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British Bombay’s furious 1911 growth rate

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In 1911 the population of Bombay was recorded as being 979,000 and the city had recorded an astonishing growth in population, adding 203,000 inhabitants (more than 20% in the decade) from the time of the previous Census, that of 1901.

Detail of Bombay map from 'Indien: Handbuch Für Reisende', published by Verlag von Karl Baedeker in Leipzig, 1914

Detail of Bombay map from 'Indien: Handbuch Für Reisende', published by Verlag von Karl Baedeker in Leipzig, 1914

“British India contains more than 250 Districts,” explained the Imperial Gazeteer of India, 1909. “The average area of a District is 4,430 square miles, and the average population 93,000. The average District is thus about three-fourths of the size of Yorkshire, and its inhabitants number considerably more than half the population of that county. The actual Districts vary greatly in size and density of population. For instance, the Upper Chindwin District of Burma has an area of 19,000 square miles and a population of 153,000; Mymensingh, in Bengal, has an area of over 6,ooo square miles and a population of nearly 4,000,000; and Vizagapatam, in Madras, has an area of more than 17,000 square miles and a population of nearly 3,000,000. Among the major Provinces the Districts are largest in Burma and Madras, and smallest in the United Provinces.”

“Burma is about the size of Sweden, with nearly twice its population, and contains great tracts of forest and jungle. The territories administered by the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, though smaller in extent than Burma, contain more than eight times the number of inhabitants and form the most onerous of the Provincial charges. This Province nearly doubles the population of France, though only three-quarters of its size. The United Provinces of Agra and Oudh are almost as densely populated as Bengal, and contain more people than Austria-Hungary in an area less than that of Austria alone. The population of Madras and the area of Bombay approximate to the population and area of the United Kingdom.”

The Gazeteer explained in detail the role of the principal administrators, none of whom seemed more indeispensible than the District Collector: “The ordinary day’s work of the Collector-Magistrate entails many other miscellaneous duties, which vary in accordance with circumstances and of which it would be difficult to give a complete list. The Government looks to him for information on all important occurrences which take place in his District, he is called on to advise on general schemes which may be under consideration, and he is expected to explain to the people any new orders of the Government which they may not readily understand.”

“In times of stress and difficulty his duties and responsibilities are increased tenfold. If a collision is apprehended between Hindus and Muhammadans, or if an agrarian difficulty is likely to result in outrage, it is to his tact and firmness that the Government looks to prevent violence, and, if necessary, to quell disorder. Should the District be attacked by famine he is responsible for the lives of the people; he must watch minutely, and keep the Government informed of, the progress of events, and must organize and carry out measures of relief. For the proper discharge of his many duties he must be accessible to and intimately acquainted with the inhabitants. This acquaintance cannot be gained at the desk or on the bench, and accordingly the Collector-Magistrate spends several months of the year in camp. During his tours he inspects the working of the various departments with which he is concerned, satisfies himself as to the manner in which his subordinate officers are carrying out their duties, and advises and encourages them in their work. At the same time he gets to know the people of all parts of the District, and they have a ready opportunity of discussing their affairs with him. The local magnates will visit his tent with some ceremony; the village elders will come and chat with him about the prospect of their crops, the assessment of their lands, the opening of a new school, some local quarrel regarding a right of way, the dacoity which occurred in the village during the preceding summer…”

Population of Principal Towns (Census of 1911)
Population Comparison
Town Province/Agency District/State in 1911 with 1901
1. Calcutta with Suburbs and Howrah. Bengal 1,222,313 + 115,575
Calcutta and Fort Calcutta 896,067 + 48,271
Cossipore and Chitpore 24 Parganas 48,178 + 7,428
Manicktola 24 Parganas 53,767 + 21,380
Garden Reach 24 Parganas 45,275 + 17,084
Howrah Howrah 179,006 + 21,412
2. Bombay Bombay Bombay 979,445 + 203,439
3. Madras and Cantonment Madras Madras 518,660 + 9,314
4. Hyderabad and Cantonment Hyderabad Hyderabad 500,623 + 52,157
5. Rangoon and Cantonment Burma Rangoon 293,316 + 47,886
6. Lucknow and Cantonment United Provinces Lucknow 259,798 4,251
7. Delhi and Cantonment Delhi 232,837 + 24,262
8. Lahore and Cantonment Punjab Lahore 228,687 + 25,723
9. Ahmedabad and Cantonment Bombay Ahmedabad 216,777 + 30,888
10. Benares and Cantonment United Provinces Benares 203,804 9,275
11. Agra and Cantonment United Provinces Agra 185,449 2,573
12. Cawnpore and Cantonment United Provinces Cawnpore 178,557 24,240
13. Allahabad and Cantonment United Provinces Allahabad 171,697 335
14. Poona and Cantonment Bombay Poona 158,856 + 5,536
15. Amritsar and Cantonment Punjab Amritsar 152,756 9,673
16. Karachi and Cantonment Bombay Karachi 151,903 + 35,240
17. Mandalay and Cantonment Burma Mandalay 138,299 45,517
18. Jaipur Rajputana Jaipur 137,098 23,069
19. Patna Bihar and Orissa Patna 136,153 + 1,368
20. Madura Madras Madura 134,130 + 28,146

ncipal Towns (Census of 1911)

Population Comparison
Town Province/Agency District/State in 1911 with 1901
1. Calcutta with Suburbs and Howrah. Bengal 1,222,313 + 115,575
Calcutta and Fort Calcutta 896,067 + 48,271
Cossipore and Chitpore 24 Parganas 48,178 + 7,428
Manicktola 24 Parganas 53,767 + 21,380
Garden Reach 24 Parganas 45,275 + 17,084
Howrah Howrah 179,006 + 21,412
2. Bombay Bombay Bombay 979,445 + 203,439
3. Madras and Cantonment Madras Madras 518,660 + 9,314
4. Hyderabad and Cantonment Hyderabad Hyderabad 500,623 + 52,157
5. Rangoon and Cantonment Burma Rangoon 293,316 + 47,886
6. Lucknow and Cantonment United Provinces Lucknow 259,798 4,251
7. Delhi and Cantonment Delhi 232,837 + 24,262
8. Lahore and Cantonment Punjab Lahore 228,687 + 25,723
9. Ahmedabad and Cantonment Bombay Ahmedabad 216,777 + 30,888
10. Benares and Cantonment United Provinces Benares 203,804 9,275
11. Agra and Cantonment United Provinces Agra 185,449 2,573
12. Cawnpore and Cantonment United Provinces Cawnpore 178,557 24,240
13. Allahabad and Cantonment United Provinces Allahabad 171,697 335
14. Poona and Cantonment Bombay Poona 158,856 + 5,536
15. Amritsar and Cantonment Punjab Amritsar 152,756 9,673
16. Karachi and Cantonment Bombay Karachi 151,903 + 35,240
17. Mandalay and Cantonment Burma Mandalay 138,299 45,517
18. Jaipur Rajputana Jaipur 137,098 23,069
19. Patna Bihar and Orissa Patna 136,153 + 1,368
20. Madura Madras Madura 134,130 + 28,146

Written by makanaka

August 2, 2010 at 13:16

One frozen moment in 1911

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It was nearing an hour before noon as I approached the Bombay Gymkhana, having cadged a lift from a driver of a provisions carriage who was proceeding towards the Arsenal castle via Crawford Market. Although frowned upon by our editors – starchy old blokes – this was common for us reporters, impatient in our hurry to criss-cross the great city.

From Census of India 1911 report

From Census of India 1911 report

Today I had to hurry so as not to keep Mr Edward A Gait waiting. The Census Commissioner of India – his credentials were most impressive; C.S.I., C.I.E., I.C.S., Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society – had commanded the entire country to wait on the night of 10th March 1911 so that they should be counted. And that was the tale my editor wished to print in the pages of our thriving weekly newspaper. Punctual even for a lowly reporter, the great man was there already, and as I hurriedly made my way to his table, I saw that he had in his company three others, making the party two British and two Indian.

“Nimbu-pani is best for Indian summers, young man,” said Mr Gait with a ready smile as a signalled to a bearer, “It is part of our prescription to our field staff – that, quinine and hygiene. Now then, you want to know what happened on the night of the 10th of March, 1911, or so your editor tells me. Pay attention for an hour, for thereafter we must take our train.”

“An Indian census is beset with special difficulties owing to the long lines of railway,” said Mr Gait, “the big rivers on which boats travel, sometimes for days without coming to the bank, the forests to which wood-cutters resort, often for weeks at a time, and the numerous sacred places which, on occasion, attract many thousands of pilgrims. It would be tedious to describe the arrangements which were made in these cases, but they were all carefully provided for. Take the case of railways, for instance, all persons travelling by rail who took tickets after 7 pm on the night of the census were enumerated, on the platform if there was time, and if not, in their train.”

“What? Do you mean sir that you had enumerators even on our trains on that night?” I broke in, astounded by the degree of planning and detail this required.

“Certainly,” replied the Census head, “Those alighting at any station during the night were enumerated right there, unless they could produce a pass showing that they had already been counted. All trains were stopped, and every carriage visited, about 6 am on the following morning, in order to include any travellers who up till then had escaped notice. At one large junction alone, 60 special enumerators were engaged for the census of travellers by rail.”

So it was true then, the reports that had come to us from civic officials, who had told us in great excitement how extraordinary it was that every single passenger train on every railway line had been counted, every major crossroads watched and traffic to and from every coach station in our cities had been halted. We had at first taken this as fanciful. How on earth could a country be stopped in order to count its people?

Here, sitting at the same table, were the men who had done it.

From Census of India 1911 report

From Census of India 1911 report

“On the morning of 11th March the Enumerators of all the blocks in a circle met the Supervisor at a place previously arranged,” continued Mr Gait, “and filled in a form showing the number of occupied houses and of persons (males and females) in each block. The Supervisor, after testing these figures, prepared from them a summary for his circle, which he transmitted to his Superintendent. The summaries were added up at the district headquarters, and the result was telegraphed to the local Provincial Superintendent and to me, the Census Commissioner for India.”

“But how could you know, so quickly and so accurately, if your figures were correct?” I asked.

“Perhaps you’d like to explain, Mr Mallik,” said Mr Gait. “Young man, this able gentleman is Babu Anukul Chandra Mallik, Head Clerk of the Census Commission.”

“The organisation was so thorough that the results for the whole of India were received complete on the 19th March, within nine days of the Census,” Mr Mallik replied. “They were issued in print next day with an explanatory note and details of the variations since 1901, not only for Provinces and Agencies, but also for the individual districts and States and the principal towns.”

Babu Anukul took a sip of nimbu-pani. “Within four days of the census, the figures had already been reported for a population of 131 million, while on the sixth day they had been ascertained for 238 million, or nearly four-fifths of the total population. The record was broken by the States of Rampur and Sarangarh where, by dint of working all night, the local officers were able, with the aid of mounted messengers and other means of conveyance, to get the figures for all parts of the State to headquarters in time for the telegram reporting the result to reach me in Calcutta by 8 am on the following morning. The extreme celerity and accuracy with which this work was accomplished” – here he glanced at Mr Gait and Mr Meikle, who both nodded – “is not approached even in the smallest European States.”

“Remarkable,” I said, quite taken aback. Not even the most celebrated military campaign could have boasted such detailed organisation. “How many toiled for this work, and at what cost?”

“Let us start with the smallest. Superintendents prepared their local instructions, and we provided for the division of the whole country into blocks, each of which contained from 30 to 50 houses and was in charge of an Enumerator. The total strength of the census staff was about two millions. The actual cost of the census operations to the Government was 2,03,000 rupees – or rather less than in 1901. This is not unsatisfactory for there has been a marked rise in prices and wages during the decade, and that the population dealt with has increased by over 20 millions.”

With that, the four gentlemen rose – Mr Gait, Mr Meikle (Superintendent of Government Printing, India), Mr Mallik and Rai Manmohan Roy Bahadur (Special Assistant to the Census Commissioner). They climbed into a waiting victoria which smartly set off towards the station. This was the quiet team that had planned and carried out a great count that had reached almost 300 million Indians. How different might it be, I wondered, a hundred years hence.

(This account is of course fictional. I have no way of finding out whether these four gentlemen ever got together, and if so then where. I set this imaginary encounter in Bombay 1911. What is entirely true are the events and work described by Mr Gait, for these details are taken direct from the report in volume one of the 1911 Census of India. Forgotten today, but incredible. The Khaleej Times has published this little cameo.)