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Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience




This analysis of Australians enumerated in the England and Wales Census of 1901 establishes that their characteristics were more British than foreign. Unlike foreign immigrant groups they settled all over the two countries, were predominantly female, and mostly young, skilled and in nuclear families. They were also more likely to be from Victoria than New South Wales, and Queensland and Tasmania than Western Australia or South Australia. In 1901, then, the Australian diaspora in England and Wales showed itself to be very much part of the wider British world.

Historians of the British Empire have, over ten years or so, turned to the task of mapping and analysing what we now call the British world: that is, that complex ganglion of relationships – the cultural and demographic glue – which held the informal empire of people together.1 We are interested not only in the shared assumptions and outlooks but also in the shared relationships and networks. A key aspect of the mapping is to trace the patterns of migration, not simply, as in the past, from the metropole to the periphery, but also between the other constituent parts, what we might call cross migration. Return migration – that is, the flow of migrants who went home to Britain – is also part of this phenomenon. However, so is what we might label reverse migration, in which people born in the wider empire completely buck the trend and migrate to Britain.2

This complex process of migration across the British world is reflected in the Census of the British Empire, 1901, which among many other things gives places of birth for those enumerated in the various imperial censuses of that year. Migration was certainly not just from the UK to the colonies. For instance, in Orange River Colony, 28 per cent of the population not born in the colony was born in parts of the empire other than the UK; in Trinidad and Tobago, it was 33 per cent; in NSW only 9 per cent; but, spectacularly, in Western Australia, 42 per cent. Thus there was considerable cross-migration between the various parts of the British world other than the UK.3 Of course, England and Wales had considerable overseas-born populations generally in 1901, the biggest being 93,345 from the Russian Empire, 65,990 from Germany and 41,255 from the United States.4 However, the Russians in England and Wales were 0.07 of the total Russian population, the Germans, 0.12 and the Americans, 0.05;5 whereas for the West Indies the percentage was 0.63, for Australia it was 0.55, for New Zealand 0.58, for Canada 0.34, for the South African colonies and the Indian Empire 0.18 apiece. Thus, to varying but very significant degrees, as much as five and ten times more for Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies, there was a greater propensity to migrate to England and Wales from elsewhere in the British world than from foreign countries.6 If there is a single index of belonging to the British world then this is it.

My study of the Australia-born in the England and Wales census of 19017 and after is intended to fill in part of the British world jigsaw and also to contribute to Australian and British migration history in a novel way.8 Using the recently digitised transcript provided by QinetiQ,9 the census records where in Australia these Australians were born, their age, gender, relationship to head of household, occupational status, disabilities, if any, and place of residence in England or Wales.

First, let us look at the basic numbers. There were, according to the enumerators, 21,221 Australia-born in England and Wales on the evening of 30 March 1901.10 However, it seems there was a considerable amount of double counting and misattribution (there are Melbournes in Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire, for instance), and my analysis of the transcripts of the returns has identified definitely only 15,295. Many more people who had lived in Australia but had not been born there, and who might have thought of themselves as Australians, would have been resident in England and Wales in 1901, but we have no straightforward way of getting at their numbers. As the census constitutes a snapshot, there is no way of knowing from it how long these Australians had been in England and Wales and how long they stayed, but it can be inferred from their occupations and their relationship to head of family that relatively few, probably under 10 per cent, were sojourners or tourists.11

Figure 4.1 Australian population in England and Wales, 1901, where state of origin is known

Source: all graphs and tables are based on the QinetiQ transcription of the England and Wales census data for 1901 unless otherwise indicated.

Our 15,295 Australia-born came disproportionately from some states in Australia rather than others, as shown in Figure 4.1. New South Wales with 36 per cent of the population provided only 26 per cent of the Australians in England and Wales, whereas Victoria with 32 per cent provided 45 per cent. To lesser degrees, South Australia and Western Australia were under par and Tasmania and Queensland over. A third of those enumerated are simply recorded as having come from Australia. This was because the enumerators were instructed to record the birthplace of each person and, if that was in a British colony or dependency, the name of that colony or dependency.12 Hence the large number whose place of birth is given as Australia but we can be most grateful that most ignored the instruction, which perhaps reveals a psychological assumption that other parts of the British Empire were not really abroad at all. Among those simply recorded as coming from Australia, there may be also some bias towards New South Wales, which at the time sometimes called itself Australia; though, as we shall see, the Victorian tendency is also much evident in other figures.13

These data demand some explanation, but without going into the details of the individuals’ backgrounds in Australia this can only be highly speculative. (Recovering the Australian backgrounds would be a nigh impossible task for the vast majority of the people in question as the Australian census records for the individuals have not survived.) Before indulging in such speculation about the Australian background, let me add two other dimensions of data that we do have to hand; these are, average age and relationship to head of household.

The average age of all in England and Wales enumerated in the census and also for the Australia-born was 27 years, but there was considerable variation across the states. The average age for females in the 1901 census of Australia was 25 years, 27 years for males,14 whereas the average for females in England and Wales was 28 years and 27 years for males.15 New South Welshmen and Victorians were close to the Australian average age while Queenslanders were only 17 and, at the other end of the spectrum, Tasmanians were 35. To lesser degrees, South Australians were older than par and Western Australians were younger. Overall, Australia-born males in England and Wales were 25 years on average while females were 28. Thus Australian women in England and Wales were three years older on average than their sisters back in Australia and the men a year younger. Analysis of relation to head of household shows the overwhelming importance of the nuclear family unit in determining the location in family of these Australians. Fully 69 per cent were components of a nuclear family unit as head of household, wife, daughter or son.

How do we explain the state of origin, age and relationship to head of household data? And are there any relationships between them? There are several possible explanations for the preponderance of Victorians. Victoria was home to the largest numbers of migrants who had arrived in the period from the 1860s to the 1880s. Our Australia-born may be first generation Australians going ‘Home’ to school, or to an apprenticeship, or to a job obtained through family connections, or to care for family or take up family obligations. All of these reasons are apparent from perusing the census return columns for relation to head of household and also for profession or occupation. Some few Australia-born fitted the classic literary stereotype of people who had made their money in the colony and wanted a genteel retirement in the ‘mother country’. Still others may have been fleeing the 1890s depression, which hit Victoria particularly hard.

What of New South Wales? It had been settled longer and had fewer in the first generation category. Queensland shadowed Victoria in that regard. And how do we explain the considerable average age variations for Queensland and Tasmania? Like Victoria, Queensland had a population surge in the 1880s.16 Perhaps the Queenslanders in England and Wales are the children of migrants returning to British family connections and to education and job opportunities not available in less developed and – in the 1890s – economically depressed Queensland?

Why are the Tasmanians so much older? There is no obvious hypothesis. Perhaps for Tasmanians, and to a lesser extent South Australians too, Melbourne was metropole enough? According to the 1901 census of Australia, in 1900 over one-third of internal migration in Australia was out-migration from Victoria, principally to New South Wales, but Tasmanians were more than twice as likely to migrate to Victoria as New South Wales.17 Australian immigration and emigration by sea in 1900 again shows the greatest number of emigrants as being from Victoria.18 Further independent corroboration of the preponderance of Victorians may be found in Simon Sleight’s analysis of the list of Australasians in Europe published in the British Australasian on 5 July 1900.19

Let us now look more closely at gender. It is evident immediately from Figure 4.2 that, among the Australia-born adults, females considerably outnumbered males. Overall, the ratio is 4:3, and for adults higher still.20 Most of these women are listed as housewives, but we have no ready means of knowing, for instance, whether the wives married in Australia or Britain or whether they married other Australians. If we examine the total population of England and Wales by age cohort and gender (see Figure 4.3) we see that the host population does not display the spikes in late childhood, teens and 30s and 40s that the data for the Australia-born does (see Figure 4.4). People with very young children held off from migrating, and it seems adults waited, as a rule, until they had acquired skills and means before making their move.

What do we know about occupations? Figures 4.5 and 4.6 give a broad indication of the position, though Figure 4.6 omits housewife as a category, as this was not considered an occupational category at the time.21 For men I found occupational spikes for the military/naval, including the merchant marine (224), many of them officers and NCOs rather than privates, with the highest rank that of colonel; there are 71 in what I would like to call ‘performing arts’ (artists, singers, actors, musicians); and 43 ministers of religion, including three rabbis. The most common calling for women, other than housewife or living on own means, was domestic service (365), followed by nursing (163). When the data for females and males is combined to produce a top ten occupations (Figure 4.7), beyond living on own means (900), there is retail (415), domestic service (365), military/naval (including the merchant marine) (224), then clerks (211). Thus, these Australians tend to have skills and are economically active or dependants of the economically active. The figures for Australia-born with disabilities show no variation from the overall England and Wales norm.

Figure 4.2 Gender of the Australians in England and Wales, 1901

Figure 4.3 Age-Sex pyramid of the population of England and Wales, 1901

Source: Mitchell and Deane (1971, p.12).

Figure 4.4 Age-Sex pyramid of the Australians in England and Wales, 1901

Figure 4.5 Top twenty male occupations for Australians in England and Wales, 1901

Figure 4.6 Top twenty female occupations for Australians in England and Wales, 1901

Figure 4.7 Top ten occupations for Australians in England and Wales, 1901

Where did the Australians settle in England and Wales? Figure 4.8 shows that there were concentrations of Australians in the main conurbations of London and Liverpool-Manchester, as one would expect, but also in south Wales, the north-east of England and along the southern coast. It is hardly surprising that these are the same areas from which British immigrants to Australia were principally drawn.22 Unlike classical immigrant groups, however, which tend to stay in the large cities,23 the Australians are found in considerable numbers virtually everywhere, which strongly suggests family and local connections before migrating, what might be called reverse chain-migration. The settlement distribution pattern is also somewhat gendered and age-related. For example, if we compare London and the rest of England and Wales, the average age of Australia-born women in London is 31, that of men 28, whereas the figure for women outside London is 27 and for men 24.24 Australia-born Londoners were, thus, considerably older. The percentage of women in the total Australian population in London is 58 per cent, whereas for outside London it is 55. Australia-born children were on average aged seven across both England and Wales and in London. However, while children were 17 per cent of the total number of Australians in England and Wales in 1901, in London they were only 12 per cent, so Australian children were considerably more likely to be found outside London.

Let me now move on to two more detailed case studies. First, let us look at Wales. There were 506 Australia-born in Wales in 1901; their average age being 28. Of the 506, fully 295 were listed with no occupation, meaning that they were children or housewives. Of the rest, 29 were in collieries, in various posts from miner to surveyor. Others were scattered across a wide variety of occupations ranging from the professions (3 doctors, 1 clergyman, 6 engineers, 1 accountant) to trades of all sorts (2 bricklayers, 2 stonemasons, 1 carpenter, 1 plumber, 5 dressmakers and 1 milliner) to the unskilled (10 domestic servants, 5 labourers) and several were in relatively exotic jobs (an athletics coach, a music hall manager and a bath attendant). Thus most were skilled tradespeople of one kind or another with a smattering of professionals. The population distribution (Figure 4.9) shows a massive concentration in Glamorganshire, south Wales.

Figure 4.8 Distribution of the Australian population of England and Wales, 1901

Figure 4.9 Distribution of the Australian population of Wales, 1901

Now, let me turn to a brief snapshot of London, here defined as the London County Council area plus the City of London. Table 4.1 shows a fairly even distribution across central London, but with a particular concentration in Kensington (Earl’s Court, South and West Kensington), but also in Wandsworth, Paddington and Westminster. Kangaroo Valley seems to have a more venerable history than perhaps was thought.

Table 4.1 The Australians in London in 1901

Table 4.2 The average age and female/male distribution of Australians across London, 1901

* Calculated by multiplying the average age for each borough by its number of inhabitants, then dividing the total of these figures by the total Australian population.

As mentioned above, Table 4.2 shows that the Australians in London had a higher average age (30 years) than was the case nationally (27 years). Is there any distinction between the genders in terms of where Australians lived in London? Tables 4.2 and 4.3 indicate a markedly greater propensity for female Australians to live in London’s richer boroughs. Further, analysis of the occupational breakdown by borough shows that, for example in Kensington, these females are not, as one might surmise, in domestic service, but are housewives or ‘living on own means’ or schoolgirls. In poorer Stepney, the females are still housewives or at school. The 137 males in Kensington include a preponderance of professionals, tradesmen and students, but also the Agent-General for Western Australia and a retired Chief Secretary; whereas in Stepney the 86 males are overwhelmingly tradesmen, skilled and unskilled labourers and schoolboys. An investigation of the distribution of Australia-born across London by borough and state of origin reveals no particular pattern in terms of state preferences for particular boroughs, other than confirming the tendency to live in the central west of the city. Again, the national trend for the greatest number to be from Victoria is reflected in London, and is evident whether the borough is rich or poor.

Table 4.3 The excess of female over male Australians by borough, 1901


What, then, can we conclude overall from this analysis of the Australia-born in the 1901 census data for England and Wales?


  • They were disproportionately from Victoria.
  • The average age was 27, but Queenslanders were ten years younger on average and Tasmanians nine years older. Almost two-thirds of the adults were women.
  • The population is relatively evenly spread across England and Wales suggesting reverse chain-migration.
  • The adult males were overwhelmingly skilled people in trades and professions, with particular clusters for the military, performing artists, clergy and medical doctors.
  • There were significant numbers of older children and teenagers.
  • The Australia-born had an older average age (30) in London, and London’s Australian women were more likely to live in the richer boroughs, and this in their own right and not as domestics.
  • As a diasporic community the Australia-born were five times more significant as a proportion of population of their country of origin than were the major non-British world diasporas, such as the Russian and German, and ten times more than the American.

This Australian study suggests a complex web of relatively unrestricted migration flows and counter-flows such as one would expect from a fully interconnected British world rather than two separate countries.

Finally, we might ask whether this pattern also fitted for the other Dominions and the United States, whether those for the Russians and Germans were different, and for how long the pattern persisted. I am still working on the published census data for the period 1911 to 1971, but some characteristics are already clear. First, the strength of the pull of the British world varied from Dominion to Dominion and from time to time, stronger for New Zealand, Australia and South Africa than for Canada, but for all of them it was still much more significant per capita than for Germany, Russia, Poland and the United States. Second, the pattern of women predominating over men is common throughout the twentieth century for all of the former Dominions and persists to the present, whereas the Russian and Polish pattern is overwhelmingly male, and those for the United States and Germany vary over time. Third, though London acts as a magnet for all, those coming from the Dominions are less likely to respond to its attraction consistently across the century and still can be found all over the country. They also have a wider age and occupational distribution which equates more with that of the host community. In other words, the England and Wales census data shows that while we no longer have a British Empire, we still have a British world.


1     Bridge and Fedorowich, 2003,1–15. See also: Buckner and Bridge, 2003, 77–88; Buckner and Francis, 2005, 2006; Proudfoot and Roche, 2005.

2     Much of the data in this chapter is based on the Census of England and Wales, 1901, 1904, which provides a snapshot of the population on one night. There is, therefore, no way of telling how permanent or long-term the residency of the Australia-born was, but for the purposes of this chapter they will be described as immigrants.

3     Census of the British Empire. 1901, 1904, xl.

4     Census of the British Empire. 1901, 1904, 54.

5     In the census of 1900 the population of the Russian Empire was 126,367 that of Germany was 56,367 and that of the United States was 75,995. Mitchell, 1998, 4, 7, 50.

6     Census of the British Empire, 1901, 1904, 1.

7     Census of England and Wales, 1901, 1904.

8     The only previous works are a very evocative but largely impressionistic chapters in Inglis, 1992 and Woollacott, 2001. See also Richards, 2004a , 2004b.

9     Further details are available at:

10    Census of the British Empire, 54. There were also 18,829 Canadians and Newfoundlanders, 4,778 New Zealanders, 11,717 from the South African colonies, 10,198, from the British West Indies, and 52,848 from the Indian Empire.

11    The England and Wales Census for 1921 did make this distinction and the ratio of visitors to residents among the Australian-born enumerated then was one to nine.

12    Higgs, 2005, 89.

13    For the verification of place of birth, much of this analysis on a state basis, I am grateful to Australian Government: Geoscience ‘Australia: Place Name Search’. [Internet]. available from:

14    Vamplew, 1987, 40. POP 275-285 Age structure, sex ratio and urban and rural distribution, Australia 1861–1981.

15    I am grateful to Kevin Tibbetts of QinetiQ for providing the average ages for England and Wales.

16    Woolcock, 1986, fig. 2.1, 30.

17    Census of the British Empire. 1901, 1904, xliv.

18    The year-book of Australia, 1902?, 73.

19    See Chapter 6 in this volume.

20    Interestingly, Graeme Hugo in Chapter 2 of this volume, shows that women still predominate 5:4 and that most Australia-born migrants are still in their 20s and 30s. Cf Fullilove and Flutter, 2004, 13, figure 2.2. Comparison between people departing Australia and the resident population by age, draws on a DIMIA unpublished tabulation for the financial year 2002–2003.

21    Census of England and Wales, 1901, 52–53 lists these.

22    See Jupp, 2004.

23    Panayi, 1994, 51.

24    The calculation excludes one male, whose age is indecipherable.


Australian Government, ‘Geoscience Australia: Place name search’. [Internet]. Accessed 18 August 2008. Available from:

Census of England and Wales, 1901, General Report with Appendices. 1904. Cd. 2174. London: HMSO.

Census of the British Empire. 1901: Report with summary and detailed tables for the several colonies, &c., area, houses, and population; also population classified by ages, condition as to marriage, occupations, birthplaces, religions, degrees of education, and infirmities. 1906. Cd. 2660. London: HMSO, by Darling & Son, Ltd.

Genes Reunited Records Ltd. ‘1901 census online’. [Internet]. Accessed 18 August 2008. Available from:

The year-book of Australia. 1902? Sydney: The Year-Book of Australia & Publishing Company Ltd.


Bridge, Carl; Fedorowich, K. 2003. ‘Mapping the British world’. In The British world: Diaspora, culture and identity, edited by Bridge, Carl; Fedorowich, Kent. London: Frank Cass.

Buckner, P.A; Bridge, Carl. 2003. ‘Reinventing the British world’. Round Table 92 (368) (January): 77–88. DOI: 10.1080/750456741.

Buckner, P.A.; Douglas, F., editors. 2005. Rediscovering the British world. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

Buckner, P.A.; Douglas, F. 2006. Canada and the British world. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Fullilove, Michael; Flutter, Chloë. 2004. Diaspora: The world wide web of Australians. Double Bay, NSW: Lowy Institute.

Higgs, Edward. 2005. Making sense of the census revisited: Census records for England and Wales 1801–1901. A handbook for historical researchers. London: Institute of Historical Research and the National Archives of the UK.

Inglis, K.S. 1992. ‘Going home: Australians in England, 1870–1900’. In Home or away? Immigrants in colonial Australia, edited by Fitzpatrick, David. Canberra: Division of Historical Studies and Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University.

Jupp, James. 2004. The English in Australia. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Mitchell, B.R. 1998. International historical statistics: Europe 1750–1993. 4th edn. London: Macmillan Reference.

Mitchell, B.R.; Deane, Phyllis. Abstract of British Historical Statistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Panayi, Panikos. 1994. Immigration, ethnicity and racism in Britain, 1815–1945. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Proudfoot, Lindsay J.; Roche, Michael M., editors. 2005. (Dis)Placing empire: Renegotiating British colonial geographies. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Richards, Eric. 2004a. ‘Running home from Australia: Intercolonial mobility and migrant expectations in the nineteenth century’. In Emigrant homecomings: The return movement of emigrants 1600–2000, edited by Harper, Marjory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Richards, Eric. 2004b. Britannia’s children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1600. London: Hambledon.

Vamplew, Wray, editor. 1987. Australians: Historical statistics. Broadway, NSW: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates.

Woolcock, Helen R. 1986. Rights of passage. Emigration to Australia in the nineteenth century. London: Tavistock.

Woollacott, Angela. 2001. To try her fortune in London: Australian women, colonialism, and modernity. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Cite this chapter as: Bridge, Carl. 2009. ‘Australians in the England and Wales census of 1901: A demographic survey’. Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience, edited by Bridge, Carl; Crawford, Robert; Dunstan, David. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 4.1 to 4.16.


Australians in Britain: The Twentieth-Century Experience

   by Carl Bridge