TORRENS, Sir Robert Richard (1814-1884)


TORRENS, Sir Robert Richard (1814-1884)
pioneer and author of simplified system of transferring land
was born at Cork, Ireland, in 1814. His father, Colonel Robert Torrens, F.R.S., the distinguished economist, was one of the founders of South Australia. Among his many works is a volume on the Colonization of South Australia, published in 1835, and as chairman of the South Australian commissioners he had much influence on the fortunes of the new settlement in its early days of difficulty. He married Charity Chute, and Robert Richard Torrens was their eldest son. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated M.A. He went to Australia in 1839 and in the same year married Barbara, widow of Augustus George Anson. In February 1841 he was collector of customs at Adelaide, and it is probable that he had received this position directly he arrived. In the enlarged legislative council elected in July 1851 Torrens was one of the four official nominees nominated by the governor and when responsible government came in, in October 1856, Torrens became treasurer in the ministry of B. T. Finniss (q.v.). He was elected as one of the members of the house of assembly for the city of Adelaide in the new parliament, and on 1 September 1857 became premier, but his government lasted less than a month. In December of the same year he passed his celebrated bill for the transfer of real property through the assembly. The system was that property was transferred by registration of title instead of by deeds, and it has since been widely adopted throughout the world. Attempts have been made to minimize the credit due to Torrens for his great achievement, and it has been stated that Anthony Forster, then editor of the Adelaide Register, made the original suggestion. In the preface to his The South Australian System of Conveyancing by Registration of Title, published at Adelaide in 1859, Torrens stated that his interest in the question had been aroused 22 years before through the misfortunes of a relation and friend, and that he had been working on the problem for many years. Whoever first suggested the present method which may have owed something to a report presented to the house of commons on 15 May 1857, it was Torrens who put it into practicable shape and fought it through parliament in spite of violent opposition from the legal profession. He later visited Victoria and assisted in bringing in the new system in that colony. In 1863 he left Australia, settled in England and was a member of the house of commons for Cambridge from 1868 to 1874. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1872 and G.C.M.G. in 1884, (The Times, 24 May 1884). He died on 31 August 1884. In addition to the volume already mentioned he published Speeches by R. R. Torrens (1858), A Handy Book on the Real Property Act of South Australia (1862), Transportation Considered as a Punishment and as a Mode of Founding Colonies (1863), and An Essay on the Transfer of Land by Registration (1882).
The Times, 3 September 1884; The South Australian Register, 11 September 1884; E. Hodder, The History of South Australia.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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