Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Torrens, William Torrens McCullagh
TORRENS, WILLIAM TORRENS McCULLAGH (1813–1894), politician and author, born on 13 Oct. 1813, was eldest son of James McCullagh of Delville a famous house, with interesting literary associations of Mrs. Mary Delany, Dean Swift, and Parnell the poet just outside Dublin. His mother, Jane, was daughter of Andrew Torrens of Dublin, who seems to have been brother of Robert Torrens [q. v.] Torrens McCullagh as he was known until 1863 was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated B.A. in 1833, and LL.B. in 1842. On 31 Oct. 1832 he was admitted a member of Lincoln's Inn; in 1836 he was called to the Irish bar at King's Inns, Dublin, and on 6 June 1855 to the English bar. In 1835 he obtained the post of assistant commissioner on the special commission appointed by parliament to inquire as to the best system of poor relief for Ireland, which was then without any legal provision for destitution, sickness, orphanage, and old age. He travelled through Ireland, examined all sorts and descriptions of persons, and presented some very interesting and valuable reports on the deplorable condition of the destitute poor. The result of the special commission was the extension to Ireland in 1838 of the new workhouse system established in England in 1834. In 1842 he assisted Sir Robert John Kane [q. v.] in founding the Mechanics' Institute of Dublin the first institute of the kind in Ireland and on its opening delivered a course of lectures on the use and study of history, which were printed in 1842. During the agitation for the repeal of the corn laws he joined the Anti-Cornlaw League, and published, at the suggestion of Cobden, in 1846, ‘The Industrial History of Free Nations,’ showing that a number of countries had already found the advantage of free trade. He entered the House of Commons in 1847 as the representative of the borough of Dundalk, and sat for that constituency until the dissolution in 1852, when he and Sir Charles Napier stood as liberals for Great Yarmouth, but were defeated. In 1857 he was returned for Yarmouth, and in 1865 for the old and undivided borough of Finsbury, and continued its representative for twenty years and in four consecutive parliaments. He was now known as McCullagh Torrens, having in 1863 assumed his mother's name. In parliament he was an independent liberal, but he gave his attention more to social than to political questions: the need for workmen's dwellings fit for habitation, for a better and more abundant water supply, for open spaces, for more numerous primary schools, and for a kindlier system of relieving the sick in their own homes. He supported Disraeli's proposal for household suffrage in 1867, and in committee on the bill moved and carried an amendment establishing the lodger franchise. In 1868 he introduced the artisans' dwellings bill, enabling local authorities to clear away overcrowded slums and erect decent dwellings for the working classes, which was passed despite a powerful opposition. In 1869 he obtained for London boards of guardians the power to board out pauper children. The Extradition Act, in 1870, to prevent prisoners being extradited on one plea and tried on another, was based on the report of a select committee which had been appointed at his suggestion to inquire into the matter. During the discussions in committee of William Edward Forster's Education Act of 1870, he proposed and carried an amendment establishing a school board for London, and in 1885 he carried an act making the charge for water rates in the metropolis leviable only on the amount of the public assessment.
In 1885 McCullagh Torrens withdrew from parliament. On 25 April 1894 he was knocked down by a hansom cab in London, and was severely injured. He died the next day at 23 Bryanston Square, the residence of his daughter. He was twice married: first, in 1836, to Margaret Henrietta, daughter of John Gray of Claremorris, co. Mayo; and, secondly, in 1878, to Emily, widow of Thomas Russell of Leamington, and third daughter of William Harrison of the same town.
In addition to the works already referred to McCullagh Torrens wrote:
- ‘Memoirs of the Right Hon. R. Lalor Sheil,’ 2 vols. 1855.
- ‘Life and Times of Sir James Graham,’ 2 vols. 1863.
- ‘Our Empire in Asia: how we came by it,’ 1872.
- ‘Memoirs of Viscount Melbourne,’ 2 vols. 1878 (his best known work).
- ‘Life of Lord Wellesley,’ 1880.
- ‘Reform of Parliamentary Procedure,’ 1881.
- ‘Twenty Years in Parliament,’ 1893.
- ‘History of Cabinets,’ 2 vols. 1894.
The latter work, on which McCullagh Torrens was engaged on and off for twenty years, and to which he devoted the last seven years of his life, was published a few weeks after his death.
[Memoirs of Viscount Melbourne, with biographical Sketch of Torrens (the Minerva Library of Famous Books); Twenty Years in Parliament; Foster's Men at the Bar; personal information.]