Observations upon the Dublin Bills of Mortality (Petty 1683)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Observations upon the Dublin Bills of Mortality, MDCLXXXI. And the State of that City. (1683)
by William Petty

The Observations were first published in 1683. This edition is from the The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, edited by Charles Henry Hull, and published in 1899.

2534976Observations upon the Dublin Bills of Mortality, MDCLXXXI. And the State of that City.1683William Petty

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse









State of that  CITY.

By the Observator[2] on the LONDON


Printed for Mark Pardoe, at the Sign of
the Black Raven, over against Bedford-
house in the Strand. 1683.


The earliest known reference to the Dublin bills is an order in the city assembly roll for the fourth Friday after Christmas, 1658, for the treasurer of the city to pay, on Mr Mayor's wariant, to John Tadpole, fifty shillings sterling for his employment heretofore in bringing in the weekly bills of mortality within the city and the suburbs thereof[3]. To these bills Petty turned his attention upon the first trip which he made to Dublin after the publication of Graunt's book[4]. It was not, however, until after the death of his friend that he undertook his Observations upon them. Concerning the Observations he writes to Southwell, 25 November, 1682, that he will meddle no more with political arithmetic nor ratiocinations, but will turn beast and grow absurd, as the glorious men of the world are. The accompanying pamphlet is not a startling from his resolutions, "for it was put a printing when I first came to town[5], and hath been kept in hand by my brother beast Mark Pardo, the stationer... I would have you run to the city of Bristol with the same and bore their skulls with the same advice that is here given for Dublin[6]."



DUBLIN-Bills of Mortality, 1681.


State of that CITY.

THE Observations upon the London-Bills of Mortality have been a new Light to the World; and the like Observation upon those of Dublin, may serve as Snuffers to make the same Candle burn clearer.

The London-Observations flowed from Bills regularly kept for near One hundred years; but these are squeezed out of Six stragling London-Bills, out of Fifteen Dublin Bills, and from a Note of the Families and Hearths in each Parish of Dublin; which are all digested into the one Table or Sheet annexed, consisting of Three Parts, markt A, B, C; being indeed the A, B, C, of Publick Oeconony, and even of that Policy which tends to Peace and Plenty. |2|

Observations upon the Table A.

1.  THe Total of the Burials in London, (for the said Six stragling years mentioned in the Table A) is 120170; whereof the Medium or Sixth part is 20028; and exceeds the Burials of Paris, as may appear by the late Bills of that City.

2. The Births, for the same time, are 73683, the Medium or Sixth part whereof is 12280, which is about Five eighth parts of the Burials; and shews, that London would in time decrease quite away, were it not supplyed out of the Countrey, where are about Five Births for Four Burials, the proportion of Breeders in the Country being greater than in the City.

3. The Burials in Dublin for the said Six years, were 9865, the Sixth part or Medium whereof is, 1644, which is about the Twelfth part of the London-Burials; and about a Fifth part over. So as the people of London do hereby seem to be above Twelve times as many as those of Dublin.

4. The Births in the same time at Dublin, are 6157, the Sixth part or Medium whereof is 1026, which is also about five eighth parts of the 1644 Burials; which shews, that the |3| proportion between Burials and Births are alike at London and Dublin, and that the Accompts are kept alike; and consequently are likely to be true, there being no Confederacy for that purpose: Which if they be true, we then say,

5. That the Births are the best way[7] (till the Accompts of the people shall be purposely taken) whereby to judge of the Increase and Decrease of People, that of Burials being subject to more Contingencies and variety of Causes.

6. If Births be as yet the measure of the People, and that the Births (as has been shewn) are as Five to Eight, then Eight fifths of the Births is the number of the Burials, where the year was not considerable for extraordinary Sickness or Salubrity; and is the Rule whereby to measure the same. As for Example: The Medium of Births in Dublin was 1026, the Eight fifths whereof is 1641, but the real Burials were 1644; so as in said years they differed little from the 1641, which was the Standard of Health; and consequently, the years 1680, 1674, and 1668, were sickly years, more or less, as they exceeded the said Number 1641; and the rest were healthful years, more or less, as they fell short of the same number. But the City was more or less Populous, as the Births differ-|4|ed from the Number 1026; viz. Populous in the years 1680, 1679, 1678, & 1668: For other causes of this difference in Births, are very occult and uncertain.

7. What hath been said of Dublin, serves also for London.

8. It hath already been observ'd by the London-Bills, That there are more Males than Females[8]. It is to be further noted, that in these Six London-Bills also; there is not one instance either in the Births or Burials to the contrary.

9. It hath been formerly observ'd, That in the years wherein most dye, fewest are born, & vice versâ[9]. The same may be further observ'd in Males and Females, viz. When fewest Males are born, then most dye: for here the Males dyed as Twelve to Eleven, which is above the mean proportion of Fourteen to Thirteen, but were born but as Nineteen to Eighteen, which is below the same.

Observations upon the Table B.

1.  FRom the Table B, it appears, That the Medium of the Fifteen years Burials, (being 24199) is 1613, whereas the Medium of the other six years in the Table A, was 1644, and that the Medium of the Fifteen |5| years Births (being in all 14765) is 984, whereas the Medium of the said other six years, was 1026[10]. That is to say, there were both fewer Births and Burials in these Fifteen years, than in the other six years; which is a probable sign that at a Medium there were fewer People also.

2. The Medium of Births for the Fifteen years being 984, whereof Eight fifths (being 1576) is the Standard of Health for the said Fifteen years; and the triple of the said 1576, being 4728, is the standard for each of the Ternaries of the Fifteen years within the said Table.

3. That 2952, the triple of 984 Births, is for each Ternary the Standard of Peoples increase and decrease from the year 1666 to 1680 inclusive, viz. The People increased in the second Ternary, and decreased from the same in the Third and Fourth Ternarys, but re-increased in the Fifth Ternary beyond any other.

4. That the last Ternary was withal very healthful, the Burials being but 4624, viz. below 4728, the Standard.

5. That according to this proportion of increase, the Housing of Dublin have probably increased also. |6|

Observations upon the Table C.

1.  First, from the Table C, it appears,1. That the Housing of Dublin is such, as that there are not five Hearths in each House one with another, but nearer five than four.

2. That in St. Warburghs Parish are near six Hearths to an House. In St. Johns five. In St. Michaels above five. In St. Nicholas within above six. In Christ-Church above seven. In St. James's, and St. Katherines, and in St. Michans, not four. In St. Kevans about four.

3. That in St. James's, St. Michans, St. Brides, St. Warburgh, St. Andrews, St. Michaels, and St. Patricks, all the Christnings were but 550, and the Burials 1055, viz. near double; and that in the rest of the Parishes the Christnings were five, and the Burials seven, viz. as 457 to 634[11]. Now whether the cause of this difference were negligence in Accompts, or the greaterness of the Families, &c. is worth inquiring.

4. It is hard to say in what order (as to greatness) these Parishes ought to stand, some having most Families; some most Hearths, some most Births, and others most Burials. Some Parishes exceeding the rest in two, |7| others in three of the said four particulars, but none in all four. Wherefore this Table ranketh them according to the plurality of the said four particulars wherein each excelleth the other.

5. The London-Observations reckon eight heads in each Family[12]; according to which estimation, there are 32000 Souls[13] in the 4000 Families of Dublin; which is but half of what most Men imagine; of which but about one sixth part are able to bear Arms, besides the Royal Regiment.

6. Without the knowledge of the true number of People, as a Principle, the whole scope and use of the keeping Bills of Births and Burials is impaired; wherefore by laborious Conjectures and Calculations to deduce the number of People from the Births and Burials, may be Ingenious, but very preposterous.

7. If the number of Families in Dublin be about 4000, then Ten Men, in one week (at the Charge of about Five pound, Surveying Eight Families in an hour) may directly, and without Algebra, make an Accompt of the whole People, expressing their several Ages, Sex, Marriages, Title, Trade, Religion, &c. and those who survey the Hearths, or the Constables or Parish Clarks, (may, if required) do the same ex Officio, and without o-|8|ther Charge, by the Command of the Chief Governor, the Diocesan, or the Mayor[14].

8. The Bills of London have since their beginning, admitted several Alterations and Improvements; and eight or ten pound per annum surcharge, would make the Bills of Dublin to exceed all others, and become an excellent Instrument of Government. To which purpose the Forms for Weekly, Quarterly, and Yearly Bills are humbly recommended, viz.[15]

Casualties and Diseases.

Aged above 70 years.

Abortive and Still-born.





Gout, and Sciatica.



Consumption, and French Pox.

Dropsie, and Tympany.

Rickets, and Livergrown.

Head-ach and Megrim.

Epilepsie, and Planet.

Fever, and Ague.



Executed, Murder'd, Drown'd.

Plague, and Spotted-Fever.

Griping of the Guts.

Scowring, Vomiting, Bleeding.

Small Pox.


Neither of all the other sorts.





WHereas you complain, that these Observations make no sufficient Bulk, I could answer you. That I wish the Bulk of all Books were less; but do never-the-less comply with you in adding what follows, viz.

1. That the Parishes of Dublin are very unequal; some having in them above Six hundred Families, and others under Thirty.

2. That, Thirteen Parishes are too few for Four thousand Families; the midling Parishes of London containing One hundred and twenty Families; ac-||cording to which rate, there should be about Thirty three Parishes in Dublin.

3. It is said, that there are Eighty four thousand Houses or Families in London, which is Twenty one times more than are in Dublin; and yet the Births and Burials of London are but Twelve times those of Dublin: which shews that the Inhabitants of Dublin are more crowded and streightned in their Housing, than those of London; and consequently, that to increase the Buildings of Dublin, will make that City more conformable to London.

4. I shall also add some Reasons for altering the present forms of the Dublin-Bills of Mortality, according to what hath been here recommended, viz.

1. We give the distinctions of Males and Females in the Births onely; for that the Burials must, at one time or another, be in the same proportion with the Births.||

2. We do in the Weekly and Quarterly Bills propose, that notice be taken in the Burials of what numbers dye above Sixty and Seventy, and what under Sixteen, Six, and Two years old; foreseeing good uses to be made of that distinction.

3. We do in the Yearly Bill, reduce the Casualties to about Twenty four, being such as may be discerned by common sense and without Art; conceiving that more will but perplex and imbroil the Account. And in the Quarterly Bills, we reduce the Diseases to Three Heads, viz. Contagious, Acute, and Chronical; applying this distinction to Parishes, in order to know how the different Scituation, Soil, and way of living in each Parish, doth dispose Men to each of the said Three Species: and in the Weekly Bills we take notice not only of the Plague, but of the other Contagious Diseases in each Parish; that strangers and fear-||ful Persons may thereby know how to dispose of themselves.

4. We mention the Number of the People, as the Fundamental Term in all our proportions; and without which, all the rest will be almost fruitless.

5. We mention the number of Marriages made in every Quarter, and in every year; as also the proportion which Married Persons bear to the whole; expecting in such Observations to read the improvement of the Nation.

6. As for Religions, we reduce them to Three, viz.1. Those who have the Pope of Rome for their Head.2. Who are Governed by the Laws of their Country.3. Those who rely respectively upon their own private Judgments. Now whether these distinctions should be taken notice of or not, we do but faintly recommend, seeing many Reasons pro and con for the same: and therefore although we have mentioned it as a matter fit to be considered, yet we humbly leave it to Authority.||

  1. Image from a scan of the original work, not from The Economic Writings. (Wikisource-ed.)
  2. On the significance of this apparent ascription of the London Observations to Petty, see Introduction, also an article by the editor in Polit. Sci. Quart. xi. 113, 131.
  3. Gilbert, Calendar, iv. 154.
  4. Letter, to Brouncker, 4 February, 1663, printed in note 2, p. 398.
  5. June 1682, Fitzmaurice, 250.
  6. Thorpe, Cat. lib. MSS. bibl. Southwellianæ, 405.
  7. On the deficiencies of the London birth returns see Graunt, p. 361, also Introduction.
  8. Graunt, p. 374.
  9. Ib. p. 368.
  10. Table A gives the births in 1672 at 987, table B at 967; these numbers are used for the averages respectively.
  11. According to table C, the total burials in the enumerated parishes are 1000, not 1055, the total christenings are 585, not 550, while the total burials in the rest of the parishes are 789, not 634 and the total christenings are 422 not 457.
  12. Graunt, p. 385.
  13. Graunt had estimated 30,000 in 1662, see p. 399.
  14. How entirely Petty's dispute about the Down Survey occupied his attention in 1659 is evident from his ignorance of the census which was taken in Dublin and elsewhere in that year. It gave the number of all the people in eleven parishes (Christ Church and Nicholas without omitted) at 8780. Gilbert, Calendar, iv. 571, also p. xiii. Mr Hardinge shews reason for believing that Petty had copies of the returns of that census for nearly the whole of Ireland. If he had, it is not likely that he secured them until after the writing of the Dublin Observations, as neither the Observations nor the Polit. Anat. mentions the census of 1659. See Hardinge, The earliest known MS. Census Returns of the People of Ireland, in Trans. R. I. Acad., vol. xxiv. antiquities, pp. 317—328.
  15. The tables A, B, and C are printed, in the 1683 edition, upon sheets inserted after p. 8 of the pamphlet, so that "A Weekly Bill of Mortality for the City of Dublin," here printed on p. 487, there follows immediately after the recommendation of it.