Report on the Census of British India taken on the 17th of February 1881: Vols. I-III


This report on the 1881 census of British India says that it was “the first synchronous enumeration attempted for all of India.” A previous census had been conducted for the provinces and states but at different times and by independent agencies. (See Memorandum on the Census of British India of 1871-72) This census was conducted by the Government of India and its local administrations.  

It covered all of British India (except Kashmir) and included the ‘Feudatory States’, the French and Portuguese colonies, and what was then the province of Burmah. It was compiled by William Chichele Plowden, a civil servant and a member of the imperial legislative council of British India.

This report is divided into three volumes. The first volume has 13 chapters with information about the size, sex and density of the population, religious groups, marriage and divorce, mortality and average life span, literacy, languages and dialects, physical and mental illnesses, urban and rural areas, caste and occupation and so on. Volumes II and III contain the report’s appendices.


  1. The 18 provinces and states of British India were spread across 1,382,624 square miles (around 3,580,979.72 square kilometres) and had a population of 253.89 million. There were a total of 714,707 towns and villages.

  2. The population density ranged from 43 to 441 persons per square mile. The average population density was 184, with 5.8 persons per ‘occupied house’.

  3. The census recorded a  total of 129.94 million males and 123.95 million females. Around 43.536 million homes were ‘occupied’, while 4.638 million were ‘unoccupied’; this included shops in bazaars that were not used as dwellings.

  4. Among every 10,000 people, there were 7,402 Hindus, 1,974 Muslims, 253 ‘Aborigines’, 135 Buddhists, 73 Christians, 73 Sikhs, and 48 Jains.

  5. There were an average of 51.18 men per 100 people in the 1881 census and 51.4 men per 100 in the 1871-72 census. At the lower end of the spectrum was Madras with 49.48 men per 100 and at the higher end was Coorg with 56.33 men per 100.

  6. There were a total of 129.94 million males and 123.94 million females across all age groups. In the under-1 category, there were 30.8 million boys and 30.94 million girls. In the above-60 category, there were 55.65 million men and 66.5 women.

  7. 106 ‘Indian tongues’, 17 Asian languages, 28 European languages and one African language were spoken in British India. The majority (over 82 million people) spoke Hindustani or Urdu.

  8. For every 1,000 males, 104 were able to read and write or were ‘under instruction’. Among females, only 6 per 1,000 could read and write and 3 per 1,000 were ‘under instruction’.

  9. 90.9 per cent of the total population lived in rural areas. Assam had highest number of rural inhabitants (98.6 per cent), Ajmer had the lowest (80 per cent), and Hyderabad had the second lowest (81 per cent).

  10. Bombay was the largest city, with a population of 772,196, followed by Calcutta and Madras, with 766,298 and 405,848 people, respectively.

  11. Of the total Hindu population of 187.937 million, Brahmins constituted 13.73 million and Rajputs 7.11 million. The remaining consisted of over 272 castes.

  12. Of the total male population, 51.09 million were agriculturists, while 48.79 million had ‘no stated occupation’ or an unspecified one. They formed 76.9 per cent of the male population. The remaining consisted of ‘indefinite labourers’ (7.24 million), those involved in cotton manufacturing (2.6 million), ‘attendants and domestic servants’ (2.14 million), ‘workers in dress’ (2.08 million) and ‘workers in vegetable food’ (1.44 million).    

    Focus and Factoids compiled by Abizar Shaikh.


W. Chichele Plowden


Public domain; originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London


17 Feb, 1881