Statistical literacy is important for understanding the world around us. Statistical thinking is motivated by realworld problems which may in turn promote the development of new methods of enquiry, and statistical reasoning may be regarded as the cornerstone of evidence based research. In this paper we see how statistical literacy, official statistics and data driven selfdirected study helped to shape social enquiry in the nineteenth century, led to the development of statistical methods for
social data and ultimately contributed to the newly emerging science of statistics of the early twentieth century. In particular the innovations of social researchers in assessing poverty, deprivation and illhealth are highlighted.