Comments on the 1792 Population of Harris

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland Account of 1791-99 vol.10 pp.342-392: Harris, County of Inverness contains a treasure-trove of information.

On p386 we are provided with a glimpse of the demography of Harris in 1792 and this is an attempt at extracting some information from the account:

When the Reverend Mr Macleod was appointed, he had found there to be no records so he did a head-count ‘reckoning every soul above seven years old examinable’ and found there to be 1805.

In 1792 he performed a more careful analysis, according to which that figure of 1805 souls ‘above 7 years old’ had risen to 2122 people, an increase of 317 or almost 18%.

He gives the 1792 population as 2536 in total, of which 1136 (45%) were male and 1400 (55%) female. There were 447 Heads of families, giving an average family size of between 5 and 6 people. Apparently 108 people could read and write and it would be interesting to compare this with other areas.

He then provides us with an age-profile for the Parish:

Under 7 –  414
7-14 –       368
14-50 –   1481
50-80 –      228
Over 80 –    45

The longevity of islanders is universally commented upon and here we can see that over 10% of the population were 50 and over and indeed he remarks that ‘recently a women of 104 was buried’.

In 1792 there were 51 deaths which is described as an unusually large number due in large part to two epidemics, one of small-pox and the other of pestilential fever. The number of deaths in the years from 1779 to 1785 he describes as averaging less than 3 per year.

However, in that year there were 51 births in the Parish and another 53 ‘elsewhere’ so it appears that even in this year of pestilence and pox the population was continuing its upward trend, abetted, no doubt, by the 12 marriages that took place!

Other factors that had led to the population increase since 1779 are cited as the lack of emigration, of a call to arms for the young men and the healthy state of the Kelp-industry.

Now, if we allow ourselves to presume that his mentioning 1779, and his earlier ‘reckoning’ having taken place when he began his tenure, as being simultaneous, then we have these figures for ‘souls’:

1779(1805 souls), 1792 – (2122 souls), but he also gives us an earlier figure from1755 (1769 souls).

This suggests that between 1755 and 1779 (24 years) the population increase had been a mere 2% whilst between 1755 and 1792 (47 years) it was almost 20% with the vast majority occurring during the second-half of that period. By any reckoning, that is a population explosion worthy of record!

Come 1831, the 2536 population of 1792 had leapt another 50% to 3810, comprising 1863 males, 2037 females, of 777 families in 759 houses and continued to rise during the course of the 19thC.

Today the figure is closer to that of 250 years ago…

These figures, along with a full account of Harris in 1792, can be seen here:

“University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow. (1999) The Statistical Accounts of Scotland Account of 1791-99 vol.10 pp.342-392: Harris, County of Inverness . Available from: http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/

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