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    Q150 Digital Books Section Details

    Name: Queensland Past and Present: 100 Years of Statistics, 18961996

    Section name: Chapter 1, Queenslands Statistical History,

    Section 1.

    Pages: 17

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    Return to Q150 Collection: The State of Queensland 2009



    On 16 December 1896 the Queensland Governor, Lord Lamington, gave royal assent to theStatistical Returns Act 1896 (Qld). The Queensland Legislature passed the Act 'for the purposeof collecting and publishing statistical information relating to pastoral, agricultural, mining,manufacturing or other producing interests.. .n The Act was the first Queensland legislationthat specifically related to the collection, compilation and management of official statistics.Prior to 1896 statistics were collected either incidentally to government administration or underlegislation that related only to the registration of births, deaths, marriages and land titles, tothe colonial census and to livestock statistics.

    The Statistical Returns Act 1896 provides a key reference point from which to examine theprevious history of statistics in Queensland, the colonies and, from federation in 1901, Australiaas a whole. The Act also marks the start of the development of a statistical reporting authorityfor the Queensland Government in the form of the Government Statistician's Office. The onehundred year history of the Government Statistician's Office has seen its role change fromsole provider of official statistics for the pre-federation colony to one of complementing andsupplementing in respect of Queensland, the vastly expanded range of statistics provided forthe nation as a whole by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

    This chapter examines Queensland's statistical history prior to the Statistical Returns Act 1896and traces the State's statistical reporting authorities to 1996. It also presents an overview ofpublications by Queensland's Registrar-General and Government Statistician.


    Statistics have been part of the Australian administrative process since the British Governmentfirst considered the establishment of a settlement in New South Wales. The purpose of thesettlement was to be an economic means of disposing of convicts and as a trading outpost, butonly time and comprehensive accounts and records would show whether the experiment was asuccess. Major Robert Ross wrote to the Secretary of the Admiralty on 13 April 1787, enclosinga return that outlined details of the impending voyage to New South Wales of six convicttransport ships.2 The return included the number of naval staff, quantity of supplies and numberof convicts to be transported. These early statistics show that the First Fleet carried 982 persons,

  • Sydney Cove, 1788. The first statistical returns of the new colony were dispatched byGovernor Arthur Phillip in July 1788.


    Table 1.1 Convicts on the First Fleet by ship and sex, 15 April 1787Male Female

    Ship Males Females children children Total number

    Scarborough 205 205Alexander 198 198LadyPenrhyn 1 104 2 3 110Charlotte 86 20 1 1 108Friendship 15 19 3 97Prince of Wales 10 1 11

    Total 565 153 6 5 729

    Source: Historical Records' of New South Wales, series 1, vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 79.


    comprising 253 in four companies of marines (including 30 wives and 12 children) and 729convicts. The number of male and female convicts and their children on each ship is shown intable 1.1.

    The first colonial statistician was the first Governor, Arthur Phillip.3 His statistical dutiescommenced once the First Fleet left England. He was required to submit regular returns onthe fleet's passengers, including those who were sick or who died on the voyage. As at 30August 1787, for example, 81 persons were sick, comprising 17 marines and 64 convicts, andincluded 30 with scorbutic ulcers and 30 convalescents (table 1.2). Sixteen persons had died infour and a half months since departure, including one child.

    An accurate record of supplies had to be kept both during the voyage and after landing. Royalinstructions issued to Phillip on 17 April 1787 required him to:

    use every proper degree of economy, and be careful that the Commissary so transmit an account ofthe issues from time to time to the Commissioners of our Treasury, to enable them to judge of thepropriety or expediency of granting further supplies. The clothing of the convicts and the provisionsissued to them, and the civil and military establishments, must be accounted for in the same manner.4


    After the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney, Phillip's dispatch to the Home Secretary on 9 July1788 included a statistical account of the population (including sickness and deaths), livestockand supplies.5 The collection of statistical data continued to be the responsibility of the Governorof the colony. Statistical returns on many aspects of life in early New South Wales are found inthe Governors' dispatches to the Secretary of State.

    Until New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania were granted responsiblegovernment in 1855, statistics were compiled in the colonies at the instruction of the BritishGovernment. Some of the statistical data relating to Australia was published in official sources,which included the Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons. The British tradition ofpublishing statistical information in the official documents of the Legislature was followed inAustralia, and continues to be the case with the inclusion of statistical data from governmentdepartments and agencies in reports tabled in Commonwealth and State Parliaments. TheSydney Gazette, first published in 1803, provided another source of statistical information incolonial times.

    One of the earliest works that specifically included statistics relating to New South Wales wasWilliam Charles Wentworth's Statistical, Historical, and Political Description of the Colony ofNew South Wales... published in 1819. His objective in writing the book was to 'promote thewelfare and prosperity of the country'.6 Wentworth's book influenced various publications onAustralia, including two on Queensland by John Dunmore Lang: Cooksland in North-Eastern

    Table 1.2 Report on sickness on the First Fleet by ship, status and illness, 30 August1787

    Ship; status



    Lady PenrhynMarines (b)Convicts



    Prince of WalesMarines (c)Convicts










    Venereal Cholera Convales-Fever disease Dysentery morbus cents


    2 21 - 1 4

    4 1 31 1 6

    _ _ _ _ i

    2 1 1

    21 2 5

    1 1 3

    12 2

    8 7 5 1 30

    Deaths (a)







    (a) Since 13 May 1787.(b) The convalescent was Captain Campbell.(c) The death was that of a child of a marine.

    Source: Historical Records of New South Wales, series 1, vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 111.


    Australia: the Future Cotton-Field of Great Britain: Its Characteristics and Capabilities forEuropean Colonization . . . published in 1847, and Queensland, Australia: A Highly EligibleField for Emigration and the Future Cotton-Field of Great Britain published in 1861.

    As the settlement grew and the complexity of government administration increased, governmentdepartments and a public service were established to support the Governor's role. Statisticalreturns of agriculture, livestock, duties levied, population, and persons holding civil and militaryappointments were compiled by the New South Wales Government and forwarded to theSecretary of State for War and Colonies in London.

    The British Government set up administrative processes to regularise and formalise thecollection, compilation and distribution of statistical data from the colony. In 1822 the ColonialOffice required colonial governors of all British dominions to provide an annual statisticalreturn of their respective colonies. These returns became known as the Blue Books, becauseof the colour of the reports' covers. The format of the reports was uniform throughout theBritish Empire. The colonial governors provided information on standard forms sent out bythe Colonial Office. The need for the returns was explained by Earl Bathurst:

    I have had occasion to remark that a want of a regular form of transmission of detailed informationrespecting the financial resources of His Majesty's Colonies, and the several branches of theirexpenditure, is a deficiency which creates much inconvenience to the Public Service.7

    Detailed financial information in the Blue Books was important to the British Governmentdue to the severe financial stringencies in the United Kingdom in the years that followed theend of the Napoleonic Wars. The function and use of the annual returns developed further asthe interest in statistics in the United Kingdom widened. In 1832 a Statistical Department wasestablished at the Board of Trade. The Statistical Society of London (later the Royal StatisticalSociety) was founded in 1834. The General Registry Office was set up in 1837. Theseorganisations were founded at a time when major social reforms were being undertaken bythe British Parliament.

    From 1822 to 1857 the Blue Books of the Australian colonies included detailed informationon the following:

    population, including number of convicts and their occupations; births, deaths and marriages;and native population in the settled districts

    the public service, including the officers of the civil, judicial, police, penal, medical,ecclesiastical and educational establishments; details of positions; dates of first appointment;salaries; and an alphabetical list of officers

    revenue of the colony, including taxes, duties, tolls, rates, fees (such as land charges, andcoroner's and court fees) wharfage rates, licences, postage duties and other sources of revenuelevied by the British and colonial legislatures

    military and other expenditure imports and exports shipping, including the number and tonnage of vessels built and registered, arrivals of convict

    ships, and the number and tonnage of inwards and outwards shipping agriculture, including land granted, cleared and cultivated; stock held and slaughtered; crops

    and produce; and average prices ecclesiastical establishment, including parishes, ministers and salaries, number of members

    and attendance details


    education, including the number and status of schools, teachers and pupils and, from 1857,details of the University of Sydney.8

    The demographic, social and economic progress of the colonies was reported in the Blue Booksat a standard that was unusually high at that time, even by comparison with the United Kingdom:

    At the beginning of the 1850s the five small Australian colonies [New South Wales, Van Diemen'sLand, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia] with a total population of some 400,000were producing statistics relating to their societies which were impressive in quality and range.Their small bureaucracies had become accustomed to the discipline of the annual production ofstatistical material to meet the standards of an outside authority.9

    In addition to the Blue Books, the other major statistical collection undertaken in early NewSouth Wales was the census. The first census of the free and convict population was taken in1828. Prior to this date, there had been musters of the convict population. The 1828 Censuswas authorised under an Act of the Legislative Council of New South Wales. Of the 30,827civilians aged 12 years and over, about three-quarters were convicts or ex-convicts.10 Othercensus data included the number of stock and area of cultivated land. The 1828 Census publishedthe names, ages, occupations, place of residence, land held and civil status of most residents ofthe colony. Subsequent censuses published only numerical data.

    The population enumerated at the censuses conducted in Australia from 1828 to 1911 is shownin table 1.3. The 1911 Census was conducted under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 (Cwlth)and was the first national census conducted following the formation of the Commonwealth ofAustralia in 1901. Prior to that time, coordinated censuses had been conducted by the coloniesin 1881 and 1891 and by the States in 1901. The Act established the position of CommonwealthStatistician and provided for a census every 10 years and for other statistics to be collectedfrom time to time as the Statistician considered appropriate.


    European settlement in Queensland began in 1824 when a penal station was established atMoreton Bay. Its progress can be traced through the statistical returns it furnished to the ColonialSecretary in Sydney. These included annual returns of building works and convicts at thesettlement and monthly returns of livestock, occupations of convicts, abscondings andpunishment of convicts, land under cultivation, agricultural produce, public works in progress,provisions on hand and the length of time these supplies were likely to last, the population,and the number of persons who were hospitalised or brought to trial.

    Just as Governor Phillip was required to report on missing tools and utensils to the HomeSecretary in London, officials at Moreton Bay were required to investigate and report onmissing articles of government property to authorities in Sydney. The Colonial Secretary senta letter to the commandants of all penal settlements requesting details of all stores and toolsheld by them. Lower than expected inventory levels led to the establishment of boards ofinquiry. One such inquiry was held at the lumber yard on the corner of Queen Street andNorth Quay on 29 November 1829, when statements were taken from 25 convicts and officialsconcerning the loss of tools ranging from falling axes and broad axes, to brush hooks, spades,razors, iron pots, frying pans, buckets and blankets.11


    Table 1.3 Persons enumerated (a) in Australian censuses by Colony/State, 1828-1911New South South Western

    Year Wales Victoria Queensland Australia Australia Tasmania Total


    184718481851 (b)1 854 (c)1855

    1856185718591861 (d)1864


    18811886189119011911 (e)








    1,123,9541 ,354,8461,646,734











    - number








    320,43 1363,157408,558
















    (a) The censuses excluded Aboriginal persons.(b) New South Wales includes Port Phil l ip District which afterwards became the Colony of Victoria.(c) Victoria was previously included with New South Wales.(d) Queensland was previously included with New South Wales.(e) Total includes Northern Territory (3,310), previously included with South Australia; and Federal Capital Territory (1,714),previously included inNew South Wales.

    Source: ABS, Commonwealth Year Book, 1912.

    From the time Moreton Bay District was opened to free settlement in 1842 until 1859,general statistical information on the area was included in statistical returns as part of thenorthern districts of New South Wales. After the separation of Queensland from New SouthWales in 1859, the administrative framework established by the New South WalesGovernment continued in Queensland. Many of the officials continued their careers in theQueensland Public Service.

    One of the administrative precedents followed by the new Government was to produce statistics,and it appointed its own Registrar-General for this purpose. The New South Wales LegislativeCouncil had passed the Registration Act 1855 which provided for civil registration in the colonyand the appointment of a Registrar-General. Reporting to the Colonial Secretary, theRegistrar-General was responsible for the civil registration of births, deaths and marriages inNew South Wales and, from 1858, the collection of statistics. In Queensland the Registrar-General collected statistics from 1860.



    A significant turning point in the formalised collection of statistics in Queensland occurred in1896. Thornhill Weedon, the State's first Government Statistician (1904-14), noted in 1889that there was no compulsion on the part of government department heads to provide data forcompilation of the Blue Book, and he considered this to be a weakness of the system. He saidof the providers of data that:

    as a rule there is very little difficulty with them, but now and then we meet with a stubborn individualwho will not supply the information, and then we write polite letters to them pointing out theadvantage of having such information as they are asked to supply. There are not more than half-a-dozen gentlemen throughout the colony who habitually refuse to supply the returns asked for.12

    Weedon's concern was not addressed until the Statistical Returns Act was passed by theQueensland Parliament in 1896. Until then, the compilation of statistics was carried out by theRegistrar-General who operated under the Registration Act 1855 (NSW) and the QueenslandAmendment of 1867. The Queensland Government introduced the Bill into Parliament on 21October 1896 to 'enable statistics to be collected with more system and more accuracy'.13 On10 November 1896 the Bill was read a second time in the Legislative Council. In presenting theBill to the council, the Postmaster-General observed that the Bill would give theRegistrar-General the power to acquire data as needed. Considerable debate ensued concerningthe power to be given to the Registrar-General in the collection of statistical information. TheBrisbane Courier put the length of the debate in the Legislative Council down to a lack of otherbusiness, commenting that 'the state of Parliamentary business cannot be deemed satisfactoryin either House . . . On the Council paper is only one item the Statistical Returns Bill . . ,'14

    The Bill passed both houses of Parliament and received royal assent on 16 December 1896.It authorised the Registrar-General to devise forms to collect any necessary data

    for the compilation of statistics, andrequired that respondents supply 'thefull information required'.15 Failure tocomply meant a penalty not exceeding10. Provision was made to penalise'any person employed in collecting orcompiling such statistics [who] divulges,makes extracts from, or publishes anyinformation obtained under this Act,except under the direction and by theauthority of the Registrar-General'.16

    The Statistical Returns Act 1896 had beenpreceded by the Stock Returns Act 1893(Qld) which provided that every stockowner send an annual return of stock keptor pastured to the clerk of petty sessions.Data was usually collected by the police.The returns were then forwarded to theRegistrar-General. Inspectors of stock

    Lord Lamington, Queensland's Governor, who were empowered to enter any run togave royal assent to the colony's first general inspect any stud, flock or herd book, and

    statistical enactment in 1896. conduct a count of the stock.


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