Before the Colony of Victoria was formed on 1 July 1851 it was known as Port Phillip District of New South Wales and most of the population censuses formed part of those for New South Wales.
The first census was held on 25 May 1836 by Police Magistrate George Stewart during a vist from Sydney. This showed a total European population of 177, comprising 142 males and 35 females. No individual names were recorded but four were said to be members of the Port Phillip Association.
A further census with a nominal date of 9 November 1836 was collected by Constable James W. Dwyer on instructions from William Lonsdale. Dwyer collected the census between 27 October and 9 November 1836 and was paid £3/10s/0d for the extra work. He counted a total of 224 persons, 186 male and 38 female, in the area around Melbourne.
This census recorded the names and locations of about 45 heads of households and their date of arrival. It recorded the numbers (but not the names) of other persons in each household; whether they were under or over 12 years of age; their civil condition (all were free settlers); and their religion. It also recorded the type of building; stock numbers and condition; and land under cultivation.
The figures from this census were included in the published results of the New South Wales census of 2 September 1836 which had been collected under an Act of the Governor and Council of 7th William IV, No. 1 passed on 5 July 1836.
These two censuses have survived and appear in volume 3 of "Historical Records of Victoria."
A census restricted to the inhabitants of Melbourne was held in March 1838. This is thought to have been compiled by William Lonsdale and lists heads of households, numbers of males and females in each household, and name of street where the house was located. The names of about 135 individuals were recorded out of a total population of about 600 persons.
A further census covering Port Phillip was held later in the year. This had a nominal date of 12 September 1838. This showed a population of 2,278 persons exclusive of the military and convict gangs. By 31 December 1838 the population was calculated to be 3,511 persons, 3,080 males and 431 females.
Both of these censuses appear in volume 3 of "Historical Records of Victoria."
This census had a nominal date of 2 March 1841 and was collected as part of the census of all New South Wales under an Act of the British Parliament, 4 Victoria, No. 26. Unlike the earlier censuses, this nominal date was when the collection of information began rather than finished. It took about a month to complete and cost £289 0s 0d to collect.
The forms asked for the names of the proprietor and householder (sometimes different) of each property. Multiple choice questions then sought the numbers; sex; age; civil condition; religion and occupation of persons in each household.
The Port Phillip District was divided into the Counties of Bourke, Grant and Normanby and Commissioners Districts of Western Port and Portland Bay for the recording of statistics. This showed a total population of 11,738 persons, 8,274 males and 3,464 females for the Port Phillip District.
Some of this census has survived including summary lists for the Melbourne area (County of Bourke). These give the names of the head of households and statistical data for each household. Also, the original householder forms for the outer Melbourne area also exist. These cover an area circling Melbourne from Dandenong to Plenty to Pascoe Vale to Werribee.
The surviving records are held by State Records of New South Wales who have published microfilm copies of them. They have a searchable index to the on their website.
This census had a nominal date of 2 March 1846 and was collected under an Act of the British Parliament, 9 Victoria, No. 21. It was collected as part of the census of all New South Wales.
The questions asked were similar to those in the 1841 census with the addition of a question on education (ability to read and write). The form also requested the name; country of birth; and details of the occupation of each person within a household.
The Port Phillip District was divided into the Counties of Bourke, Grant and Normanby and Commissioners Districts of Gipps' Land, Murray, Portland Bay and Western Port for the recording of statistics. This showed a total population in the Port Phillip District of 32,879 persons ( 20,184 males and 12,695 females ). It cost £606 9s 9d and the results were published in a Supplement to the New South Wales Government Gazette of 3 November 1846. The census forms are said to have been destroyed after the statistical information had been extracted.
This census had a nominal date of 1 March 1851 and was collected as part of the census of all New South Wales. It was collected under an Act of the British Parliament, 14 Victoria, No. 18 dated 19 September 1850.
The questions in this census were basically the same as those in the 1846 census. However the Act contained a clause that placed Melbourne within the police district of Bourke.
This showed a total population of 77,345 persons, 46,202 males and 31,143 females. Again, the census forms are said to have been destroyed after the statistical information had been extracted.
The above censuses counted only Europeans (and occasionally a few aboriginals who lived with Europeans). In 1839 the Chief Protector of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson, was requested to compile a complete census of aboriginals. This appears to have been done on a tribe by tribe basis over a period of years and the results recorded in the Protector's journals. In 1851 the total number of aboriginals in the Port Phillip District was estimated to be 2,693, comprising 716 males, 501 females, 192 children and 1,284 others whose sex and ages were unknown.
Between censuses the population was calculated by taking the totals for the most recent census, then adding subsequent births and arrivals, and deducting deaths and departures. This method was used to calculate the population as at 31 December of each year.
1. Camm, Jack "The Early Nineteenth Century Colonial Census of Australia Historical Statistics Monographs No. 8, Australian Reference Publications (Bundoora, 1988)
2. "Colonial Microfiche: Catalogue of Australian Statistical Publications, 1804 to 1901: Statistics Collected by the six Colonial Statistical Bureaus from 1804 to 1901" (3,035 microfiche and handbook) Australian Bureau of Statistics (Canberra, c1989)
3. "Colonial Secretary: 1841 Census Abstracts of Returns; Householders' Returns and Collectors' Affidavits" (micro films 2508-2509, 2222-2223) AONSW/State Records of New South Wales (Sydney, c1976)
4. Frauenfelder, Peter (ed.) "Social Conditions & Political Life: the Colonial Experience, Port Phillip District" State Library of Victoria (Melbourne, 1999)
5. "Historical Records of Victoria." Foundation Series Public Record Office of Victoria (Melbourne, 1981 onwards)
6. "Index to the 1841 Census" (searchable online at http://www.records.nsw.gov.au ) AONSW/State Records of New South Wales (Sydney)
7. "Victoria 1851" Public Record Office of Victoria (Melbourne, 1978)