1891 Census

1891 Census Date – 5 April 1891

The United Kingdom 1891 Census was taken on the night of 5th April 1891. For direct links to the 1891 English Census, Scottish Census and Welsh Census, visit the following census information pages provided by Ancestry.co.uk:

1891 Census information

Victorian Britain at the time of the April 1891 Census.

Prime Minister

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1886 to 1892)

Government of the day

Conservative

Foreign Secretary

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury (1887 to 1892)

Chancellor of the Exchequer

George Goschen (1887 to 1892)

Historical Snapshot – Victorian Britain in the decade up to the 1891 Census

When researching your family history, historical context is everything. Find out what was happening in the decade leading up to the 1891 Census.

Domestic Affairs

On 19 April, Benjamin Disraeli, a towering figure of the 19th Century died. Whilst he lay dying, he declined a visit from Queen Victoria, declaring that she ‘would only ask me to take a message to Albert’.

Societies and Strikes

Two (very different) societies were formed in the 1880s. The Boys’ Brigade was founded in Glasgow in 1883. A year later, the Fabian Society was founded. This group of middle class intellectuals (the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was a member) was named after Fabius, a Roman General who used tactics, rather than force, to overcome Hannibal.

Two, now famous, London strikes drew public attention to the terrible working conditions of the working poor.

In 1888, the Match Girls’ Strike, brought by girls and women employed by Bryant & May, highlighted the horrific results of working with white phosphorous from which matches were manufactured. Prolonged exposure to white phosphorus led to a extremely distressing condition known as ‘phossy jaw’ (phosphorus necrosis of the jaw); symptoms included extreme swelling of the gums, glowing bones, rotting bone tissue and, ultimately severe brain damage.

In 1891, the Salvation Army established their own match factory using the harmless (but more expensive) red phosphorus but white phosphorus was not banned until 1908.

A year later, the London Dock strike highlighted the low pay and precarious employment suffered by dockers, who successfully held out for a ‘dockers tanner’ (sixpence an hour) and a minimum 4 hour working day. Crucial to their success was the decision of the stevedores to join the strike.

By 1900, trade union membership in the Great Britain had swelled to around 2 million. Trade unions were now aligned by industry, rather than craft, and were more politicised.

The Irish Question

The Push for Home Rule and the ‘Phoenix Park Murders’
Agitation for Irish Home Rule continued unabated throughout the 1880s. In a bid to halt the violence and tenants’ strikes, Gladstone pushed through the Land Law (Ireland) Act in August 1881 giving Irish tenants more rights. However, it only encouraged Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Land League to campaign for Home Rule. The violence and strikes continued until, ultimately, Parnell and the leaders of the Irish Land League were emprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol.

In May 1882, a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ (aka the ‘Kilmainham Treaty’) was struck between Parnell & Gladstone whereby Gladstone agreed to clear rent arrears in exchange for an end to the violence. Later that same month, the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Lord Frederick Cavendish) and his Under-Secretary (T.H. Burke), tasked with implementing the ‘Treaty’, were stabbed to death as soon as they set foot in Dublin at Phoenix Park. Their murderers were known as the ‘Invincibles’ – an extreme wing of Fenians (Irish Republicans).

April – June 1886. First Home Rule Bill
Prime Minister Gladstone, dependent on Irish votes since his Liberal Party took power in February 1886, proposed the establishment of an Irish parliament in Dublin. Gladstone was convinced that Home rule was now inevitable but arguments over the Bill’s scope led to the collapse of the Government and caused the Liberal Party to split.

The Conservatives under Lord Salisbury won the 1886 General Election and commenced a 20-year period of ‘resolute government’ in Ireland. The following year, A J (‘Bloody’) Balfour (Lord Salisbury’s nephew) was appointed Secretary of Ireland and set about strictly enforcing the law (e.g. by shooting rioters). However, his actions only served to swing English public opinion in favour of Home Rule.

Parnell’s rise and fall
In February 1889, letters which ‘proved’ Parnell was involved in the Phoenix Park murders were found to be fakes. However, public sympathy towards him was shortlived when, the following year, he was cited as a co-respondent in a divorce suit. He died shortly afterwards, aged 45.

Industry, science and Technology

In the 1880s, there were two world firsts. In 1882, the world’s first coal fired power station was opened at the Holborn Viaduct power station (aka the Edison Electric Light Station). Four years’ later, the world’s first Motor Car was patented by Carl Benz in Germany.

Foreign Affairs

Egypt & the Sudan

1882 – The British Occupation of Egypt begins
During the 1880s, the British first commenced their occupation of Egypt. It all started in 1881 when the Khedive (similar to a Viceroy) of Egypt asked for French and British assistance in quelling a revolt (aka known as the ‘Urabi revolt) against European interference led by an army officer (Ahmed ‘Urabi).

A year later, the British and French sent naval ships to Alexandria but the French decided against military intervention (following riots and the murder of Europeans). A reluctant Gladstone agreed to the British bombardment of Alexandra on 11 July. Then, in September, the British defeated ‘Urabi rebels at Tall al-Kabir. The British occupation of Egypt had begun and would continue until 1956.

13 March 1884 – 26 January 1885 – Seige of Khartoum
The Sudan was an Egyptian dependancy and, following British occupation of Egypt, it was now Britain’s problem. Whilst the Egyptians were busy dealing with the ‘Urabi uprising, a revolt led by the Mahdi (a religious leader) had also erupted in the Sudan. Gladstone, always cautious militarily, favoured the evacuation of Egyptian soldiers and civilians from the Sudan.

The war hero General Charles George ‘Chinese’ Gordon, was asigned with the task of withdrawal but requested permission to save Khartoum. He was ultimately rebuffed by the British Government but not before precious weeks were lost. By May 1884, Gordon was besieged by rebel forces in Khartoum and it wasn’t until July that Gladstone agreed to send a relief expedition.

The Seige of Khartoum lasted 317 days. It ended on 26 January, 1885 when Mahdist forces finally broke through and slaughtered the entire Egyptian garrison and 4,000 Sudanese civilians. The British expeditionary force arrived on 28 January to find General Gordon’s decapitated body. The Sudan was abandoned and Queen Victoria sent Gladstone a highly critical telegram which was then conveniently leaked to the press. Gladstone’s reputation was ruined.

1 Jan 1886. Britain completed its annexation of Burma.
British victory in the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) resulted in Burma becoming part of the British Raj.

1881 – The ‘Scramble for Africa’ begins

The ‘scramble for Africa’, which lasted until the first World War, involved the carving up and colonization of Africa by various European powers, namely; Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Portugal. By 1914, 90% of Africa was under the control of a European power.

To ensure that this ‘scramble’ was orderly and did not lead to war, rules for claiming African territory were agreed at the ‘Conference of Berlin’ (1884-1885). Agreement was also reached to end slavery in Africa. This Conference was organised (and chaired) by Otto von Bismarck (Germany’s first Chancellor) and attended by 14 European countries plus the United States.

The General Act of the Conference of Berlin (Feb 1885) which concluded the Conference of Berlin, was signed by: Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Norway, Turkey and the United States.

1885 – The Unification of Bulgaria

Although this was in defiance of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, this unification was supported by Britain.