The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Torrens, Hon. Sir Robert Richard

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Torrens, Hon. Sir Robert Richard, K.C.M.G., M.A., the author of the "Torrens Act," was the son of Colonel Robert Torrens, who distinguished himself in the Walcheren expedition, became a member of the House of Commons, and was one of the founders of South Australia, by his marriage with Charity, daughter of Richard Chute, of Roxburgh, co. Kerry. He was born at Cork in 1814, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he took his M.A. degree. In 1839 he married Barbara, daughter of Alexander Park, of Selkirk, N.B., and widow of Augustus George Anson, of the 11th Dragoon Guards. He was appointed Collector of Customs in South Australia, with a seat in the mixed Legislative Council in 1851, becoming Registrar-General in the next, year, and Colonial Treasurer in Oct. 1856. This office he held after responsible government was introduced until August 1857, and was subsequently Premier and Treasurer of South Australia from the 1st to 30th of Sept. in the same year. Having been returned to the first Legislative Assembly of that colony as member for the metropolitan constituency, he at once set to work to place on the statute book the great measure with which his name is indissolubly associated, and which has conferred an enormous boon on the whole Australasian community. His shipping experience had suggested to him the query why land, the great object of acquirement in a new community, should not be made as easily and cheaply transferable as a ship, title by registration being substituted for title by deed. The measure on its introduction was fiercely attacked by the lawyers, whose vested interests were assailed; but it passed both Houses, and received the assent of the Governor on Jan. 27th, 1858. Fearful lest ignorance or prejudice should warp its administration and thus strangle it in its infancy, Colonel Torrens resigned his seat in parliament to undertake the headship of the department charged with carrying out the Act. By June 1858, when it came into force, all the necessary machinery was ready; and though it had once or twice to be amended in points of detail, it worked from the first, thanks to Colonel Torrens' foresight and energy, without any serious hitch. Having perfected the system in South Australia, Colonel Torrens visited the neighbouring colonies by request to expound it to them; and it has since been adopted throughout the Australasian group, where thousands of small landholders have reason to bless the name of Torrens, without whose disinterested labours they would in many cases never have secured their holdings. Colonel Torrens left South Australia and returned to reside in England in 1863, and was created K.C.M.G. in 1872, in special acknowledgment of his services in cheapening land titles. He unsuccessfully contested Cambridge in 1865, but sat in the House of Commons for the borough from 1868 to 1874. Sir Robert Torrens, who died on August 31st, 1884, was the author of "First Effects of Gold Discovery on the Currency in the Australian Colonies," "Transportation Condemned as a Deterrent Punishment and as a Means of Founding Colonies," and "Anomalies in the Present Relations between the Mother Country and her Colonies." He received the thanks of most of the Australasian parliaments for his labours in developing his system of land transfer.