Making Numbers Count on the Racial Frontier: An Historical Sociology of the Birth of the Census, Victoria (Australia), 1835-1840


  • Rob Watts


Enumeration of the new settlement at Port Phillip, Australia, which was to become the Colony of Victoria in 1851, began as early as 1836 with the first census of the settlement. Such early exercises in census-taking between 1835 and 1840 were to play a key role in establishing the foundations of a racialized society in Australia. Census-making was central to establishing white sovereignty over the land, parallelling the processes of surveying the land, drawing boundaries for local government, and marking out roads. The Census Acts explicitly excluded Aborigines from being counted as residents, and Aborigines thus did not comprise any part of the “population” measured by the census. Their previous occupation of the land was overwritten by the measurement of expanding white settlement. Aboriginal peoples did not escape scrutiny, however: separate attempts were made to count them and to establish their whereabouts in the interests of establishing security and protecting them from the processes of occupation.






Surveying the Social, Part II