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The province of South Australia was created by an Act of the British government 1834. Two years later a group of colonists under Governor Hindmarsh arrived from England.  

From the beginning there were land troubles, blocks that had been sold were not available when the colonists arrived. The survey plan was lagging as, Colonel Light, the surveyor was short of staff and equipment. With the arrival of fresh immigrants land was in demand.  

Many colonists subdivided their blocks hoping to make large profits. Properties changed hands often, each time land was sold a deed of conveyance had to be prepared. South Australia had inherited the English Common Law system by which records of land transactions such as, deeds, mortgages and leases accumulated. All these were needed to prove ownership or title to the land. A good title depended on the succession of indisputable documents; if a deed was missing the title was in doubt.  

The buyer’s solicitor had to examine all documents to guard against fraud or error. This examination was time consuming and expensive. Solicitor’s bills often amounted to more than the cost of the land.

Robert Richard Torrens was the son of one of the founding fathers of the colony of South Australia, Colonel Robert Torrens. He was responsible for the introduction and early implementation of the Torrens Title system of land certification still used in many parts of the world.  

On this single certificate all transactions for the property are registered; transfers, mortgages, leases and so on, with this registration guaranteed correct by the State. The Certificate of Title is prepared in duplicate, one remains with the Registrar General and the owner keeps the other.

In 1852 Torrens was made Colonial Treasurer and Registrar General. As Registrar General he found the need to reform the system of land conveyancing acutely urgent. He had the idea of using the same method to transfer land that was used in the selling of ships. Here a single document gave continuing proof of ownership.  

The 1857 elections were drawing near and Torrens was standing for parliament. He made land title reform the main electoral issue.   When the results were announced to the citizens of Adelaide, Torrens headed the polls and so Robert Richard Torrens became a member of South Australia’s first elected parliament. Torrens first introduced his Bill to amend land titles in May of 1857 and after much debate and opposition it came to the final vote in December. The Bill was passed by parliament and there was much rejoicing by the citizens of Adelaide and so on 27 January 1858 the Real Property Act became law.

Robert Richard Torrens also helped the introduction of the Torrens Title system to other Australian states and New Zealand. Since then the principal of the Torrens Title system of land registration has spread throughout the world. Over the years methods have been modernised but the principal remains the same. A single indisputable Certificate of Title filed in the Lands Titles Office and an identical one held by the owner.

For these benefits, Australia and the world have much to thank Robert Richard Torrens.

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Last Modified: 13/04/2010 11:30:32 AM
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