I woke up at 3am this morning and couldn’t fall back asleep. So I decided to read some of the Statistical Abstract Relating to British India from 1897-98 to 1906-07, thinking that it would put me to sleep. However, it ended up having the opposite effect.


In the years that this text covers, Burma was a province of British India, and I was interested to see what kinds of statistics it had about Burma. I found some fascinating ones.

For instance, I discovered that in this 10-year period at the turn of the twentieth century 59 people in Burma were killed by tigers, 7 by leopards, 1,149 by snakes, and 22 by “other wild animals.”

wild animals and snakes

I’m not sure how many people died in Burma each given year, but there were statistics for the annual number of deaths by wild animals and snakes in all of British India over the course of the period from 1897 to 1906. Those numbers show that with the exception of deaths from snake bites, there was a general decline in the number of people who died from the attacks of other animals.

I’m assuming that the situation in Burma matched this overall trend.


Train deaths, on the other hand, were a different story, as there was a steady increase in the number of people in Burma who were killed by trains during this same period: 27 in 1898, 34 in 1899, 51 in 1900, 47 in 1901, 42 in 1902, 60 in 1903, 69 in 1904, 58 in 1905, 61 in 1906, and 70 in 1907.


Another set of statistics that revealed an increase was in the number of lunatics in Burma. The Digital South Asia Library at the University of Chicago has digitized several of these volumes of statistics (and there are Excel charts of the statistics too!), and in examining the section on “Lunatic Asylums” in those works, I found the following trend:

1903 = 475 male & 69 female lunatics

1912 = 672 male & 123 female lunatics

1919 = 871 male & 171 female lunatics


So if we add all of these statistics together, what do we see? Well, we see that under British rule in Burma, people were increasingly less likely to be devoured by a tiger (that’s good), but at the same time they were increasingly more likely to get run over by a train or to go crazy (not good), which I guess makes sense given that these are two of the more common side effects of modernization.

Seriously though, these volumes are very interesting, and the fact that there are ready-made Excel files of the statistics in some of these books means that there is great potential to use this information (with digital tools) in ways that provide insights into the past.