Source 1 : ‘History of the origin and progress of the Statistical Account of Scotland’, by Sir John Sinclair, 1798
Printed book (NLS shelfmark: S.A.S.)
Sir John Sinclair was a lay member of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and enlisted Church of Scotland ministers across Scotland to help him complete his survey of the nation.
A questionnaire of 166 queries was sent by an editorial board to ministers across Scotland. Many did not reply immediately, so Sinclair and the board sent a series of letters to encourage ministers to contribute, and even despatched ‘Statistical Missionaries’ to visit parishes. Responses varied in length, theme and quality and were edited by the board before publication.
Why a Questionnaire was used
In this essay, Sinclair discussed his reasons for collecting information in this way. It was published in volume 20 of the ‘Statistical Account’, along with the questions and letters sent to ministers.
ON my arrival at Edinburgh, in may 1790, to attend the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, of which Assembly I was a Lay Member, and with the leaders of which, I lived on terms of intimacy and friendship, it fortunately occurred to me, that I might prevail upon that respectable body, to furnish such information, respecting the general state of Scotland, as might enable me to give a sufficient idea of the political situation of that part of the British empire. My original intention was, to have drawn up a General Statistical View of North Britain, without any particular reference to parochial districts; but I found such merit and ability, and so many useful facts and important observations, in the communications which were sent me, that I could not think of depriving the Clergy, of the credit they were entitled to derive, from such laborious exertions, and thence was induced, to give the Work to the Public, in the manner in which it has been printed. It is my intention, at the same time, as soon as leisure from other pursuits will admit of it, to draw up the result of the whole inquiry, in a publication to be entitled, “Analysis of the Political State of Scotland,
with a View of the Principles of Statistical Philosophy,” a work which, I hope, it will be in my power to lay before the public at the commencement of the ensuing century.
THE most natural mode of obtaining information, and the one which I originally adopted, was that of printing and circulating Queries, as many individuals might be inclined to send answers to any questions put to them, who would not take the trouble of drawing up a regular Report. I accordingly addressed a Letter to the Clergy, and inclosed Queries in it, which will be found in Appendix B.
MANY people were at first surprised, at my using the new words, Statistics and Statistical, as it was supposed, that some term in our own language, might have expressed the same meaning. But, in the course of a very extensive tour, through the northern parts of Europe, which I happened to take in 1786, I found, that in Germany they were engaged in a species of political inquiry, to which they had given the name of Statistics; and though I apply a different idea to that word, for by Statistical is meant in Germany, an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining the political strength of a country, or questions respecting matters of state; whereas, the idea I annex to the term, is an inquiry into the state of a country, for the purpose of ascertaining the quantum of happiness enjoyed by its inhabitants, and the means of its future improvement; yet as
I thought that a new word, might attract more public attention, I resolved on adopting it, and I hope that it is now completely naturalised and incorporated with our language.
HAVING received a number of returns in consequence of the Queries circulated, and some of them being drawn up in the form of a regular Report, I resolved to try the effect of publishing a volume of parochial accounts; and having returned from London, (where I had gone to attend my duty in Parliament), to Edinburgh, in January 1791, I commenced the undertaking, by printing the reports of the four parishes with which the first volume of the Statistical Account commences, namely, those of Jedburgh, Holywood, Port-Patrick, and Hounam, and having thrown off 1000 extra copies of those four parishes, sent them, by way of a specimen, to every Clergyman in Scotland, accompanied with another Letter, to be found in Appendix C.
BY dint of great exertions, the first volume of the Work was published on the 25th of May 1791, exactly 12 months from the commencement of the undertaking. It gave, on the whole, very general satisfaction. Some of the Clergy, indeed, were dissatisfied, at the freedom used with their communications, (it being thought necessary to condense them as much as possible); and others, unaware of the difficulty of printing correctly, particularly from manuscripts written by so many different hands, were displeased with a few typographical
errors. It so far surpassed, however, any thing of the kind that had every been hitherto attempted, that every individual, who wished well to the improvement of the country, or the welfare of its inhabitants, became desirous of promoting it, and hence I had some reason to flatter myself, that the whole Work would be completed in a short period of time.
BEING so frequently out of Scotland, I have in general been obliged, to rely upon the assistance of others, for preparing the communications of the Clergy and correcting the press. The second volume, however, I was enabled to undertake myself, during a Parliamentary recess; and I do not recollect, to have met with a greater mass of curious and interesting information, in any publication to that extent. It begins with a parish near the borders, that of Tortherwald, and ends with Mid and South Yell in Shetland, the parishes gradually proceeding northwards. Those who can peruse that volume, without pleasure and improvement, must have little real turn or disposition for such investigations.
IT was natural to suppose, that the most zealous friends to the cause, would early come forward with their communications, and that some inducement must be held forth to those, who were inclined to be backward, to prevail upon them to make the necessary inquiries. From the beginning, I had proposed that the profits arising from the publication,
should be given to the Society instituted for the benefit of the Sons of the Clergy. It accidentally also occurred to me, that it would be possible to procure a Royal Grant for the same benevolent purpose; and having, with that view, applied to Mr Secretary DUNDAS, his Majesty, in consequence of his recommendation, was graciously pleased to grant £2000 to that Society; I availed myself of that opportunity, to make a third application to the deficient Clergy, (see Appendix, D), which I flattered myself would have been very generally successful.
EXPERIENCE, however, soon proved, that altho’ considerable progress might thus be made, yet that it was impossible to expect, without still greater exertions, the unanimous assistance of so numerous a body as the Clergy of Scotland. Many circumstances prevented unanimity on such an occasion. Some disliked the scheme from the beginning, or, having rashly given an opinion against it, before they had thoroughly understood its nature or object, were ashamed afterwards to retract. Some were prevented by old age and bodily infirmities, some owing to family distress, and some by the jealousy of their parishioners, who thought that the whole was a deep laid scheme, set on foot by Government, with a view to taxation; whilst the tenants, in many country parishes, did not much relish the inquiries which were made into the produce of the soil, the value of their cattle, &c. apprehensive
that their landlords, might avail themselves too much of that information. In short, from a combination of such circumstances, after writing many thousand letters, and the exertions of above two years, I found, on the 1st of June 1792, that no less a number than 413 accounts were still wanting.
EVERY measure, either devised by myself, or suggested by others, was carried into effect, in order to prevail upon the deficient Clergy to complete the Work. A recommendation from the General Assembly was one of the measures adopted; the distinguished Historian of Scotland and America, (the late Dr Robertson), was prevailed upon to write to all his contemporaries, requesting their assistance; many other respectable members of the Church, as Sir Henry Welwood Moncrief, Dr Blair, (the celebrated author of the Sermons, and other valuable publications), Dr Kemp, Dr Hardie, &c. applied to their Clerical friends, to promote the Work within the bounds of their several presbyteries. The Duke of Argyll, the Earl of Leven, (whose situation as Commissioner to the General Assembly gave him much weight with the Church), the Earl of Fife, and several other great Proprietors in Scotland, wrote to the different Ministers, whom they had presented to livings, or with whom they had any particular connection; and from time to time, I took every opportunity that occurred, of reminding the Clergy, by various letters, which will be seen in Appendix, E; but…
- What evidence does this source provide about the reasons why Sinclair used Church of Scotland clergy as his source of information and why he used questionnaires for collecting data?
- How useful is this source as evidence for the benefits and disadvantages of the methods used by Sinclair?