Hinduism may be the fastest growing religion in Australia. But there was only one Hindu amongst the 36,000 or so residents in the 1828 census of the state of New South Wales.
Australia's first Hindu stockman, Ramdial, who was born most probably in 1788, arrived in Australia aboard the ship Mary in 1818 with Sophia Browne, the wife of his employer William Merchant Browne, and three of Browne's children from Calcutta (now Kolkata).
"William Browne of the Browne & Turner firm, which was a tea company in Calcutta, was born in Lucknow, educated in Britain and was employed in the East India Company before he took over the family business. In 1810, he decided to come to Australia for the opportunities offered by the relatively new British colony," said Brad Argent, a spokesperson for Ancestry, the world's biggest provider of family history data.
Since the 1970s, the 1828 census has been made available for general inspection at the State Archives of New South Wales. But tracing one's ancestry is now only a mouse click away. This month, for the first time, the 1828 census has been uploaded online on ancestry.com.au.
There is documented evidence to suggest that Browne brought up to 40 Indian workers to Australia during the early 1800's. Many of them were repatriated to India aboard the Mary (a ship owned by Browne) at the end of their service contract.
"At the time the census was taken, Ramdial was the only 'Free' person working at the Browne's farm in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, the other nine workers were all convicts," added Argent, who was amazed to find the only "Hindoo" entry in the household section of the census form.
The Indians lived and worked at the Browne's Abbotsbury farm, which consisted of 810 hectares, of which only 16 hectares was cultivated. "There is a reference to the Brownes growing Indian wheat in some documents. They also kept 15 horses and 52 horned cattle," Argent said.
In the census, besides Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists and Baptists, there were Jews and even 10 "Mohammedans".
The white population in 1828 was 36,598 — 20,870 were free and 15,728 were convicts. It was a masculine society, with 75 per cent male and 25 per cent female. Sheep outnumbered people by 15 to 1.
"The 1828 census reveals that the seeds of Australia's cultural diversity were sown many years ago. The mental image of Ramdial's exotic appearance and manner, juxtaposed against that of the iconic Aussie 'Stockman' is a wonderful reflection of the contribution that many nations and cultures have made to present day Australia," Argent adds.
The ancient Babylonians are believed to have carried out the first census in 3800 BC and so the idea of a census was nothing new in the 19th century.
Ancestry's Australia managing director Josh Hanna said: "As the first and only surviving early Australian census, the New South Wales 1828 Census provides a valuable snapshot of the early days in the life of the colony for its first European inhabitants and so is an important addition to Ancestry's historical collection.