There has always been much speculation among genealogist and historians alike as to whether South Africa has ever had a Population Census Register like the British and the consensus has been a big NO. The real fact is that YES there have been several, but the Cape Town Archives no longer have the original records, sadly only the statistics exist.
A Census of population was taken in March, 1865. No census of the Colony, in the proper acceptation of the word, has been taken previous to that. Up to the year 1865, statistical returns for the annual Blue Book were received at the Colonial Office from the several civil
commissioners, arranged under the heads of population, births, marriages, and deaths,
distribution of lands, and agricultural produce, and stock and animal productions. A want of
confidence in the accuracy of the information thus supplied, owing to the mode and
instrumentality of its collection, together with the expenses attending it (which averaged
£1,184 per annum), led to the discontinuance of the system in 1856.
The Cape Census of 1865
The Act of 1862, for taking the Blue Books, not having been acted upon, for certain reasons,
another was passed in 1864, and in pursuant of that Act the Census was taken between the
6th and 11th March. The information collected was to have reference to the population on
Sunday 5th March, 1865. About the middle of March, the returns began to reach the Colonial
office; they soon amounted to about 1,000 volumes; and operation of compiling their
contents was commenced on 20th March. The duties of those appointed to examine the
returns involved scrutiny of nearly half a million of entries, spread over about 30 thousand
pages, as respects the population returns; and as regard the stock, land under cultivation,
and produce returns, a deliberate comparison of the parts of each entry, so that no
omission or contradiction should escape detection.
The work of enumeration was assigned to the field-cornets, assisted when necessary, and
acting under the direction of the civil commissioners; while, in the case of municipalities,
missionary institutions, and native locations, the respective managing bodies and
superintendents were requested to undertake the duty.
The completion was finally concluded about the middle of February in 1866 and the
resulting tables were soon after committed to the press. The tables prepared and printed
showed the sex, races, and ages of the population; the places of birth; occupations; stock;
land under cultivation; seed sown; produce; state of education; attendance at school; deaf
and dumb; blind; lunatics and idiots. The following table is a summary of those showing the
sex, races, and ages of the people.
The returns for Clanwilliam (including at that time Calvinia), Uitenhage (including
Humansdorp and Alexandria), Fort Beaufort (including Stockenstrom), and Colesburg
(including Middelburg and Hope Town), were generally more correct that those of other
divisions; and the numbers derived from a Census of Cape Town executed by a private
agency in 1854 may be accepted as trustworthy.
The Act of 1862
In 1862, an Act was passed for taking a census, to comprise the indicated in the schedules;
and the cost was estimated at about £20,000.
For financial reasons, this enactment was not carried into effect; and, in a subsequent
session of Parliament, the Census Act 1864 was passed, which was put into operation in the
early part of March the following year.
This act repeals the one of 1862, makes the mode and time of taking the Census dependent
on the state of the finances of the Colony, and, with the view of diminishing the expenses of
the measure, omits certain details and particulars required by the previous Act, and does
not insist on the enumerators obtaining the information in only one day. It also introduces
the agency of divisional councils and municipalities for the collection of the information
relating to their respective jurisdictions; but retains, as far as may be necessary or
convenient, the forms of schedules prescribed by the Act of 1862.
The particulars omitted were included under the columns “house or hut”, “relationships”
and “Government Schools”. “Schools aided by Government” were excluded from Schedule
A; the distinction between “schools aided” and those “not aided” was ignored, as well as
the distinction between “mission” and “other” schools. An inquiry was, moreover
introduced respecting idiots and lunatics. Schedule B was left intact.
On further investigation J.L. De Lima requested support from the Government towards a
publication containing Census of Cape Town and Green Point. In 1862 the Colonial Office
reports Dr. A.G. Campbell as requesting appointment as a census officer. In the pursuing
years of 1865 several people such as C.S. Haylett, P.B. Van Rhyn, E. Whiley. F.W. Beineke
(Beneke) and Dr. E. Behm requested remuneration for work done in the census. And in 1906
the Cape Military Police in the Eastern Cape applied to the Government to act as census
enumerators in the census of children. Whether this happened remains a mystery.
For any help or research on the Cape Almanacs please contact Ancestors Research South
References: 1870 Cape Almanac, Colonial Office Volume 8326 Ref: X5848 + Volume 4075