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John Rickman (22 August 1771 – 11 August 1840) was an English government official and statistician of the early nineteenth century.

John Rickman

Portrait of John Rickman painted by Samuel Lane in c.1831
Born(1771-08-22)August 22, 1771
DiedAugust 11, 1840(1840-08-11) (aged 68)
EducationGuildford Grammar School, Magdalen Hall, Oxford & Lincoln College, Oxford.
Known forCreating the United Kingdom census

He was born in Newburn, Northumberland, son of the Rev Thomas Rickman and educated at Guildford Grammar School, Magdalen Hall, Oxford and Lincoln College, Oxford. The poet Robert Southey was one of his friends.

From 1799 to 1801 he edited the Commercial, Agricultural, and Manufactures' Magazine which published his article "On ascertaining the population" in 1800. An earlier version of this paper entitled "Thoughts on the Utility and Facility of a general enumeration of the People of the British Empire". Rickman, was living at Burton in Christchurch, in 1792, when he first published ‘Thoughts on the Utility and Facility . . . etc’. It was Christchurch’s MP George Rose who raised this in Parliament with the speaker Lord Colchester Charles Abbot, leading in 1800 to the Bill ‘An Act for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain’.[1]. Shortly after, in 1800, Abbot appointed Rickman his Private Secretary.

Rickman is credited with drafting the first bill which became the 1800 Census Act, the full title of which was An Act for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain, and of the Increase or Diminution thereof, which became law in December 1800. Rickman was instrumental in carrying out the first four censuses of Great Britain, including not only a population count, but also the collection and analysis of parish register returns.

Following Abbot's election to the post of Speaker of the House of Commons in February 1802, Rickman took the post of Speaker's Secretary, which he held until July 1814 when he was appointed Second Clerk Assistant at the Table of the House of Commons. He became Clerk Assistant in 1820, a post which he held to his death. It is often stated, but never the case that Rickman was Clerk of the House of Commons.

Rickman served as Secretary to two Parliamentary Commissions established in 1803. The first for the making of roads and bridges in Scotland; the second for the construction of the Caledonian Canal through Scotland's Great Glen. The civil engineer Thomas Telford was amongst the commissioners on both these Commissions: John Rickman was a close friend of Telford, and was his executor, as well as the editor of Telford's autobiography[2].[3][4]

Besides Rickman's work on the census, he also collected and mustered other statistics. Between 1816 and 1836 he abstracted the poor rate returns for the Poor Law Committee; later he produced returns on Education for Lord John Russell's Education Committee and in 1839 he compiled a return of Local Taxation. In April 1815 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[5]

The subtitle to Orlo William's biography of Rickman: Lamb's Friend the Census Taker under-emphasises his extensive parliamentary work.


  1. ^ Hampshire Magazine, Vol. 12 No. 2, December 1971, page 41
  2. ^ Telford, Thomas; Rickman, John (1838). Life of Thomas Telford, civil engineer, written by himself: containing a descriptive narrative of his professional labours : with a folio atlas of copper plates. London: Printed by James and Luke G. Hansard and Sons ... and sold by Payne & Foss ... OCLC 271476168.
  3. ^ Diaries of George Turnbull (Chief Engineer, East Indian Railway Company) held at the Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge University, England
  4. ^ George Turnbull, C.E. page 18 of the 437-page memoirs published privately 1893, scanned copy held in the British Library, London on compact disk since 2007
  5. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". The Royal Society. Retrieved 6 October 2010.