'Incorrect, loose and coarse terms': classifying nineteenth-century English-language causes of death for modern use. An example using Tasmanian data

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This paper outlines a cause-of-death classification system applicable to nineteenth-century English-language death data. Consisting of 32 categories, this system combines aspects of William Farr’s nosology, developed in nineteenth-century Britain, and the modern International Classification of Diseases. It is sufficiently broad for meaningful categories to be created for analytical purposes, but specific enough for particular cause-of-death trends and patterns to be traced. Individual-level death registration data from the British colony of Tasmania, 1838–1899, are used to demonstrate the application of this classification system. The paper describes the history of recording causes of death in nineteenth-century Tasmania and discusses several problems particular to nineteenth-century cause-of-death data. The benefits and disadvantages of three existing nosologies, Farr’s, Preston’s and the International Classification of Diseases, are considered with reference to nineteenth-century data. The final sections outline the data and method, and discuss an application of the classification system developed for cause-specific child mortality in nineteenth-century Tasmania.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-291
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Population Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Causes of death Classification Nosology Nineteenth century
  • Classification
  • Nosology
  • Nineteenth century
  • Australia

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