Robert Richard Torrens
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Sir Robert Richard Torrens, (31 May 1812Croucher, Rosalind F. (2008)
'Delenda Est Carthago!' Sir Robert Richard Torrens and his attack on the evils of conveyancing and dependent land titles: a reflection on the sesquicentenary of the introduction of his great law reforming initiative
' Alex Castles Memorial Legal History Lecture for Flinders University Law School, Adelaide, 26 August 2008. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
– 31 August 1884), also known as Robert Richard Chute Torrens, was an Irish-born parliamentarian, writer, and land reformer. After a move to London in 1836, he became prominent in the early years of the
Colony of South Australia In modern parlance, a colony is a territory subject to a form of foreign rule. Though dominated by the foreign colonizers, colonies remain separate from the administration of the original country of the colonizers, the '' metropolitan state'' ...
, emigrating after being appointed to a
civil service The civil service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career civil servants hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leader ...
position there in 1840. He was Colonial Treasurer and Registrar-General from 1852 to 1857 and then the third
Premier of South Australia The premier of South Australia is the head of government in the state of South Australia, Australia. The Government of South Australia follows the Westminster system, with a Parliament of South Australia acting as the legislature. The premier i ...
for a single month in September 1857. Torrens is chiefly remembered as the originator of the
Torrens title Torrens title is a land registration and land transfer system, in which a state creates and maintains a register of land holdings, which serves as the conclusive evidence (termed " indefeasibility") of title of the person recorded on the registe ...
, a new system of
land registration Land registration is any of various systems by which matters concerning ownership, possession, or other rights in land are formally recorded (usually with a government agency or department) to provide evidence of title, facilitate transactions, ...
that subsequently spread to the other Australian colonies and is used in Australia and in many other countries throughout the world today. He secured its implementation in South Australia in 1858, and subsequently advocated for its adoption in other jurisdictions. Returning to England in 1865, he served in the
British House of Commons The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster in London, England. The House of Commons is an elected body consisting of 650 mem ...
from 1868 to 1874. He was son of the political economist Robert Torrens, who was chairman of the London-based South Australian Colonisation Commission involved in setting up and encouraging emigration to the new colony.


Early life

Torrens was born in
Cork Cork or CORK may refer to: Materials * Cork (material), an impermeable buoyant plant product ** Cork (plug), a cylindrical or conical object used to seal a container *** Wine cork Places Ireland * Cork (city) ** Metropolitan Cork, also known a ...
, Ireland, on 31 May 1812. He was the only surviving son of Robert Torrens and his first wife Charity Herbert née Chute. His father had this marriage nullified and in 1819 married again, to Esther Serle, an English heiress, and had his three children rebaptised to give them a form of legitimacy, Robert Richard's birth year being reset to 1814. Torrens was educated at
Trinity College, Dublin , name_Latin = Collegium Sanctae et Individuae Trinitatis Reginae Elizabethae juxta Dublin , motto = ''Perpetuis futuris temporibus duraturam'' (Latin) , motto_lang = la , motto_English = It will last i ...
, where he graduated BA 1835. His father had been appointed chairman of the London-based South Australian Colonization Commission, created in 1834 to oversee the new
colony of South Australia In modern parlance, a colony is a territory subject to a form of foreign rule. Though dominated by the foreign colonizers, colonies remain separate from the administration of the original country of the colonizers, the '' metropolitan state'' ...
, and the son moved to London in 1836 to work with his father and learn about customs collection by working as a landing waiter. Together they raised customs duties to finance the new colony, and promoted Irish investment and emigration. In 1839 he married Barbara Anson, daughter of Alexander Park, widow of Augustus George Anson and a niece of explorer Mungo Park. In that same year he was awarded an MA "by grace".


South Australia

In 1840 the couple left for South Australia, arriving on the ''Brightman'' in December 1840. In February 1841 Torrens was
Collector of Customs Collector(s) may refer to: Arts and entertainment * Collector (character), a fictional character in the Marvel Comics universe * ''Collector'' (2011 film), a 2011 Indian Malayalam film * ''Collector'' (2016 film), a 2016 Russian film * ''Collec ...
at
Adelaide Adelaide ( ) is the capital city of South Australia, the state's largest city and the fifth-most populous city in Australia. "Adelaide" may refer to either Greater Adelaide (including the Adelaide Hills) or the Adelaide city centre. The ...
, probably arranged by his father. He continued working as a customs official until 1852, obtaining a good working knowledge of the buying and selling of ships and shares in ships. He gained a reputation for unorthodoxy in his official dealings; he squabbled with shipowners and was censured for various irregularities and for not supporting some of Governor
George Grey Sir George Grey, KCB (14 April 1812 – 19 September 1898) was a British soldier, explorer, colonial administrator and writer. He served in a succession of governing positions: Governor of South Australia, twice Governor of New Zealand, Gov ...
's policies, but these did not prevent him from assuming other official roles, nor did his unorthodoxy stop when he was in higher office. In the enlarged Legislative Council elected in July 1851, Torrens was one of the four official nominees nominated by the Governor, with the added title of Executive Councillor in 1855–57. He became Colonial Treasurer (a post he held until 1862) and Registrar-General of Deeds, one of the best paid offices in Australia, in 1852. When South Australia became
self-governing colony In the British Empire, a self-governing colony was a colony with an elected government in which elected rulers were able to make most decisions without referring to the colonial power with nominal control of the colony. This was in contrast to ...
in 1856 with the
ratification Ratification is a principal's approval of an act of its agent that lacked the authority to bind the principal legally. Ratification defines the international act in which a state indicates its consent to be bound to a treaty if the parties intend ...
of a new
constitution A constitution is the aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organisation or other type of entity and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed. When these prin ...
by the British parliament via the '' Constitution Act 1856'', Torrens became Treasurer of South Australia in the ministry of Finniss from 24 October 1856 to 21 August 1857, during which time he published drafts of his land reform bill. He also volunteered in the colonial artillery for 11 years, retiring as
Lieutenant-Colonel Lieutenant colonel ( , ) is a rank of commissioned officers in the armies, most marine forces and some air forces of the world, above a major and below a colonel. Several police forces in the United States use the rank of lieutenant colo ...
in 1865.


''Real Property Act 1858''

Torrens was elected as one of the members of the
House of Assembly House of Assembly is a name given to the legislature or lower house of a bicameral parliament. In some countries this may be at a subnational level. Historically, in British Crown colonies as the colony gained more internal responsible govern ...
for the
City of Adelaide The City of Adelaide, also known as the Corporation of the City of Adelaide and Adelaide City Council is a local government area in the metropolitan area of greater Adelaide, South Australia and is legally defined as the capital city of South ...
in the new parliament in 1857, and on 1 September 1857 became Premier, although his government lasted only a month. For years before his election, he had vigorously promoted the need for land titles reform, with the current system of transfer of land by
deed In common law, a deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions, sealed. It is commonly associated with transferring ...
ineffective, slow, expensive and insecure. It relied on verbose and complicated documents that had to be retained at least a century in order to validate new transactions and lawyers were needed to effect the transactions. The second reading of a bill introduced as a
private member's bill A private member's bill is a bill (proposed law) introduced into a legislature by a legislator who is not acting on behalf of the executive branch. The designation "private member's bill" is used in most Westminster system jurisdictions, in w ...
was carried despite strong opposition, passing through both Houses on 27 January 1858. The '' Real Property Act 1858'', with the
long title In certain jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom and other Westminster-influenced jurisdictions (such as Canada or Australia), as well as the United States and the Philippines, primary legislation has both a short title and a long title. The ...
"An Act to simplify the Laws relating to the transfer and encumbrance of freehold and other interests in Land", was assented to on 27 January 1858. The Act, eagerly anticipated by many, came into effect on 2 July 1858 and was on the whole well-received, apart from some lawyers who would have noted that the ease and clarity of the process would mean less in earnings for them in the future. Torrens would resign his seat in parliament Note that this source incorrectly refers to him as "Colonel Torrens". and be appointed Registrar-General in order to assist with the Act's application, and in this role he did much to bring about a successful practical transition to the new system. The Act radically altered the method of recording and registering land under freehold title. Instead, government certificates were issued and a central register established. The system transferred property by registration of title, instead of by
deed In common law, a deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions, sealed. It is commonly associated with transferring ...
s. This system provided an indisputable record, thus almost eliminating litigation involving land disputes, got rid of difficulties created by lost certificates, and reduced the cost of land sales and transfers. The legislation was refined in the following few years, which included an amendment allowing the licensing of registered land brokers instead of lawyers in land transactions, thus further reducing the cost.


Spread and current legislation

So successful was the outcome that it was adopted in the rest of Australia and in many countries throughout the world. The system became known as the Torrens title, and the Act sometimes referred to as the "Torrens Title Act 1858". Torrens visited Victoria in 1860 and assisted in bringing in the new system in that colony. He also helped the other colonies to introduce their own variations of the system: Queensland adopted the 1859 version, while New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria based their legislation on the 1861 reforms. New Zealand, Malaysia and some states in the US followed; the system has since been widely adopted throughout the world. In 1862, Torrens published ''A handy book on the Real Property Act of South Australia:...'', which is now available in full online. In South Australia, the Act was substantially revised in 1886, and ''Real Property Act 1886'' (with various amendments) remains the basis of property law in South Australia.


Credit for the Act

Some have challenged the notion that responsibility for the introduction of the successful system lies with Torrens, and it has been asserted that Anthony Forster, then editor of the ''
South Australian Register ''The Register'', originally the ''South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register'', and later ''South Australian Register,'' was South Australia's first newspaper. It was first published in London in June 1836, moved to Adelaide in 1837, and f ...
'', made the original suggestion. In the preface to his book, ''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. He also said that the idea was based on principles used in transferring shipping property, of which he would have gained experience in his early career as a customs official, both in London and Adelaide (1836–1852). His experience as Registrar-General (1852–1858), as a landowner himself, and the influence of politicians such as Forster and W.H. Burford and lawyers such as
Richard Bullock Andrews Richard Bullock Andrews (11 May 1823 – 26 June 1884) was an Australian politician and judge. Early life Richard Bullock Andrews was born in Epping, Essex, England the eldest child of Richard Bullock Andrews, an attorney, and his wife Emma ...
, Henry Gawler and W.C. Belt, would have influenced him close to home. Torrens was also familiar with a report presented to the
British House of Commons The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster in London, England. The House of Commons is an elected body consisting of 650 mem ...
on 15 May 1857, supplied by German lawyer Ulrich Hübbe who had detailed knowledge of the real property laws of the
Hanseatic League The Hanseatic League (; gml, Hanse, , ; german: label=Modern German, Deutsche Hanse) was a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe. Growing from a few North German to ...
cities and whose doctorate in laws from Hamburg University dealt with this topic. His input added to the practical application of the method in law, and Torrens worked on this aspect further. With the support of Carl Muecke and the influential German community, he fought it through Parliament despite vigorous opposition from the legal profession. There seems to be little doubt in the sources that the successful application of the new system in South Australia was largely the result of Torrens' preparation and attention to detail.


Later life

In 1863 Torrens retired and, after a great series of celebration banquets, left Australia and settled back in England. There he gave lectures on and lobbied for the implementation of land title legislation, with a particular focus on Ireland. He became the member of the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. ...
as a Liberal for
Cambridge Cambridge ( ) is a university city and the county town in Cambridgeshire, England. It is located on the River Cam approximately north of London. As of the 2021 United Kingdom census, the population of Cambridge was 145,700. Cambridge beca ...
from 1868 to 1874, but did not have the opportunity to effect the land reform which was so dear to him. He was created
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George IV, Prince of Wales, while he was acting as prince regent for his father, King George III. It is named in honou ...
(KCMG) on 1 August 1872 and
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George IV, Prince of Wales, while he was acting as prince regent for his father, King George III. It is named in honou ...
(GCMG) on 24 May 1884, for his services "in connection with the Registration of Titles to Land Act". The Queensland, New South Wales, Victorian and Tasmanian Parliaments all gave him votes of thanks, but when in 1880 the attorney-general Sir William Bundey moved in the South Australian House of Assembly to grant Torrens a pension of £500, it was bitterly shouted down and the proposal had to be withdrawn, such was the animosity Torrens had aroused in some quarters. His last place of residence was a house he built known as Hannaford House, in Ashburton in
Devonshire Devon ( , historically known as Devonshire , ) is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in South West England. The most populous settlement in Devon is the city of Plymouth, followed by Devon's county town, the city of Exeter. Devon is ...
, where he served as a county magistrate and as
lieutenant-colonel Lieutenant colonel ( , ) is a rank of commissioned officers in the armies, most marine forces and some air forces of the world, above a major and below a colonel. Several police forces in the United States use the rank of lieutenant colo ...
of a volunteer artillery unit. He died of pneumonia at Falmouth on 31 August 1884, aged 70, and was buried at Leusdon Churchyard. His wife, who died in 1899, was interred with him. There is no record of children of his marriage.


Legacy

Torrens' major legacy is the significant legal reform which became known as Torrens title, which can be said to be a world-first, born in Australia. Places named after Torrens include: *the Adelaide suburb Torrens Park, after the home he built and called "Torrens Park" near Mitcham in 1853–4. In 1865 Torrens sold the house to his partner in the Moonta Mines, Walter Watson Hughes, who enlarged it and later sold it to
Robert Barr Smith Robert Barr Smith (4 February 1824 – 20 November 1915) was an Australian businessman and philanthropist in Adelaide, South Australia. He was a partner in Elder Smith and Company from 1863 (now now Elders Limited). Early life and education Smit ...
. It is now part of Scotch College. *
Torrens Building The Torrens Building, named after Sir Robert Richard Torrens, is a State Heritage-listed building on the corner of Victoria Square and Wakefield Street in Adelaide, South Australia. It was originally known as the New Government Offices, and a ...
on Victoria Square/Tarndanyangga, Adelaide **By extension, the now Australia-wide Torrens University, which started life in the Torrens Building *the Electoral district of Torrens *the
Canberra Canberra ( ) is the capital city of Australia. Founded following the federation of the colonies of Australia as the seat of government for the new nation, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The ci ...
suburb of Torrens, name proposed by "contemporaries of Sir Robert Torrens; SA pioneers and politicians" and gazetted on 20 September 1928; suburb gazetted on 12 May 1966. *Torrens Terrace, a street in
Wellington Wellington ( mi, Te Whanganui-a-Tara or ) is the capital city of New Zealand. It is located at the south-western tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Remutaka Range. Wellington is the second-largest city in New Zealand by me ...
, New Zealand * Torrens Creek, Queensland, named by the explorer
William Landsborough William Landsborough (21 February 1825 – 16 March 1886) was an explorer of Australia and notably he was the first explorer to complete a North-to-South crossing of Australia. He was a member of the Queensland Legislative Council. Early l ...
, who discovered it in 1862 while searching for
Burke and Wills The Burke and Wills expedition was organised by the Royal Society of Victoria in Australia in 1860–61. It consisted of 19 men led by Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills, with the objective of crossing Australia from Melbourne in th ...
. (Note: Places named after his father, Robert Torrens, are the
River Torrens The River Torrens , (Karrawirra Parri / Karrawirraparri) is the most significant river of the Adelaide Plains. It was one of the main reasons for the siting of the city of Adelaide, capital of South Australia. It flows from its source in the ...
, the suburb of Torrensville, Lake Torrens and
Torrens Island Torrens Island is an island in the Australian state of South Australia located in the Adelaide metropolitan area in the Port River Estuary about northwest of the   Adelaide city centre. Since European settlement of Adelaide in 1836, it ha ...
.) There is a portrait of Torrens in the Art Gallery of South Australia, and a drawing of him in the South Australian State Archives. There is a bust of him by the sculptor John Dowie, commissioned by the Land Brokers Society Incorporated "to commemorate the introduction of the world's first Torrens System of land titles in South Australia in 1858 and the creation of Land Brokers in 1860".


Publications

Torrens authored these publications: *''The South Australian System of Conveyancing by Registration of Title'' (1859) *''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'' (or ''Transportation condemned as a deterrent punishment and as a means of founding colonies'') (1863) *''An Essay on the Transfer of Land by Registration'' (1882) And (dates not found): *''First effects of Gold discovery on the currency in the Australian Colonies'' *''Anomalies in the present relations between the mother country and her colonies''


List of Worldcat holdings

There are other publications, documents and letters with Torrens as author, listed in
WorldCat WorldCat is a union catalog that itemizes the collections of tens of thousands of institutions (mostly libraries), in many countries, that are current or past members of the OCLC global cooperative. It is operated by OCLC, Inc. Many of the OC ...
.


Footnotes


References


Further reading

* * (for completeness - doesn't add anything new)


''Real Property Act 1858''

* * *


Political offices and roles held in SA and UK

, - , - , - , - , - {{DEFAULTSORT:Torrens, Robert 1814 births 1884 deaths Alumni of Trinity College Dublin 19th-century Australian public servants Australian Knights Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for English constituencies Settlers of South Australia Premiers of South Australia UK MPs 1868–1874 Treasurers of South Australia Recipients of the Order of St. Anna, 2nd class Torrens family Members of the South Australian House of Assembly Members of the South Australian Legislative Council