Singapore’s first post-war census

It was the practice in British Commonwealth countries to conduct a census of population at the beginning of each decade.1 However, the onset of World War II in 1939 had meant the cancellation of the 1941 census in Malaya and Singapore. As part of the post-war reconstruction, it was even more important to have an accurate picture of the population and its characteristics.2 Thus, it was announced on 11 January 1947 that the first post-war pan-Malayan census would take place between April and September that year.3

M. V. del Tufo was officially appointed Superintendent of Census on 8 March 1947.4
He faced several challenges when conducting the 1947 census. For one thing, the data and records of pre-war polls5 were either lost or destroyed during the Japanese Occupation. Del Tufo had only a small budget to work with as the British government struggled to cope with post-war recovery.6 He did not have enough trained staff to undertake the work, and he was polling a population with bad memories of a Japanese Occupation “census” known as the Sook Ching, which was a culling of anti-Japanese elements in the Chinese community in Singapore and Malaya.7 The public had to be reassured in order for the census to collect accurate data from the population.

Preparations for census-taking
On 7 June 1947, the government set 23 August to 27 September 1947 as the dates for the census to be taken. However, before the actual census could take place, several preliminary steps had to be taken. These included preparation of the questionnaire, staff training, and house-numbering.8

The post-Japanese Occupation reconstruction after 1945 had created unregulated neighbourhoods not only in the municipal limits but in rural areas. All houses, both in the town as well as on the outskirts, had to be numbered for census purposes.9
The house numberers were instructed to number all buildings that were used wholly or partly for human habitation. For example, a temple where people slept was considered a residence as opposed to a store or stable without sleeping accommodations.10

By 31 May 1947, all houses and buildings within the municipal limits and rural areas were identified with numbered serial cards or a number drawn with chalk, completing the house-numbering stage.11
Next came the preliminary enumeration of the population which began on 25 August 1947. This involved a count of the number of people living in each numbered house and who were presumed to be in the same place on the night of the actual census. The objective of the preliminary count was to detect possible errors over time and to ensure a more accurate count on census night.12

The head of each household had to provide such information as names, ages, gender, relation to the head of the household, and occupational status of household members.13
The information had to be provided either in English or Malay.14

Armed with questionnaires similar to those that would be used during the census, 1,200 enumerators went from house to house. After the head of the household filled in their particulars on the forms, these were returned to the enumerators.15
The preliminary enumeration ended on 19 September 1947.16

Conducting the census
The actual census took place on the night of 23 September 1947. Enumerators were instructed to include in the census all the babies born before midnight and to exclude the people who died before midnight. Assisted by the police in some cases, or using motor sampans and launches as transportation in others, enumerators went into the city, the suburbs, rural areas, the harbour and rivers to collect data. Enumerators also compiled information on wayfarers on roads and in public transport as well as on homeless people.17

In the months leading up to this night, there had been fears expressed that this census was similar to the Japanese Occupation household data collection when any changes in status of occupants of households had to be reported to the authorities.18
Others were afraid to supply personal information such as that on their educational background. During the Japanese Occupation, such information had landed some in serious trouble.19 Precautions had to be taken against fraud and all enumerators carried identification. Shopowners and businesses were advised to demand proof of identity before giving out information.20

The measures taken to allay fears and create awareness of what the 1947 census was about made it easier on census night. By 24 September 1947, as enumerators made their final rounds in the city’s streets, supervisors began comparing the information compiled during the preliminary enumeration stage with that of the official census.21

Some key findings
The preliminary results of the 1947 census were released by late 1947.22
However, the final statistics and official report became available only in 1949.23 The 1947 census reported a total population of 940,824 inhabitants compared to the 559,946 inhabitants in the 1931 census.24 Keeping in mind the particularly high death rates for the population of Singapore during the Japanese Occupation, especially among males25 the 1947 census showed a population that was beginning to grow by natural reproduction rather than by immigration from China and India.26

The census report also concluded that literacy rates in the Colony of Singapore had increased considerably in 1947, going up from 314 per thousand in the 1931 census to 374 per thousand.27

The 1947 census not only provided a general assessment of how the population of Singapore had fared during the Japanese Occupation but also the years immediately after this. On 28 November 1947, the Singapore Advisory Council passed a bill that granted the Secretary of Social Welfare of Singapore permission to extract information from the 1947 census. The information was to be used to prepare a social survey that could then be used to draw up welfare programmes for the population of Singapore.28

1. M.V. Del Tufo, Malaya, Comprising the Federation of Malaya and the Colony of Singapore: A Report on the 1947 Census of Population (London: Crown Agents for the Governments of Malaya and Singapore, 1949), 1. (Call no. RCLOS 312.09595 MAL)
2. Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population, 1.
3. “Census Starts in April,” Singapore Free Press, 11 January 1947, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Singapore Census Men Appointed,” Straits Times, 9 March 1947, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “After Sixteen Years,” Straits Times, 25 September 1947, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population, 1.
7. “'This Isn’t Jap Census-Taking',” Singapore Free Press, 26 June 1947, 5; Singapore Japs Kept ‘Register’,” Straits Times, 19 March 1947, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “13,000 Will Help to Run the Census,” Straits Times, 12 January 1947, 7; Numbering of Houses in S’pore,” Straits Times, 16 April 1947,  (From NewspaperSG)
9. Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population, 7.
10. Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population, 8.
11. “Census: First job Finished in Singapore,” Singapore Free Press, 31 May 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population, 9.
13. “Questions You Will Be Asked in Malaya Census,” Straits Times, 1 July 1947, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Census of Singapore Soon,” Straits Times, 7 June 1947, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Work on Census Starts Aug. 25,” Singapore Free Press, 18 August 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Second Stage of S’pore Census Over,” Straits Times, 19 September 1947, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Census Night in Singapore,” Straits Times, 22 September 1947, 5; “Police Escorts for Census Workers,” Straits Times, 24 September 1947, 1; “Census: Homeless Will Be Counted,” Singapore Free Press, 20 September 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “'This Isn’t Jap Census-Taking'.”
19. Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore under Japanese Rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Epigram, 2005), 108. (Call no. RSING q940.53957 LEE)
20. “S’pore Census Precaution,” Straits Times, 2 April 1947, 3; “S’pore Takes Precautions,” Singapore Free Press, 27 March 1947, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Police Escorts for Census Workers.”
22. “Mr. Del Tufo Sums Up,” Straits Times, 17 October 1949, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population.
24. Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population, 39.
25. Paul H. Kratoska, The Japanese Occupation of Malaya: A Social and Economic History (New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 1998), 315–7. (Call no. RSING 959.5103 KRA)
26. “Mr. Del Tufo Sums Up.”
27. “More Know How to Read, Write,” Singapore Free Press, 10 October 1949, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Del Tufo, Report on the 1947 Census of Population, 90.
28. “Census Bill,” Straits Times, 28 November 1947, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 12 June 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

1945-1955 Aftermath of war
Politics and Government
Singapore Census of 1947