Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Sunday, October 11, 2009

World Census — 110 years ago



Published by E.N. Moyer & Co. Toronto, 1903.

This large map, topped by a prominent picture of King Edward VII and his Queen, is divided into five incontestably-logical sections of then contemporary global power:

Europe and, of much more importance,

The British Empire’s four Naval Patrol Regions, subtitled:

West Africa;

East Indies;



Prominently and liberally displayed on the map are big, all-important, black symbols denoting the geographical positions of fully-fortified coaling stations.

All very impressive.

But it is the compact and confident population table at the bottom of the map which really draws attention.

Because even in these days of electronic computers, mass registrations for social services; firearm possession, voting and tax lists, the task of counting Canada's burgeoning population is still no mean job.

So perhaps today's pampered public servants at Statistics Canada could learn something from the tenacity of purpose shown by the British Empire census takers whose figures were used by the Toronto map maker 110 years ago.

India for example. Surely back then India must have been a much more challenging place to count heads than Canada is today. But the British Raj got the census down with remarkably exact precision — with an irrefutable figure of:

294 million, 266 thousand, seven hundred

—and one. (or 294,266,701).

This figure alone must argue favourably for the efficiency of the British Empire in India. The temptation to round off to the nearest hundred would have lured anyone but the most dedicated empire builders. But, no. If there was that one odd soul left over, then he or she, young or old, must be included.

And the British civil servants in the Straits Settlements would appear to have served their previous periods of apprenticeship in India. For they came up with another nice exact population figure: 572,249. Almost as good a show for sticking to the facts as their Indian counterparts by spurning the temptation to round off to the nearest ten.

Over in the tiny Windward Islands the administrators showed a similar pernickety dedication to exactness with their 160,621. And, as could only be expected of a mature, self-governing, senior dominion, despite its vast ungainly sprawl, there was no doubt whatsoever about Canada's 5,369,666.

On the other hand John Barleycorn had obviously taken fuzzy hold of the administration on Labuan Island, Malaysia. And also in Ceylon. They could only come up with slovenly, and rather suspect, figures of 8,410 and 3,576,990, respectively.

And as for New Guinea and Basutoland, we must assume that the supply ships bringing good Scotch whisky and London gin from Britain had been long overdue. The colonial administration wallahs out there must have been well into the local snake juice for some considerable time. It's a wonder how their woozy submissions of 350,000 and 250,000 ever got past the Colonial Office and then passed to the map publishers in Toronto.

Though it would perhaps be nice if this facility for exact figures could be attributed only to the British census takers of that period, that doesn't seem to be the case.

For comparison purposes (but tucked well away from the big red-coloured areas) are some other population figures for foreign countries. Imperial Russia makes a laudable effort at accuracy with 129,004,514, as does the United States with 85,048,037; France with 90,247,412; and Germany with 71,054,175.

A fine showing considering all these national figures included the populations of their various colonies, dependencies and, in the case of Mother Russia, her dominions.

One wonders. How did they get their figures with such confident accuracy?

Let's go back to Imperial India. There is little doubt that it would have fallen to the British Army to do much of the leg work.

One can imagine the scene. A native runner loping up to the mud fort being defended by a tiny detachment of riflemen on the distant northwest frontier. He hands Sergeant Grimes a terse message from HQ:

"Number off and report all personnel in your area—both friendly and hostile”.

This would entail month-long patrols out into unfriendly territory, often pinned down for days by fierce tribesmen. And all the while the laborious task of counting and pencil licking by Sergeant Grimes goes on.

"You did it again, Private Sludge. Showed yer ugly, miserable face over the parapet and scared 'em all off just as I was counting. Now we'll have to do it all over again. Corporal Boggs, stick your 'elmet up to get 'em in closer. Then sharpen my pencil. And for gawdsakes — don’t look fierce at the buggers. Everybody smile. Look attractive. That’s an order. And don’t do anything nasty. There’ll be plenty of time for that after I've got 'em all counted and sent in my report."

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