Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Torrens, Robert Richard

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TORRENS, Sir ROBERT RICHARD (1814–1884), first premier of South Australia and author of the 'Torrens Act,' was son of Lieutenant-colonel Robert Torrens [q. v.] He was born at Cork in 1814, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1840 he went out to South Australia, and on 1 Jan. 1841 became collector of customs, with a seat in the legislative council. On 3 Jan. 1852 he became colonial treasurer and registrar-general. On the introduction of responsible government in 1855 he took his seat in the house of assembly for Adelaide, and was during September 1857 premier and colonial treasurer.

On 27 Jan. 1858 Torrens's great measure for the reform of the land laws, known as the Torrens Act, became the law of South Australia. The intention of the act was to substitute title by public registration for the cumbrous system of the old conveyancing. In June 1858, in order that he might assure himself of the act having a fair trial, Torrens resigned his seat in the house and became the head of the department charged with carrying it out. About 1860, by request, he visited Victoria and New South Wales in order to explain the new system of land transfer. By 1862 it was adopted practically throughout Australia.

In 1863 Torrens retired on a pension, and, after being entertained at a series of banquets to celebrate his great work, returned to England. In 1865 and 1866 at by-elections he unsuccessfully contested Cambridge in the liberal interest. He was returned for that borough in 1868, and sat through that parliament without finding much opportunity of advocating the land-law reform which he had at heart. In 1874 he failed to secure re-election. He was created K.C.M.G. on 1 Aug. 1872, and G.C.M.G. on 24 May 1884.

Torrens resided latterly at Hannaford, Ashburton, Devonshire; he was a magistrate of the county, and a lieutenant-colonel of volunteer artillery. He died at Falmouth on 31 Aug. 1884.

He married, in 1839, Barbara, daughter of Alexander Park of Selkirk, writer to the signet; she was the widow of Augustus George Ansor, and a niece of Mungo Park [q. v.]

Torrens was the author of several pamphlets dealing chiefly with the principle of the act which bears his name. They include:

  1. 'Speeches,' Adelaide, 1858, 8vo.
  2. 'The South Australian System of Conveyancing,' Adelaide, 1859, 8vo.
  3. 'Handy Book on the Real Property Act of South Australia/ Adelaide, 1862, 8vo; a paper read before the Society for the Amendment of the Law.
  4. 'Transfer of Land by "Registration of Title" as now in operation in Australia under the "Torrens System,"' Dublin, 1863, fol.
  5. 'Transportation considered as a Punishment,' London, 1863, 12mo; read before the British Association.
  6. 'An Essay on the Transfer of Land by Registration ' (Cobden Club publ.), London, 1882, 8vo.

In 1895 Dr. W. A. Hunter published a volume of 'Torrens Title Cases … to which is prefixed a summary of Torrens Title Legislation,' London, 8vo.

[Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biography; Times, 3 Sept. 1884; Burke's Peerage, 1884; South Australian Register, 11 Sept. 1884; Men of the Time, 1884; Rusden's Hist, of Australia, iii. 621-3.]

C. A. H.