Robert Torrens

For his father, the economist and MP, see Robert Torrens (economist). For the Irish cricketer, see Roy Torrens.
Robert Torrens
3rd Premier of South Australia
In office
1 September 1857  30 September 1857
Monarch Victoria
Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell
Preceded by John Baker
Succeeded by Richard Hanson
Personal details
Born 1814
Cork, Co. Cork, Ireland, UK
Died 31 August 1884
Falmouth, Cornwall, England, UK
Nationality British
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin

Sir Robert Richard Torrens, GCMG (1814 – 31 August 1884)[1] was the third Premier of South Australia and a pioneer and author of a simplified system of transferring land.


Bust of Robert Torrens by the sculptor John Dowie, located in the Land Titles Office, Adelaide

Early life

Torrens 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. Sir Robert Torrens was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated M.A. In 1839 he married Barbara, widow of Augustus George Anson, née Park, and the following year left for South Australia, arriving on the Brightman in December 1840.[2] In February 1841 he was collector of customs at Adelaide, and it is probable that he had received this position directly as he arrived. In the enlarged legislative council elected in July 1851, Torrens was one of the four official nominees nominated by the governor. When "responsible government" commenced in October 1856, Torrens became Treasurer of South Australia in the ministry of Finniss. He was elected as one of the members of the House of Assembly for the City of Adelaide[1] in the new parliament, and on 1 September 1857 became premier, but his government lasted only a month.[1]

Real Property Act 1858

In December 1857 he championed the Real Property Act of 1858 (for the transfer of real property) through the assembly, and the system became known as the Torrens title. The system transferred property by registration of title, instead of by deeds, and it has since been widely adopted throughout the world. Attempts have been made to minimise 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.[3] 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. Whoever first suggested the present method, which may have owed something to a report presented to the British House of Commons on 15 May 1857, it was Torrens and a German lawyer Dr. Ulrich Hübbe (with a knowledge of the real property laws of the Hanse Towns),[4] who put it into practical 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 and settled in England. He became the member of the House of Commons as a liberal for Cambridge from 1868 to 1874. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1872 and G.C.M.G. in 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 River Torrens which runs through Adelaide, Torrens Bridge railway station, Torrens Linear Park, Torrens Parade Ground, Mount Torrens,[5] Lake Torrens[5] (and Lake Torrens National Park), and Torrens Island,[5] were named after his father, Colonel Robert Torrens, chairman of the South Australian colonial commissioners.

Places named after Sir Robert include the Canberra suburb of Torrens, Australian Capital Territory gazetted in 1966, the Electoral district of Torrens, the Adelaide suburbs of Torrensville and Torrens Park (and Torrens Park railway station). He is honoured outside Australia in the street of Torrens Terrace, in Wellington, New Zealand.[6]


  1. 1 2 3 "Sir Robert Torrens". Parliament of South Australia.
  2. "The Week.". South Australian Weekly Chronicle. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 20 March 1886. p. 11. Retrieved 15 April 2015. This ref agrees with date of 13 December 1840 given in Barry Leadbeater's South Australian Passenger Lists.
  3. Letter to the Editor The Advertiser 8 February 1932 p.10 accessed 3 March 2011
  4. Torrens System – Who Was Its Author The Advertiser 17 February 1932 p.16 accessed 3 March 2011
  5. 1 2 3 PlaceNames Online – South Australian State Gazetteer Site is a searchable database. Accessed 3 April 2012.
  6. Irvine-Smith, F. L. (1948):The Streets of my city, Wellington New Zealand Wellington City Library. Accessed 1 March 2013.


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Robert Richard Torrens
Parliament of South Australia
Preceded by
Thomas O'Halloran
Charles Sturt
Member of the South Australian Legislative Council
1851  1857
Served alongside: Multiple Members
Succeeded by
Henry Ayers
Charles Davies
Charles Everard
Thomas O'Halloran
Abraham Scott
New district Member of Parliament for City of Adelaide
1857  1858
Served alongside: Richard Hanson, Francis Dutton, Boyle Finniss, John Neales, William Burford
Succeeded by
Judah Solomon
Political offices
Preceded by
James MacDonald
Treasurer of South Australia
1856  1857
Succeeded by
John Hart
Preceded by
John Baker
Premier of South Australia
Succeeded by
Richard Hanson
Chief Secretary of South Australia
Succeeded by
William Younghusband
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Eldon Gorst
Francis Powell
Member of Parliament for Cambridge
Succeeded by
Patrick Smollett
Alfred Marten
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