The Torrens System

Saskatchewan’s Survey System Starts in Australia…
You might be thinking, “Australia? Really?” But it’s true. In southern Australia, the Collector of Customs, Robert Torrens, administered a highly effective method to register ownership of and interests in ships. Because this system allowed ownership transactions to happen in a timely and traceable manner, Torrens advocated that this system be used for land ownership transactions as well. The system was implemented in South Australia and was so effective that it was eventually adopted by many places throughout North America and around the world.
Ownership of land in Saskatchewan started with a system where individuals proved ownership by producing long, complicated documents called deeds. The case for the Torrens system was made because the onus of producing proof of ownership would instead be placed on a public registry. Having employees trained to manage and assist those doing land ownership transactions helped speed the process of buying and selling land. This was a good thing for a burgeoning economy, since faster transactions meant more transactions were possible.

Robert Torrens was the son of one of Australia’s founders. For a time he was the Collector of Customs in Adelaide. He later served as Registrar-General of the Colony of South Australia, and was Treasurer in the government of Boyle Finniss, the first Premier of South Australia. Torrens would go on to serve as the third Premier of South Australia.

He championed the Real Property Act of 1858, which is the act responsible for the implementation of what is now called the Torrens system. The Act received violent opposition from lawyers who feared loss of work by the implementation of such a simple system. Without his perseverance, it may not have been put in place. Torrens became the first Master of Titles in 1858, overseeing the registration of Titles under the new system of land registration.

He was a prolific writer and in his works he called his avocation for land titles reform in Australia “the Cause”. He spoke very passionately about his work.

The Parliament of Canada adopted the Torrens system for the North-west Territories in 1886.

Find out more about the benefits of the Torrens system here.