I was recently asked how the population of the island of Unst has changed over time, and since I couldn’t find a place online which pulled together all the numbers, I thought I would write it myself.
These numbers come from a variety of sources. Open the twisty below to see the data and the sources.
Unst Population numbers and Sources
|1755||1368||Webster’s Census (see page 113 of the PDF)|
|1780||1853||Statistical Accounts of Scotland, OSA, Vol V, 1793|
|1790 or 91||1988||Statistical Accounts of Scotland, OSA, Vol V, 1793 and NSA, Vol XV, 1845|
|1801||2259||1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6|
|1831||2909||Statistical Accounts of Scotland, NSA, Vol XV, 1845, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6|
|1841||2828||Totals from 9 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages|
|1851||2976||Totals from 9 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages|
|1861||3060||Totals from individual census pages, as no summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6|
|1871||2780||Totals from individual census pages, as no summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6|
|1881||2181||Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6|
|1891||2014 (+ 225 people in Herring Fishing Stations)||Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages|
|1901||1867||Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages|
|1911||1828||Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages|
|1921||1568||Reduction from 1911 detailed in Preliminary Report of the thirteenth Census of Scotland 1921 [*]|
|1931||1341||A Vision of Britain through time [*]|
|1951||1112||A Vision of Britain through time [*]|
|1961||1148 or 1151||Gazetteer for Scotland and A Vision of Britain through time [*]|
|1971||1124||Gazetteer for Scotland|
|1981||1140||Gazetteer for Scotland|
|1991||1055||Scotland’s Census 1991 – National Records of Scotland via Scotland’s Census website|
|2001||720||Statistical Bulletin on 2011 Census|
|2011||632||Statistical Bulletin on 2011 Census|
[*] This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth
The lower numbers in the early years in the graph are attributed, in the Statistical Accounts of 1845, to two bouts of small pox.
In 1729, and again in 1740, the small-pox appears in Zetland in such a virulent form, and made such havock, almost depopulating some districts, that they are yet spoken of under the name of the mortal pox. Accordingly, we find, that, subsequent to that time, the population was very low; for, in the year 1755, it consisted only of 1368 souls. From that period, the increase has been steady and rapid.
Vaccination, which has been resorted to ever since the year 1800, may be assigned as one cause of this great increase. Another cause may be found in the very favourable seasons this country has enjoyed during the last thirty years. There has been no failure of crops; the fishing has been successful; and trade has greatly improved.
and in the earlier Statistical Accounts of 1793, a similar comment is made against the population numbers.
If the numbers have increased, however, within these last 30 or 40 years, it is owing chiefly to the introduction of inoculation for the small pox. For more than 100 years past, this epidemical distemper used to visit the island nearly every 20 years, and to carry off, with the rage of a pestilence, great numbers of all ages. In 1770, inoculation became general here among all ranks. In 1783, a general inoculation was repeated through the parish with the most flattering success.
In the years 1740, 1766, and 1783, excessive scarcity was felt here. But even in those periods of famine, none are known to have absolutely died for want.
The steep decline seen after the 1861 census peak is as a result of large numbers leaving. This was due to a number of factors, but evictions of tenants from crofts to create larger sheep farms was one factor; also the pull of the new world, such as New Zealand, (a very large Shetland population went to New Zealand), Australia, Canada and the United States. This article, “Finding a place”, will be of interest to anyone curious about emigration patterns. My own great-great-grandmother was evicted from their croft at Clugan as I wrote about before.
The population of Unst received a boost from 1957 through to 2006 when the RAF Saxa Ford radar station was installed and manned. At the height of the Cold War, more than 300 personnel were based at Saxa Vord, with hundreds of knock-on jobs for islanders.
The next census will be taken in 2022. I wonder what the population count will be then. Will the Unst Space Station make a similar change to the population that the RAF base did in earlier decades?