RDP 8606: The Nation's Wealth – Some New Calculations for Australia Appendix 1: Early Estimates of Australia's Wealth Stock

It is instructive to briefly examine some calculations of Australia's early wealth stock, both for their intrinsic interest, and because current wealth estimates are, one way or another, descended from these pioneering efforts. Table A1 summarises estimates of total wealth in Australia between 1813 and 1956, reported in current values. Both estate and inventory methods were used, and this partly accounts for the discrepancies between some of the estimates. Knibbs (1918), in particular, was very concerned with the problem of under-estimation of private wealth via the estate method. For 1915, he compares estimates from an inventory approach, from the War census, and from an estate estimate – one of the few occasions on which these approaches have been compared in a single study anywhere in the world. The census estimate of £1,643 million actually exceeds the estimate from the inventory approach, because the census includes items such as the value of government debt held by individuals which are excluded from an inventory of private sector wealth. Knibbs estimates these items to be worth £140 million (see his Preface). By contrast, the estate method gives an estimate of £1,000 million (p.128).

Table A1
Estimates of the Private Wealth of Australia: 1813–1956
£ million – current prices1
Author Year
  1813 1838 1863 1878 1888 1890 1903 1911 1915
Coghlan 1 26 163 875 1,019 982
Laughton 1,031
Knibbs 258 666 748 885 1,418 16202
Garland/Goldsmith 1,309
  1921 1923 1927 1929 1947 1956      
Wickens 2,166 2,423 3,064 3,351      
Garland/Goldsmith 2,823 4,350 7,018 21,763      

1. Sources: Knibbs (1918), p.130; Garland and Goldsmith (1959), Table X, p.351, Yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 26, 1933, p. 492.
2. This is Knibbs' estimate by the inventory method in Knibbs (1918). He also reports estimates by census and by the estate method. See text for discussion.

It should also be noted that Gunton (1975) has provided a complete series of aggregate private wealth estimates from 1914 to 1969 using the estate method.[1]


See Gunton (1975), Table 6.4 p. 125–26. [1]