that these particular years might be more than usually favourable with regard to births is, that the increase of births from 1780 to 1785 is unusually small,*101 which would naturally be the case without supposing a slower progress than before, if the births in 1780 had been accidentally above the average.


On the whole, therefore, considering the probable inaccuracy of the earlier registers, and the very great danger of fallacy in drawing general inferences from a few detached years, I do not think that we can depend upon any estimates of past population, founded on a calculation from the births, till after the year 1780, when every following year is given; and a just average of the births may be obtained. As a further confirmation of this remark I will just observe, that in the final summary of the abstracts from the registers of England and Wales it appears, that in the year 1790, the total number of births was 248,774, in the year 1795, 247,218, and in 1800, 247,147.*102 Consequently if we had been estimating the population from the births, taken at three separate periods of five years, it would have appeared, that the population during the last ten years had been regularly decreasing, though we have very good reason to believe, that it has increased considerably.


In the Observations on the Results of the Population Act,*103 a table is given of the population of England and Wales throughout the last century, calculated from the births; but for the reasons given above, little reliance can be placed upon it; and for the population at the revolution, I should be inclined to place more dependence on the old calculations from the number of houses.


It is possible, indeed, though not probable, that these estimates of the population at the different periods of the century may not be very far from the truth, because opposite errors may have corrected each other; but the assumption of the uniform proportion of births on which they are founded is false on the face of the calculations themselves. According to these calculations, the increase of population was more rapid in the period from 1760 to 1780, than from 1780 to 1800; yet it appears, that the proportion of deaths about the year 1780 was greater than in 1800 in the ratio of 117 to 100. Consequently the proportion of births before 1780 must have been much greater than in 1800, or the population in that period could not possibly have increased faster. This overthrows at once the supposition of any thing like uniformity in the proportion of births.


I should indeed have supposed from the analogy of other countries, and the calculations of Mr. King and Dr. Short, that the proportion of births at the beginning and in the middle of the century was greater than at the end. But this supposition would, in a calculation from the births, give a smaller population in the early part of the century than is given in the Results of the Population Act, though there are strong reasons for supposing that the population there given is too small. According to Davenant, the number of houses in 1690 was 1,319,215, and there is no reason to think that this calculation erred on the side of excess. Allowing only five to a house instead of 5 3/5, which is supposed to be the proportion at present, this would give a population of above six millions and a half, and it is perfectly incredible, that from this time to the year 1710, the population should have diminished nearly a million and a half. It is far more probable that the omissions in the births should have been much greater than at present, and greater than in the deaths; and this is further confirmed by the observation before alluded to, that in the first half of the century the increase of population, as calculated from the births, is much greater than is warranted by the proportion of births to deaths. In every point of view, therefore, the calculations from the births are little to be depended on.


It must indeed have appeared to the reader, in the course of this work, that registers of births or deaths, excluding any suspicion of deficiencies, must at all times afford very uncertain data for an estimate of population. On account of the varying circumstances of every country, they are both precarious guides. From the greater apparent regularity of the births, political calculators have generally adopted them as the ground of their estimates in preference to the deaths. Necker, in estimating the population of France, observes, that an epidemic disease, or an emigration, may occasion temporary differences in the deaths, and that therefore the number of births is the most certain criterion.*104 But the very circumstance of the apparent regularity of the births in the registers will now and then lead into great errors. If in any country we can obtain registers of burials for two or three years together, a plague or mortal epidemic will always shew itself, from the very sudden increase of the deaths during its operation, and the still greater diminution of them afterwards. From these appearances, we should of course be directed, not to include the whole of a great mortality in any very short term of years. But there would be nothing of this kind to guide us in the registers of births; and after a country had lost an eighth part of its population by a plague, an average of the five or six subsequent years might shew an increase in the number of births, and our calculations would give the population the highest at the very time that it was the lowest. This appears very strikingly in many of Sussmilch's tables, and most particularly in a table for Prussia and Lithuania, which I shall insert in a subsequent chapter; where, in the year following to the loss of one third of the population, the births were considerably increased, and in an average of five years but very little diminished; and this at a time when, of course, the country could have made but a very small progress towards recovering its former population.


We do not know indeed of any extraordinary mortality which has occurred in England since 1700; and there are reasons for supposing that the proportions of the births and deaths to the population during the last century have not experienced such great variations as in many countries on the continent; at the same time it is certain that the sickly seasons which are known to have occurred, would, in proportion to the degree of their fatality, produce similar effects; and the change which has been observed in the mortality of late years, should dispose us to believe, that similar changes might formerly have taken place respecting the births, and should instruct us to be extremely cautious in applying the proportions, which are observed to be true at present, to past or future periods.

Notes for this chapter

This chapter was written in 1802, just after the first enumeration, the results of which were published in 1801.
Observ. on the Results of the Population Act, p. 11, printed in 1801. The answers to the Population Act have at length happily rescued the question of the population of this country from the obscurity in which it had been so long involved, and have afforded some very valuable data to the political calculator. At the same time it must be confessed that they are not so complete as entirely to exclude reasonings and conjectures respecting the inferences which are to be drawn from them. It is earnestly to be hoped that the subject may not be suffered to drop after the present effort. Now that the first difficulty is removed, an enumeration every ten years might be rendered easy and familiar; and the registers of births, deaths and marriages might be received every year, or at least every five years. I am persuaded, that more inferences are to be drawn respecting the internal state of a country from such registers than we have yet been in the habit of supposing.
New Observ. on Bills of Mortality, p. 265. 8v0. 1750.
New Observ. on Bills of Mortality, p. 247. 8vo. 1750.
The population is taken at 9,168,000, and the annual deaths at 186,000. (Obs. on the Results of Pop. Act. p. 6 and 9.)
Ueber die Bevölkerung der Europaischen Staaten, p. 127.
Sussmilch, Göttliche Ordnung, vol. iii. p. 60.
P. 6.
It is by no means surprising, that our population should have been underrated formerly, at least by any person who attempted to estimate it from the proportion of births or deaths. Till the late Population Act no one could have imagined that the actual returns of annual deaths, which might naturally have been expected to be as accurate in this country as in others, would turn out to be less than a 49th part of the population. If the actual returns for France, even so long ago as the ten years ending with 1780, had been multiplied by 49, she would have appeared at that time to have a population of above 40 millions. The average of annual deaths was 818,491. Necker, de l'Administration des Finances, tom. i. c. ix. p. 255. 12mo. 1785.
Price's Observ. on Revers. Paym. vol. ii. note, p. 10. First additional Essay, 4th edit. In particular parishes, private communications are perhaps more to be depended upon than public returns; because in general those clergymen only are applied to, who are in some degree interested in the subject, and of course take more pains to be accurate.
New Observations on Bills of Mortality, table ix. p. 133.
Göttliche Ordnung, vol. i. c. ii. s. xxi. p. 74.
Estimate of the Number of Inhabitants in G. Britain.
Price's Observ. on Revers. Paym. vol. i. note, p. 272.
Id. vol. ii. First additional Essay, note, p. 4.
Price's Observ. on Revers. Paym. vol. ii. First additional Essay, note, p. 4.
The mortality at Stockholm was, according to Wargentin, 1 in 19.
Observ. on Revers. Paym. vol. ii. First additional Essay, p. 4.
An estimate of the population or mortality of London, before the late enumeration, always depended much on conjecture and opinion, on account of the great acknowledged deficiencies in the registers; but this was not the case in the same degree with the other towns here named. Dr. Price, in allusion to a diminishing population, on which subject it appears that he has so widely erred, says very candidly, that perhaps he may have been insensibly influenced to maintain an opinion once advanced.
Increase and Decrease of Diseases, p. 32, 4to. 180
P. 13.
Price's Observ. on Revers. Paym. vol. i. p. 264-266. 4th edit.
Id. vol. i. p. 268.
New Observations on Bills of Mortality, p. 76.
Price's Observ. on Revers. Paym. vol. ii. p. 17.
Short's New Observ. Abstract from Graunt, p. 277.
Id. p. 276.
This was written before the omitted returns were added in 1810. These additions make the births in 1800 amount to 263,000, instead of 255,426, and increase the proportion of registered births to 1 in 35.—See the next chapter.
Average medium of baptisms for the last five years 255,426. Pop. 9,198,000. (Observ. on Results, p. 9.)
New Observ. p. 267.
In private inquiries, dissenters and those who do not christen their children, will not of course be reckoned in the population; consequently such inquiries, as far as they extend, will more accurately express the true proportion of births; and we are fairly justified in making use of them, in order to estimate the acknowledged deficiency of births in the public returns.
Estimate of the Number of Inhabitants in Great Britain, &c. p. 27.
P. 6.
New Observ. tables ii. and iii. p. 22 and 44; Price's Observ. on Revers. Paym. vol. ii. p. 311.
Tableau des Pertes, &c. c. ii. p. 16.
Observ. on the Results of the Population Act, p. 8.
Population Abstracts, Parish Registers. Final summary, p. 455.
Observ. on the Results of the Population Act, p. 9.
Observ. on the Results of the Population Act, p, 9.
Population Abstracts, Parish Registers, p. 455.
P. 9.
De l'Administration des Finances, tom. i. c. ix. p. 252. 12mo. 1783. .

End of Notes

26 of 60

Book II, Chapter IX

Of the Checks to Population in England (continued).


The returns of the Population Act in 1811 undoubtedly presented extraordinary results. They shewed a greatly accelerated rate of progress, and a greatly improved healthiness of the people, notwithstanding the increase of the towns and the increased proportion of the population engaged in manufacturing employments. They thus furnished another striking instance of the readiness with which population starts forwards, under almost any weight, when the resources of a country are rapidly increasing.


The amount of the population in 1800, together with the proportions of births, deaths and marriages, given in the registers, had made it appear that the population had been for some time increasing at a rate rather exceeding what would result from a proportion of births to deaths as 4 to 3, with a mortality of 1 in 40.


These proportions would add to the population of a country every year 120th part; and if they were to continue, would, according to table ii., ch. xi. double the population in every successive period of 83½ years. This is a rate of progress which in a rich and well-peopled country might reasonably be expected to diminish rather than to increase. But instead of any such diminution, it appears that as far as 1810 it had been considerably accelerated.


In 1810, according to the returns from each parish, with the additions of 1/30 for the soldiers, sailors, &c., the population of England and Wales was estimated at 10,488,000,*1 which, compared with 9,168,000, the population of 1800, estimated in a similar manner, shews an increase in the ten years of 1,320,000.


The registered baptisms during ten years were 2,878,906, and the registered burials 1,950,189. The excess of the births is therefore 928,717, which falls very considerably short of the increase shewn by the two enumerations. This deficiency could only be occasioned either by the enumeration in 1800 being below the truth, or by the inaccuracy of the registers of births and burials, or by the operation of these two causes combined; as it is obvious that, if the population in 1800 were estimated correctly, and the registers contained all the births and burials, the difference must exceed rather than fall short of the real addition to the population; that is, it would exceed it exactly by the number of persons dying abroad in the army, navy, &c.


There is reason to believe that both causes had a share in producing the effect observed, though the latter, that is, the inaccuracy of the registers, in much the greatest degree.


In estimating the population throughout the century,*2 the births have been assumed to bear the same proportion at all times to the number of people. It has been seen that such an assumption might often lead to a very incorrect estimate of the population of a country at different and distant periods. As the population however is known to have increased with great rapidity from 1800 to 1810, it is probable that the proportion of births did not essentially diminish during that period. But if, taking the last enumeration as correct, we compare the births of 1810 with the births of 1800, the result will imply a larger population in 1800 than is given in the enumeration for that year.


Thus the average of the last five years' births to 1810 is 297,000, and the average of the five years' births to 1800 is 263,000. But 297,000 is to 263,000 as 10,488,000, the population of 1810, to 9,287,000, which must therefore have been the population in 1800, if the proportion of births be assumed to be the same, instead of 9,198,000, the result of the enumeration. It is further to be observed that the increase of population from 1795 to 1800 is according to the table unusually small, compared with most of the preceding periods of five years. And a slight inspection of the registers will shew that the proportion of births for five years from 1795, including the diminished numbers of 1796 and 1800, was more likely to be below than above the general average. For these reasons, together with the general impression on the subject, it is probable that the enumeration in 1800 was short of the truth, and perhaps the population at that time may be safely taken at as much as 9,287,000 at the least, or about 119,000 greater than the returns gave it.


But even upon this supposition, neither the excess of births above the deaths in the whole of the ten years, nor the proportion of births to deaths, as given in the registers, will account for an increase from 9,287,000, to 10,488,000. Yet it is not probable that the increase has been much less than is shewn by the proportion of the births at the two periods. Some allowance must therefore necessarily be made for omissions in the registers of births and deaths, which are known to be very far from correct, particularly the registers of births.


There is reason to believe that there are few or no omissions in the register of marriages; and if we suppose the omissions in the births to be one-6th, this will preserve a proportion of the births to the marriages as 4 to 1, a proportion which appears to be satisfactorily established upon other grounds;*3 but if we are warranted in this supposition, it will be fair to take the omissions in the deaths at such a number as will make the excess of the births above the deaths in the ten years accord with the increase of population estimated by the increase of the births.


The registered births in the ten years, as was mentioned before, are 2,878,906, which increased by one-6th will be 3,358,723. The registered burials are 1,950,189, which increased by one-12th will be 2,112,704. The latter subtracted from the former will give 1,246,019 for the excess of births, and the increase of population in the ten years, which number added to 9,287,000, the corrected population of 1800, will give 10,533,019, forty-five thousand above the enumeration of 1810, leaving almost exactly the number which in the course of the ten years appears to have died abroad. This number has been calculated generally at about 4¼, per cent. on the male births; but in the present case there are the means of ascertaining more accurately the number of males dying abroad during the period in question. In the last population returns the male and female births and deaths are separated; and from the excess of the male births above the female births, compared with the male and female deaths, it appears that forty-five thousand males died abroad.*4


The assumed omissions therefore in the births and burials seem to answer so far very well.


It remains to see whether the same suppositions will give such a proportion of births to deaths, with such a rate of mortality, as will also account for an increase of numbers in ten years from 9,287,000 to 10,488,000.


If we divide the population of 1810 by the average births of the preceding five years, with the addition of one-6th, it will appear that the proportion of births to the population is as 1 to 30. But it is obvious that if the population be increasing with some rapidity, the average of births for five years, compared with the population at the end of such period, must give the proportion of births too small. And further, there is always a probability that a proportion which is correct for five years may not be correct for ten years. In order to obtain the true proportion applicable to the progress of population during the period in question, we must compare the annual average of the births, for the whole term, with the average or mean population of the whole term.


The whole number of births, with the addition of 1/6, is, as before stated, 3,358,723, and the annual average during the ten years 335,872. The mean population, or the mean between 10,488,000 (the population of 1810) and 9,287,000 (the corrected population of 1800) is 9,887,000; and the latter number divided by the average of the births will give a proportion of births to the population as 1 to rather less than 29½, instead of 30, which will make a considerable difference.


In the same manner, if we divide the population of 1810 by the average of the burials for the preceding five years, with the addition of one-12th, the mortality will appear to be as 1 in nearly 50; but upon the same grounds as with regard to the births, an average of the burials for five years, compared with the population at the end of such term, must give the proportion of burials too small; and further, it is known, in the present case, that the proportion of burials to the population by no means continued the same during the whole time. In fact the registers clearly shew an improvement in the healthiness of the country, and a diminution of mortality progressively through the ten years; and while the average number of annual births increased from 263,000 to 287,000, or more than one-8th, the burials increased only from 192,000 to 196,000 or one-48th. It is obviously necessary then for the purpose in view to compare the average mortality with the average or mean population.


The whole number of burials in the ten years, with the addition of one-12th, is, as was before stated, 2,112,704, and the mean population 9,887,000. The latter, divided by the former, gives the annual average of burials compared with the population as 1 to rather less than 47. But a proportion of births as 1 to 29½, with a proportion of deaths as 1 to 47, will add yearly to the numbers of a country one-79th of the whole, and in ten years will increase the population from 9,287,000 to 10,531,000, leaving 43,000 for the deaths abroad, and agreeing very nearly with the calculation founded on the excess of births.*5


We may presume therefore that the assumed omissions in the births and deaths from 1800 to 1810 are not far from the truth.


But if these omissions of one-6th for the births, and one-12th for the burials, may be considered as nearly right for the period between 1800 and 1810, it is probable that they may be applied without much danger of error to the period between 1780 and 1800, and may serve to correct some of the conclusions founded on the births alone. Next to an accurate enumeration, a calculation from the excess of births above the deaths is the most to be depended upon. Indeed when the registers contain all the births and deaths, and there are the means of setting out from a known population, it is obviously the same as an actual enumeration; and where a nearly correct allowance can be made for the omissions in the registers, and for the deaths abroad, a much nearer approximation to it may be obtained in this way than from the proportion of births to the whole population, which is known to be liable to such frequent variations.


The whole number of births returned in the twenty years, from 1780 to 1800, is 5,014,899, and of the burials 3,840,455. If we add one-6th to the former, and one-12th to the latter, the two numbers will be 5,850,715, and 4,160,492; and subtracting the latter from the former, the excess of the births above the deaths will be 1,690,223. Adding this excess to the population of 1780, as calculated in Mr. Rickman's tables, from the births, which is 7,953,000, the result will be 9,643,000, a number which, after making a proper allowance for the deaths abroad, is very much above the population of 1800, as before corrected, and still more above the number which is given in the table as of the enumeration.


But if we proceed upon the safer ground just suggested, and, taking the corrected population of 1800 as established, subtract from it the excess of the births during the twenty years, diminished by the probable number of deaths abroad, which in this case will be about 124,000, we shall have the number 7,721,000 for the population of 1780, instead of 7,953,000; and there is good reason to believe that this is nearer the truth;*6 and that not only in 1780, but in many of the intermediate periods, the estimate from the births has represented the population as greater, and increasing more irregularly, than would be found to be true, if recourse could be had to enumerations. This has arisen from the proportion of births to the population being variable, and, on the whole, greater in 1780, and at other periods during the course of the twenty years, than it was in 1800.


In 1795, for instance, the population is represented to be 9,055,000, and in 1800, 9,168,000;*7 but if we suppose the first number to be correct, and add the excess of the births above the deaths in the five intervening years, even without making any allowance for omissions in the registers, we shall find that the population in 1800 ought to have been 9,398,000, instead of 9,168,000; or if we take the number returned for 1800 as correct, it will appear, by subtracting from it the excess of births during the five preceding years, that the population in 1795 ought to have been 8,825,000, instead of 9,055,000. Hence it follows, that the estimate from the births in 1795 cannot be correct.


To obtain the population at that period, the safest way is to apply the before-mentioned corrections to the registers, and, having made the allowance of 4¼ per cent. on the male births for the deaths abroad, subtract the remaining excess of the births from the corrected returns of 1800. The result in this case will be 8,831,086 for the population of 1795, implying an increase in the five years of 455,914, instead of only 1,13,000, as shewn by the table calculated from the births.


If we proceed in the same manner with the period from 1790 to 1795, we shall find that the excess of births above the deaths (after the foregoing corrections have been applied, and an allowance has been made of 4¼ per cent. upon the male births for the deaths abroad), will be 415,669, which, subtracted from 8,831,086, the population of 1795, as above estimated, leaves 8,415,417 for the population of 1790.


Upon the same principle, the excess of the births above the deaths in the interval between 1785 and 1790 will turn out to be 416,776. The population in 1785 will therefore be 7,998,641. And in like manner the excess of the births above the deaths in the interval between 1780 and 1785 will be 277,544, and the population in 1780 7,721,097.


The two tables therefore, of the population, from 1780 to 1810, will stand thus:
Table, calculated from the births alone, in the Preliminary Observations to the Population Abstracts, printed in 1811. Table, calculated from the excess of the births above the deaths, after an allowance made for the omissions in the registers, and the deaths abroad.
Population in Population in
1780 7,953,000 1780 7,721,000
1785 8,016,000 1785 7,998,000
1790 8,675,000 1790 8,415,000
1795 9,055,000 1795 8,831,000
1800 9,168,000 1800 9,287,000
1805 9,828,000 1805 9,837,000
1810 10,488,000 1810 10,488,000


In the first table, or table calculated from the births alone, the additions made to the population in each period of five years are as follow;—
From 1780 to 1785 63,000
From 1785 to 1790 659,000
From 1790 to 1795 380,000
From 1795 to 1800 113,000
From 1800 to 1805 660,000
From 1805 to 1810 660,000


In the second table, or table calculated from the excess of the births above the deaths, after the proposed corrections have been applied, the additions made to the population in each period of five years will stand thus:—
From 1780 to 1785 277,000
From 1785 to 1790 417,000
From 1790 to 1795 416,000
From 1795 to 1800 456,000
From 1800 to 1805 550,000
From 1805 to 1810 651,000


The progress of the population, according to this latter table, appears much more natural and probable than according to the former.


It is in no respect likely that, in the interval between 1780 and 1785, the increase of the population should only have been 63,000, and in the next period 659,000; or that, in the interval between 1795 and 1800, it should have been only 113,000, and in the next period 660,000. But it is not necessary to dwell on probabilities; the most distinct proofs may be brought to shew that, whether the new table be right or not, the old table must be wrong. Without any allowances being made for omissions in the registers, the excess of the births above the deaths, in the period from 1780 to 1785, shews an increase of 193,000, instead of 63,000. And, on the other hand, no allowances for omissions in the registers, that could with the slightest degree of probability be supposed, would make the excess of births above the deaths in the period from 1785 to 1790 equal to 659,000. Making no allowance for omissions, this excess only amounts to 317,306; and if we were to suppose the omissions in the births one-4th, instead of one-6th, and that there were no omissions in the registers of burials, and that no one died abroad, the excess would still fall short of the number stated by many thousands.


The same results would follow, if we were to estimate the progress of population during these periods by the proportion of births to deaths, and the rate of mortality. In the first period the increase would turn out to be very much greater than the increase stated, and in the other very much less.


Similar observations may be made with regard to some of the other periods in the old table, particularly that between 1795 and 1800, which has been already noticed.


It will be found on the other hand, that, if the proportion of births to deaths during each period be estimated with tolerable accuracy and compared with the mean population, the rate of the progress of the population determined by this criterion will, in every period, agree very nearly with the rate of progress determined by the excess of the births above the deaths, after applying the proposed corrections. And it is further worthy of remark that, if the corrections proposed should be in some degree inaccurate, as is probable, the errors arising from any such inaccuracies are likely to be very much less considerable than those which must necessarily arise from the assumption on which the old table is founded; namely, that the births bear at all times the same proportion to the population.


Of course I do not mean to reject any estimates of population formed in this way, when no better materials are to be found; but, in the present case, the registers of the burials as well as baptisms are given every year, as far back as 1780, and these registers, with the firm ground of the last enumeration to stand upon, afford the means of giving a more correct table of the population from 1780 than was before furnished, and of shewing at the same time the uncertainty of estimates from the births alone, particularly with a view to the progress of population during particular periods. In estimating the whole population of a large country, two or three hundred thousand are not of much importance; but, in estimating the rate of increase during a period of five or ten years, an error to this amount is quite fatal. It will be allowed, I conceive, to make an essential difference in our conclusions respecting the rate of increase for any five years which we may fix upon, whether the addition made to the population during the term in question is 63,000 or 277,000, 115,000 or 456,000, 659,000 or 417,000.


With regard to the period of the century previous to 1780, as the registers of the baptisms and burials are not returned for every year, it is not possible to apply the same corrections. And it will be obvious that, in the table calculated from the births previous to this period, when the registers are only given for insulated years at some distance from each other, very considerable errors may arise, not merely from the varying proportion of the births to the population, on averages of five years, but from the individual years produced not representing with tolerable correctness these averages.*8 A very slight glance at the valuable table of baptisms, burials and marriages, given in the Preliminary Observations to the Population Abstracts,*9 will shew how very little dependence ought to be placed upon inferences respecting the population drawn from the number of births, deaths or marriages in individual years. If, for instance, we were estimating the population in the two years 1800 and 1801, compared with the two following years 1802 and 1803, from the proportion of marriages to the population, assuming this proportion to be always the same, it would appear that, if the population in the first two years were nine millions, in the second two years immediately succeeding it would be considerably above twelve millions, and thus it would seem to have increased above three millions, or more than one-third, in this short interval. Nor would the result of an estimate, formed from the births for the two years 1800 and 1801, compared with the two years 1803 and 1804, be materially different; at least such an estimate would indicate an increase of two millions six hundred thousand in three years.


The reader can hardly be surprised at these results, if he recollects that the births, deaths and marriages bear but a small proportion to the whole population; and that consequently variations in either of these, which may take place from temporary causes, cannot possibly be accompanied by similar variations in, the whole mass of the population. An increase in the births of one-third, which might occur in a single year, instead of increasing the population one-third, would only perhaps increase it one-eightieth or ninetieth.


It follows therefore, as I stated in the last chapter, that the table of the population for the century previous to 1780, calculated from the returns of the births alone, at the distance of ten years each, can only be considered as a very rough approximation towards the truth, in the absence of better materials, and can scarcely in any degree be depended upon for the comparative rate of increase at particular periods.


The population in 1810, compared with that of 1800, corrected as proposed in this chapter, implies a less rapid increase than the difference between the two enumerations; and it has further appeared that the assumed proportion of births to deaths as 47 to 29½ is rather below than above the truth. Yet this proportion is quite extraordinary for a rich and well-peopled territory. It would add to the population of a country one-79th every year, and, were it to continue, would, according to table ii. ch. xi. of this book, double the number of inhabitants in less than fifty-five years.


This is a rate of increase, which in the nature of things cannot be permanent. It has been occasioned by the stimulus of a greatly-increased demand for labour, combined with a greatly-increased power of production, both in agriculture and manufactures. These are the two elements which form the most effective encouragement to a rapid increase of population. What has taken place is a striking illustration of the principle of population, and a proof that in spite of great towns, manufacturing occupations, and the gradually-acquired habits of an opulent anti luxuriant people, if the resources of a country will admit of a rapid increase, anal if these resources are so advantageously distributed as to occasion a constantly-increasing demand for labour, the population will not fail to keep pace with them.



Since the publication of the last edition of this work in 1817, a third census of the population has taken place, and the results are highly worthy of our attention.


According to the enumeration in 1821, and the corrected returns of 1811, and 1801, as given in the preliminary observations to the published account by Mr. Rickman, the population of Great Britain was, in 1801, 10,942,646; in 1811, 12,596,803, and in 1821, 14,391,631.


These numbers taken as first stated, and including the very large numbers of males added in 1811 for the army and navy, give an increase of 15 per cent. in the ten years, from 1800 to 1811, and only 14¼ per cent. from 1810 to 1821.*10 But it is calculated that out of the 640,500 males added for the army, navy, and merchant service, above one-third must have been Irish and foreigners. Adding therefore only 1/30 to the resident population in 1801 and 1811, and on account of the peace allowing only 1/50 for the absent males in 1821, the population of England and Wales at the three different periods, without reference to any supposed deficiency in the first enumeration, will stand thus: in 1801, 9,168,000; in 1811, 10,502,500; and in 1821, 12,218,500, giving an increase in the interval between 1800 and 1811 of 14¼ per cent. and in the interval between 1810 and 1821, of 16 1/3 percent. The first of these two rates of increase would double the population in 51 and the other in 46 years. As, however, there must always be some uncertainty respecting the proportion of the persons employed in the army, navy and merchant service, properly belonging to the resident population, and as the male population is on other accounts more frequently on the move than the female, it has been judiciously proposed to estimate the rate of increase by the female population alone. The number of females in Great Britain was in 1801, 5,492,354; in 1811, 6,262,716; and in 1821, 7,253,728, giving an increase in the first period of 14.02 per cent. and in the second of 15.82.*11


The increase of Scotland taken by itself was in the first period 13 per cent. and in the second 14½. The increase of England and Wales exclusive of Scotland appears to be almost exactly the same; particularly in the second period, whether we estimate it from the females alone, or from the whole population, with the proposed allowances for the army and navy, &c. a proof that these allowances are not far from the truth. At the same time, it should perhaps be remarked, that if, on account of the war, during the greater part of the period from 1800 to 1821, there must have been a greater portion of the male population destroyed than usual, the increase of the whole population ought not to be so great in proportion as the increase of the females; and that if such an increase appears, it is probably owing to too great a number of males having been added to the resident population for the army and navy, or to an influx from Scotland and Ireland.


The numbers above-mentioned, and the rates of increase, have been stated as given by Mr. Rickman in the Preliminary Observations to the Population Abstracts. But in the former part of this chapter, I assumed on what appeared to me to be sufficient grounds that the first enumeration was not so correct as that of 1811, and it is probable that the enumeration of 1811 is not quite so correct as that of 1821. In this case the rates of increase in the two periods will not be so great as above stated, but still they will appear to be very extraordinary.


According to the assumed estimate the population, as given in the enumeration of 1801, was about 119,000 short of the truth; and if on this ground we take the female population of the census in 1801 as deficient 60,000, and suppose that in 1811 it was deficient 30,000, the numbers of females in England and Wales at the different periods will stand thus: In 1801, 4,687,867; in 1811, 5,313,219; and in 1821, 6,144,709; giving an increase of 13.3 per cent. in the period from 1800 to 1811, and of 15.6 per cent. in the period from 1800 to 1821; making the rate of increase in the former period such as, if continued, would double the population in about 55 years, and in the latter, such as would double it in 48 years. Taking the whole 20 years together, the rate of increase would be such as, if continued, would double the population in about 51 years.


This is no doubt a most extraordinary rate of increase, considering the actual population of the country compared with its territory, and the number of its great towns and manufactories. It is less however than that which is stated in the Preliminary Observations to the Population Abstracts. Yet even according to this slower rate of increase it is necessary to suppose that the omissions in the parish registers, particularly in regard to the births, have latterly rather increased than diminished; and this is rendered probable by a statement of Mr. Rickman in the Preliminary Observations. He says, "the question respecting unentered baptisms and burials showed a difference of nearly four to one in the degree of deficiency in the year 1811, the annual average number of unentered baptisms (as stated at the end of the several counties) having been 14,860; of burials, (setting aside London) 3,899; at present the proportion is five to one in the degree of deficiency; the annual average number of unentered baptisms (as stated at the end of the several counties) being 23,066; of burials, (setting aside London) 4,657." And he goes on to say, "Nor does this represent the full amount or proportion of unentered baptisms, the clergy of the most populous places, especially where many of the inhabitants are dissenters, usually declining to hazard an estimate." A burial ground, on the contrary, is a visible object, and among the persons connected with it, the clergyman can usually procure an account (more or less accurate) of the number of interments.


On these grounds it would appear probable that, owing to the increasing number of dissenters, or other causes, the omissions in the registers of births had been lately increasing, rather than diminishing. Yet it has been thought that since the Act of 1812 the registers of births have been more carefully kept; and it is certain that, in the 10 years ending with 1820, the proportion of births to marriages is greater, though the proportions of births and marriages to the whole population are both less than they were either in 1800, or in the ten years ending with 1810. Under these circumstances, it may be advisable to wait for further documents before any fresh conclusion is drawn respecting the probable amount of omissions in the births and burials. What may be considered as certain is, that, whereas the supposed admissions of one sixth in the births and one twelfth in the burials, with a proper allowance for the deaths abroad, are more than sufficient to account for the increase of population during the twenty years from 1781 to 1801, according to the numbers stated by Mr. Rickman, they are not sufficient to account for the increase of population in the 20 years from 1801 to 1821, according to the enumerations.


I have heard it surmised that the enumerations, particularly the two last, may by possibility exceed rather than fall short of the truth, owing to persons being reckoned more than once, from their having different places of residence. It must be allowed, that this supposition would account for the fact of the diminished proportions of births and marriages to the whole population, notwithstanding the apparent increase of that population with extraordinary rapidity. But the same diminished proportions would take place owing to a diminished mortality; and as a diminished mortality has been satisfactorily established on other grounds, it will fairly account for much of what appears. And if anything can justly be attributed to over enumerations, it must be of trifling amount.


That there are great omissions both in the births and burials, and greater in the former than in the latter, it is quite impossible to doubt. The testimony of all the clergy concerned in making the returns was, according to Mr. Rickman, uniform in this respect. And if we suppose only the same proportion of omissions from 1801 to 1821 as we supposed from 1781 to 1801, and commence with the census of 1801, on the presumption that the number of double entries in that enumeration would be balanced probably by the number of deficiencies, it will appear that the excess of the births alone, excluding the deaths abroad, would bring the population to within 184,404 of the enumeration of 1821, and including the allowance for deaths abroad, (which, in this case, from a comparison of the excess of male births with the male and female deaths, appears to be 128,651,) to within 313,055.


On the supposition of such an amount of double entries unbalanced by deficiencies in the two last returns, the enumerations would still shew a very extraordinary increase of population. The rate of increase in the period from 1801 to 1811 would be nearly 13 per cent. (12.88) which would double the population in about 57 years; and in the period from 1811 to 1821, it would be very nearly 15 per cent. (14.95), which would double the population in 50 years.


Under the uncertainty in which we must remain at present as to whether the enumerations partially err in defect or in excess, I have not thought it advisable to alter the amended table of the population from 1781 to 1811, given in the former part of this chapter. It is founded on a principle so very much safer than an estimate for the births alone, that it must at any rate shew the progress of the population more correctly than that given in the Preliminary Observations.


The more indeed the population returns are considered, the more uncertain will appear all estimates of the past population founded on the assumptions that the proportion of the births will always be nearly the same. If the population since the year 1801 were to be estimated in the same way as Mr. Rickman has estimated it before that year, it would appear that the population in 1821, instead of being, according to the enumeration, 12,218,500, would only be 11,625,334, that is, 593,166 or nearly 600,000 short of the enumeration of 1821. And the reason is, that the proportion of births to the population, which, estimated in the way suggested by Mr. Rickman, and without allowing for omissions, was, in 1821, only as 1 to 36.58, was, in 1801, as much as 1 to 34.8.


Supposing the enumerations to be correct, the varying proportions of the births (without allowance for omissions, and comparing the population at the end of each term with the average births for the five preceding years,) would be for 1801 as 1 to 34.8, for 1811 as 1 to 35.3, and for 1821 as 1 to 36.58.


Similar and even greater variations will be found to take place in regard to the proportions of the marriages to the population.


In 1801, the proportion was 1 to 122.2, in 1811, 1 to 126.6, in 1821, 1 to 131.1; and if, assuming that, for the 20 years ending with 1820, the marriages, in which it is supposed that there are very few omissions, would remain in the same proportion to the population as in 1801, we had estimated the population by the marriages, the numbers in 1821, instead of being 12,218,500, would only have been 11,377,548, that is, 840,952 short of the enumeration of 1821.


It appears, then, that if we can put any trust in our enumerations,*12 no reliance can be placed on an estimate of past population founded on the proportions of the births, deaths, or marriages: The same causes which have operated to alter so essentially these proportions during the 20 years for which we have enumerations may have operated in an equal degree before; and it will be generally found true, that the increasing healthiness of a country will not only diminish the proportions of deaths, but the proportions of births and marriages.

Notes for this chapter

See the Population Abstracts published in 1811, and the valuable Preliminary Observations by Mr. Rickman.
See a table of the population throughout the century, in page xxv. of the Preliminary Observations to the Population Abstracts, printed in 1811.
See the Preliminary Observations on the Population Abstracts, p. xxvi.
See Population Abstracts, 1811, page 196 of the Parish Register Abstract.

It is certainly very extraordinary that a smaller proportion of males than usual should appear to have died abroad from 1800 to 1810; but as the registers for this period seem to prove it, I have made my calculations accordingly.

A general formula for estimating the population of a country at any distance from a certain period, under given circumstances of births and mortality, may be found in Bridge's Elements of Algebra, p. 225.

Log. A = log. P + n log. 1 +
m - b


A representing the required population at the end of any number of years; n the number of years; P the actual population at the given period; 1/m the proportion of yearly deaths to the population; or ratio of mortality; 1/b the proportion of yearly births to the population, or ratio of births.

In the present case, P = 9,287,000; n = 10; m = 47; b = 29½.

m - b 1 m - b 80

  and 1 +   
mb 79 mb 79

The log. of 80/79 = 00546;   \   n log. 1 +
m - b


= 05460. Log. P. = 6.96787, which added to 05460 = 7.02247 the log of A, the number answering to which is 10,531,000.

The very small difference between the population of 1780 and 1785, as given in the table, seems strongly to imply that one of the two estimates is erroneous.
Population Abstracts, 1811. Preliminary View, p. xxv.
From the one or other of these causes, I have little doubt, that the numbers in the table, for 1760 and 1780, which imply so rapid an increase of population in that interval, do not bear the proper relation to each other. It is probable that the number given for 1770 is too great.
P. 20.
Preliminary Observations, p. viii.
The migrations into England from Ireland and Scotland may account for some portion of the excess of the enumerations above what is warranted by the excess of the births above the deaths. .

End of Notes

27 of 60

Book II, Chapter X

Of the Checks to Population in Scotland and Ireland.


An examination, in detail, of the statistical account of Scotland, would furnish numerous illustrations of the principle of population; but I have already extended this part of the work so much, that I am fearful of tiring the patience of my readers; and shall therefore confine my remarks in the present instance to a few circumstances which have happened to strike me.


On account of the acknowledged omissions in the registers of births, deaths and marriages in most of the parishes of Scotland, few just inferences can be drawn from them. Many give extraordinary results. In the parish of Crossmichael*13 in Kircudbright, the mortality appears to be only 1 in 98, and the yearly marriages 1 in 192. These proportions would imply the most unheard-of healthiness, and the most extraordinary operation of the preventive check; but there can be but little doubt that they are principally occasioned by the omissions in the registry of burials, and the celebration of a part of the marriages in other parishes.


In general, however, it appears, from registers which are supposed to be accurate, that in the country parishes the mortality is small; and that the proportions of 1 in 45, 1 in 50, and 1 in 55, are not uncommon. According to a table of the probabilities of life, calculated from the bills of mortality in the parish of Kettle by Mr. Wilkie, the expectation of an infant's life is 46.6,*14 which is very high, and the proportion which dies in the first year is only one 10th. Mr. Wilkie further adds, that from 36 parish accounts, published in the first volume, the expectation of an infant's life appears to be 40.3. But in a table which he has produced in the last volume, calculated for the whole of Scotland from Dr. Webster's survey, the expectation at birth appears to be only 31 years.*15 This, however, he thinks, must be too low, as it exceeds but little the calculations for the town of Edinburgh.


The Scotch registers appeared to be in general so incomplete, that the returns of 99 parishes only are published in the Population Abstracts of 1801; and, if any judgment can be formed from these, they shew a very extraordinary degree of healthiness, and a very small proportion of births. The sum of the population of these parishes in 1801 was 217,873;*16 the average of burials, for five years ending in 1800, was about 3,815; and of births 4,928:*17 from which it would appear that the mortality in these parishes was only 1 in 56, and the proportion of births 1 in 44. But these proportions are so extraordinary that it is difficult to conceive that they approach near the truth. Combining them with the calculations of Mr. Wilkie, it will not appear probable that the proportion of deaths and births in Scotland should be smaller than what has been allowed for England and Wales; namely, 1 in 40 for the deaths, and 1 in 30 for the births; and it seems to be generally agreed that the proportion of births to deaths is 4 to 3.*18


With respect to the marriages, it will be still more difficult to form a conjecture. They are registered so irregularly, that no returns of them are given in the Population Abstract. I should naturally have thought, from the Statistical Account, that the tendency to marriage in Scotland was upon the whole greater than in England; but if it be true that the births and deaths bear the same proportion to each other, and to the whole population, in both countries, the proportion of marriages cannot be very different. It should be remarked, however, that supposing the operation of the preventive check to be exactly the same in both countries, and the climates to be equally salubrious, a greater degree of want and poverty would take place in Scotland, before the same mortality was produced as in England, owing to the smaller proportion of towns and manufactories in the former country than in the latter.


From a general view of the statistical accounts the result seems clearly to be, that the condition of the lower classes of people in Scotland has been considerably improved of late years. The price of provisions has risen, but almost invariably the price of labour has risen, in a greater proportion; and it is remarked in most parishes, that more butcher's meat is consumed among the common people than formerly; that they are both better lodged and better clothed; and that their habits with respect to cleanliness are decidedly improved.


A part of this improvement is probably to be attributed to the increase of the preventive check. In some parishes a habit of later marriages is noticed; and in many places, where it is not mentioned, it may be fairly inferred from the proportion of births and marriages and other circumstances. The writer of the account of the parish of Elgin,*19 in enumerating the general causes of depopulation in Scotland, speaks of the discouragement of marriage from the union of farms, and the consequent emigration of the flower of their young men, of every class and description, very few of whom ever return. Another cause that he mentions is the discouragement to marriage from luxury; at least, he observes, till people are advanced in years, and then a puny race of children are produced. "Hence how many men of every description remain single? and how many young women of every rank are never married, who in the beginning of this century, or even so late as 1745, would have been the parents of a numerous and healthy progeny?"


In those parts of the country where the population has been rather diminished by the introduction of grazing, or an improved system. of husbandry which requires fewer hands, this effect has chiefly taken place; and I have little doubt that in estimating the decrease of the population since the end of the last, or the beginning of the present century, by the proportion of births at the different periods, they have fallen into the error which has been particularly noticed, with regard to Switzerland and France, and have in consequence made the difference greater than it really is.*20


The general inference on this subject which I should draw from the different accounts is, that the marriages are rather later than formerly. There are however some decided exceptions. In those parishes where manufactures have been introduced, which afford employment to children as soon as they have reached their 6th or 7th year, a habit of marrying early naturally follows; and while the manufacture continues to flourish and increase, the evil arising from it is not very perceptible; though humanity must confess with a sigh, that one of the reasons why it is not so perceptible is, that room is made for fresh families by the unnatural mortality which takes place among the children so employed.


There are other parts of Scotland however, particularly the Western Isles, and some parts of the Highlands, where population has considerably increased from the subdivision of possessions; and where perhaps the marriages may be earlier than they were formerly, though not caused by the introduction of manufactures. Here the poverty which follows is but too conspicuous: In the account of Delting in Shetland,*21 it is remarked that the people marry very young, and are encouraged to do this by their landlords, who wish to have as many men on their grounds as possible, to prosecute the ling fishery; but that they generally involve themselves in debt and large families. The writer further observes, that formerly there were some old regulations called country acts, by one of which it was enacted, that no pair should marry unless possessed of 40l. Scots of free gear. This regulation is not now enforced. It is said that these regulations were approved and confirmed by the parliament of Scotland in the reign of Queen Mary or James VI.


In the account of Bressay Burra and Quarff in Shetland,*22 it is observed that the farms are very small, and few have a plough. The object of the proprietors is to have as many fishermen on their lands as possible—a great obstacle to improvements in agriculture. They fish for their masters, who either give them a fee totally inadequate, or take their fish at a low rate. The writer remarks, that "in most countries the increase of population is reckoned an advantage, and justly. It is however the reverse in the present state of Shetland. The farms are split. The young men are encouraged to marry without having any stock. The consequence is poverty and distress. It is believed that there is at present in these islands double the number of people that they can properly maintain."


The writer of the account of Auchterderran,*23 in the county of Fife, says, that the meagre food of the labouring man is unequal to oppose the effects of incessant hard labour upon his constitution, and by this means his frame is worn down before the time of nature's appointment; and adds, "That people continuing voluntarily to enter upon such a hard situation by marrying, shews how far the union of the sexes and the love of independence are principles of human nature." In this observation, perhaps the love of independence had better have been changed for the love of progeny.


The island of Jura*24 appears to be absolutely overflowing with inhabitants in spite of constant and numerous emigrations. There are sometimes 50 or 60 on a farm. The writer observes, that such a swarm of inhabitants, where manufactures and many other branches of industry are unknown, are a very great load upon the proprietors, and useless to the state.


Another writer*25 is astonished at the rapid increase of population, in spite of a considerable emigration to America in 1770, and a large drain of young men during the late war. He thinks it difficult to assign adequate causes for it; and observes, that, if the population continue to increase in this manner, unless some employment be found for the people, the country will soon be unable to support them. And in the account of the parish of Callander,*26 the writer says, that the villages of this place, and other villages in similar situations, are filled with naked and starving crowds of people, who are pouring down for shelter or for bread; and then observes, that whenever the population of a town or village exceeds the industry of its inhabitants, from that moment the place must decline.


A very extraordinary instance of a tendency to rapid increase occurs in the register of the parish of Duthil,*27 in the county of Elgin; and as errors of excess are not so probable as errors of omission, it seems to be worthy of attention. The proportion of annual births to the whole population is as 1 to 12, of marriages as 1 to 55, and of deaths the same. The births are to the deaths as 70 to 15, or 4 2/3 to 1. We may suppose some inaccuracy respecting the number of deaths, which seems to err on the side of defect; but the very extraordinary proportion of the annual births, amounting to 1/12 of the whole population, seems not to be easily liable to error; and the other circumstances respecting the parish tend to confirm the statement. Out of a population of 830, there were only three bachelors, and each marriage yielded seven children. Yet with all this, the population is supposed to have decreased considerably since 1745; and it appears that this excessive tendency to increase, had been occasioned by an excessive tendency to emigrate. The writer mentions very great emigrations; and observes, that whole tribes, who enjoyed the comforts of life in a reasonable degree, had of late years emigrated from different parts of Scotland, from mere humour, and a fantastical idea of becoming their own masters and freeholders.


Such an extraordinary proportion of births, caused evidently by habits of emigration, shews the extreme difficulty of depopulating a country merely by taking away a part of its people. Take but away its industry, and the sources of its subsistence, and it is done at once.


It may be observed that in this parish the average number of children to a marriage is said to be seven, though from the proportion of annual births to annual marriages it would appear to be only 4 2/3. This difference occurs in many other parishes, from which we may conclude that the writers of these accounts very judiciously adopted some other mode of calculation, than the mere uncorrected proportion of annual births to marriages; and probably founded the results they give, either on personal inquiries, or researches into their registers, to find the number of children, which had been born to each mother in the course of her marriage.


The women of Scotland appear to be prolific. The average of 6 children to a marriage is frequent; and of 7, and even 7½, not very uncommon. One instance is very curious, as it appears as if this number was actually living to each marriage, which would of course imply, that a much greater number had been and would be born. In the parish of Nigg,*28 in the county of Kincardine, the account says, that there are 57 land families, and 405 children, which gives nearly 7 1/9 each; 42 fisher families, and 314 children, nearly 7½ each. Of the land families which have had no children there were 7; of the fishers, none. If this statement be just, I should conceive that each marriage must have yielded, or would yield, in the course of its duration, as many as 9 or 10 births.


When from any actual survey it appears, that there are about 3 living children to each marriage, or 5 persons, or, only 4½ to a house, which are very common proportions, we must not infer that the average number of births to a marriage is not much above 3. We must recollect, that all the marriages or establishments of the present year are of course without children, all of the year before have only one, all of the year before that can hardly be expected to have as many as two, and all of the fourth year will certainly, in the natural course of things, have less than three. One out of five children is a very unusually small proportion to lose in the course of ten years; and after ten years, it may be supposed that the eldest begin to leave their parents; so that if each marriage be supposed accurately to yield 5 births in the course of its duration, the families which had increased to their full complement would only have four children; and a very large proportion of those which were in the earlier stages of increase would have less than three;*29 and consequently, taking into consideration the number of families where one of the parents may be supposed to be dead, I much doubt whether in this case a survey would give 4½ to a family. In the parish of Duthil,*30 already noticed, the number of children to a marriage is mentioned as 7, and the number of persons to a house as only 5.


The poor of Scotland are in general supported by voluntary contributions, distributed under the inspection of the minister of the parish; and it appears, upon the whole, that they have been conducted with considerable judgment. Having no claim of right to relief,*31 and the supplies, from the mode of their collection, being necessarily uncertain, and never abundant, the poor have considered them merely as a last resource in cases of extreme distress, and not as a fund on which they might safely rely, and an adequate portion of which belonged to them by the laws of their country in all difficulties.


The consequence of this is, that the common people make very considerable exertions to avoid the necessity of applying for such a scanty and precarious relief. It is observed, in many of the accounts, that they seldom fail of making a provision for sickness and for age; and, in general, the grown-up children and relations of persons, who are in danger of falling upon the parish, step forward, if they are in any way able, to prevent such a degradation, which is universally considered as a disgrace to the family.


The writers of the accounts of the different parishes frequently reprobate in very strong terms the system of English assessments for the poor, and give a decided preference to the Scotch mode of relief. In the account of Paisley,*32 though a manufacturing town, and with a numerous poor, the author still reprobates the English system, and makes an observation on this subject, in which perhaps he goes too far. He says, that, though there are in no country such large contributions for the poor as in England, yet there is no where so great a number of them; and their condition, in comparison of the poor of other countries, is truly most miserable.


In the account of Caerlaverock,*33 in answer to the question, How ought the poor to be supplied? it is most judiciously remarked, "that distress and poverty multiply in proportion to the funds created to relieve them; that the measures of charity ought to remain invisible, till the moment when it is necessary that they should be distributed; that in the country parishes of Scotland in general, small occasional voluntary collections are sufficient; that the legislature has no occasion to interfere to augment the stream, which is already copious enough; in fine, that the establishment of a poor's rate would not only be unnecessary but hurtful, as it would tend to oppress the landholder, without bringing relief on the poor."


These, upon the whole, appear to be the prevailing opinions of the clergy of Scotland. There are, however, some exceptions; and the system of assessments is sometimes approved, and the establishment of it recommended. But this is not to be wondered at. In many of these parishes the experiment had never been made; and without being thoroughly aware of the principle of population from theory, or having fully seen the evils of poor-laws in practice, nothing seems, on a first view of the subject, more natural than the proposal of an assessment, to which the uncharitable, as well as the charitable, should be made to contribute according to their abilities, and which might be increased or diminished, according to the wants of the moment.


The endemic and epidemic diseases in Scotland fall chiefly, as is usual, on the poor. The scurvy is in some places extremely troublesome and inveterate; and in others it arises to a contagious leprosy, the effects of which are always dreadful, and not unfrequently mortal. One writer calls it the scourge and bane of human nature.*34 It is generally attributed to cold and wet situations, meagre, and unwholesome food, impure air from damp and crowded houses, indolent habits, and the want of attention to cleanliness.


To the same causes, in a great measure, are attributed the rheumatisms which are general, and the consumptions which are frequent among the common people. Whenever, in any place, from particular circumstances, the condition of the poor has been rendered worse, these disorders, particularly the latter, have been observed to prevail with greater force.


Low nervous fevers, and others of a more violent and fatal nature, are frequently epidemic, and sometimes take off considerable numbers; but the most fatal epidemic, since the extinction of the plague which formerly visited Scotland, is the small-pox, the returns of which are, in many places, at regular intervals; in others, irregular, but seldom at a greater distance than 7 or 8 years. Its ravages are dreadful, though in some parishes not so fatal as they were some time ago. The prejudices against inoculation are still great; and as the mode of treatment must almost necessarily be bad in small and crowded houses, and the custom of visiting each other during the disorder still subsists in many places, it may be imagined that the mortality must be considerable, and the children of the poor the principal sufferers. In some parishes of the Western Isles and the Highlands, the number of persons to a house has increased from 4½ and 5, to 6½ and 7. It is evident, that if such a considerable increase, without the proper accommodations for it, cannot generate the disease, it must give to its devastations tenfold force when it arrives.


Scotland has at all times been subject to years of scarcity, and occasionally even to dreadful famines. The years 1635, 1680; 1688, the concluding years of the 16th century, the years 1740, 1756, 1766, 1778, 1782, and 1783, are all mentioned, in different places, as years of very great sufferings from want. In the year 1680, so many families perished from this cause, that for six miles, in a well-inhabited extent, there was not a smoke remaining.*35 The seven years at the end of the 16th century were called the ill years. The writer of the account of the parish, of Montquhitter*36 says, that of 16 families, on a farm in that neighbourhood, 13 were extinguished; and on another, out of 169 individuals, only 3 families (the proprietors included) survived. Extensive farms, now containing a hundred souls, being entirely desolated, were converted into a sheepwalk. The inhabitants of the parish in general were diminished by death to one-half, or, as some affirm, to one-fourth of the preceding number. Until 1709 many farms were waste. In 1740, another season of scarcity occurred; and the utmost misery was felt by the poor, though it fell short of death. Many offered in vain to serve for their bread. Stout men accepted thankfully two pence a-day in full for their work. Great distress was also suffered in 1782 and 1783, but none died. "If at this critical period," the author says, "the American war had not ceased; if the copious magazines, particularly of pease, provided for the navy, had not been brought to sale, what a scene of desolation and horror would have been exhibited in this country!"


Many similar descriptions occur in different parts of the Statistical Account; but these will be sufficient to shew the nature and intensity of the distress which has been occasionally felt from want.


The year 1783 depopulated some parts of the Highlands, and is mentioned as the reason why in these places the number of people was found to have diminished since Dr. Webster's survey. Most of the small farmers in general, as might be expected, were absolutely ruined by the scarcity; those of this description in the Highlands were obliged to emigrate to the Lowlands as common labourers,*37 in search of a precarious support. In some parishes, at the time of the last survey, the effect of the ruin of the farmers, during this bad year, was still visible in their depressed condition, and the increased poverty and misery of the common people, which is a necessary consequence of it.


In the account of the parish of Grange,*38 in the county of Banff, it is observed, that the year 1783 put a stop to all improvements by green crops, and made the farmers think of nothing but raising grain. Tenants were most of them ruined. Before this period, consumptions were not near so frequent as they have been since. This may be justly attributed to the effects of the scarcity and bad victual in the year 1783, to the long inclement harvests in 1782 and 1787, in both which seasons the labourers were exposed to much cold and wet during the three months that the harvests continued; but principally to the change that has taken place in the manner of living among the lower ranks. Formerly every householder could command a draught of small beer, and killed a sheep now and then out of his own little flock; but now the case is different. The frequent want of the necessaries of life among the poor, their damp and stinking houses, and dejection of mind among the middling classes, appear to be the principal causes of the prevailing distempers and mortality of this parish. Young people are cut off by consumptions, and the more advanced by dropsies and nervous fevers.


The state of this parish, which, though there are others like it, may be considered as an exception to the average state of Scotland, was, without doubt, occasioned by the ruin of the tenants; and the effect is not to be wondered at; as no greater evil can easily happen to a country, than the loss of agricultural stock and capital.


We may observe that the diseases of this parish are said to have increased, in consequence of the scarcity and bad victual of 1783. The same circumstance is noticed in many other parishes; and it is remarked, that though few people died of absolute famine, yet that mortal diseases almost universally followed.


It is remarked also, in some parishes, that the number of the births and marriages is affected by years of scarcity and plenty.


Of the parish of Dingwall,*39 in the county of Ross, it is observed that, after the scarcity of 1783, the births were 16 below the average, and 14 below the lowest number of late years. The year 1787 was a year of plenty; and the following year the births increased in a similar proportion, and were 17 above the average, and 11 above the highest of the other years.


In the account of Dunrossness,*40 in Orkney, the writer says that the annual number of marriages depends much on the seasons. In good years they may amount to thirty or upwards; but, when crops fail, will hardly come up to the half of that number.


The whole increase of Scotland, since the time of Dr. Webster's survey in 1755, is about 260,000,*41 for which a proportionate provision has been made in the improved state of agriculture and manufactures, and in the increased cultivation of potatoes, which in some places form two-thirds of the diet of the common people. It has been calculated that the half of the surplus of births in Scotland is drawn off in emigrations; and it cannot be doubted that this drain tends greatly to relieve the country, and to improve the condition of those which remain. Scotland is certainly still overpeopled, but not so much as it was a century or half a century ago, when it contained fewer inhabitants.


The details of the population of Ireland are but little known. I shall only observe therefore, that the extended use of potatoes has allowed of a very rapid increase of it during the last century. But the cheapness of this nourishing root, and the small piece of ground which, under this kind of cultivation, will in average years produce the food for a family, joined to the ignorance and depressed state of the people, which have prompted them to follow their inclinations with no other prospect than an immediate bare subsistence, have encouraged marriage to such a degree, that the population is pushed much beyond the industry and present resources of the country; and the consequence naturally is, that the lower classes of people are in the most impoverished and miserable state. The checks to the population are of course chiefly of the positive kind, and arise from the diseases occasioned by squalid poverty, by damp and wretched cabins, by bad and insufficient clothing, and occasional want. To these positive checks have, of late years, been added the vice and misery of intestine commotion, of civil war, and of martial law.



According to the late enumeration in 1821, the population of Ireland amounted to 6,801,827, and in 1695 it was estimated only at 1,034,000. If these numbers be correct it affords an example of continued increase for 125 years together, at such a rate as to double the population in about 45 years—a more rapid increase than has probably taken place in any other country of Europe, during the same length of time.


In the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, it would be very interesting to know the average mortality, and the proportions of births and marriages to the population. But unfortunately no correct parochial registers have been kept, and the information, however much to be desired, is unattainable.

Notes for this chapter

Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. i. p. 167.
Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 407.
Id. vol. xxi. p. 383.
Population Abstracts, Parish Registers, p. 459.
Id. p. 458.
Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. xxi. p. 383. The comparison with England here, refers to the time of the first enumeration. There is little doubt that the mortality of Scotland has diminished, and the proportion of births to deaths increased since 1800.
Vol. v. p. 1.
One writer takes notice of this circumstance and observes, that formerly the births seem to have borne a greater proportion to the whole population than at present. Probably, he says, more were born, and there was a greater mortality. Parish of Montquitter, vol. vi. p. 121.
Vol. i. p. 385.
Vol. x. p. 194.
Vol. i. p. 449.
Vol. xii. p. 317.
Parish of Lochalsh, county of Ross, vol. xi. p. 422.
Vol. xi. p. 574.
Vol. iv. p. 308.
Vol. vii. p. 194.
It has been calculated that, on an average, the difference of age in the children of the same family is about two years.
Vol. iv. p. 308.
It has lately been stated in Parliament, that the poor-laws of Scotland are not materially different from those of England, though they have been very differently understood and executed; but, whatever may be the laws on the subject, the practice is generally as here represented; and it is the practice alone that concerns the present question.
Vol. vii. p. 74.
Id. vi. p. 21.
Parishes of Forbes and Kearn, County of Aberdeen, vol. xi. 189.
Parish of Duthil, vol. iv. p. 305.
Vol. vi. p. 121.
Parish of Kincardine, County of Ross, vol. iii. p. 505.
Vol. ix. P. 550.
Vol. iii. p. i.
Vol. vii. p. 391.
According to the returns in the enumeration of 1800, the whole population of Scotland was above 1,590,000, and therefore the increase up to that time was above 320,000. In 1810 the population was 1,805,688; and in 1820, 2,093,456. .

End of Notes

27 of 60

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