Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Torrens, Robert (1780-1864)

TORRENS, ROBERT (1780–1864), political economist, born in Ireland in 1780, was son of Robert Torrens of Hervey Hill in Ireland, by Elizabeth Bristow, daughter of the rector of a neighbouring parish, Resharkin. His grandfather, Robert Torrens, rector of Hervey Hill, was fourth son of Thomas Torrens of Dungwen, co. Derry, whose third son, John, was grandfather of Sir Henry Torrens [q. v.]

Appointed first lieutenant in the royal marines in 1797, and captain in 1806, Torrens was in March 1811 in command of a body of marines which successfully defended the Isle of Anholt against a superior Dutch force during the Walcheren expedition. He was severely wounded, and for his services received the brevet rank of major. He afterwards served in the Peninsula, where he was appointed colonel of a Spanish legion. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1819, and to that of colonel in 1837. He retired on half-pay in 1835.

In 1815 Torrens published ‘An Essay on the External Corn Trade’ (London, 8vo; 4th edit. 1827, 8vo; new edit. 1829, 8vo), the arguments of which Ricardo considered ‘unanswered and unanswerable’ (Ricardo, Works, ed. McCulloch, 1886, p. 164). In ‘An Essay on the Production of Wealth, with an appendix in which the principles of political economy are applied to the actual circumstances of this country’ (London, 1821, 8vo; Italian edition, ‘Biblioteca dell' Economista,’ i. serie, vol. ii. 1850, &c., 8vo), Torrens was one of the first economists to attribute the production of wealth to the joint action of three ‘instruments of production,’ viz. land, labour, and capital, to show how the productiveness of industry is increased by the ‘territorial division of labour,’ and to state the law of diminishing returns.

In 1818 Torrens was parliamentary candidate for Rochester in the liberal interest. He failed to obtain a majority, and presented a petition against the return of Lord Binning, on the ground of want of qualification, but the petition was voted frivolous and vexatious (15 March 1819). Torrens was returned, with W. Haldimand, for the parliamentary borough of Ipswich in 1826, but was unseated. In 1831 he was returned for Ashburton, when he supported the Reform Bill, on the passing of which he was elected for Bolton, Lancashire. He retired from the House of Commons in 1835.

In the same year Torrens published a volume advocating the colonisation of South Australia. He had been an original member of the South Australian Land Company, which was formed in 1831, and was reorganised in 1834 as the South Australian Association. In May 1835 Torrens was appointed chairman of the commissioners selected by the crown to establish provinces in South Australian territory. In 1836 he gave evidence before a select committee of the House of Commons on the disposal of lands in the British colonies. Lake Torrens in South Australia, and the river Torrens on which Adelaide stands, were named after him (J. E. T. Woods, Hist. Discovery and Explor. of Australia, 1865; Worsnop, Hist. of Adelaide, 1878; Thomas Gill, Bibliogr. of South Australia, 1886; Rusden, Hist. Australia, ii. 81 et seq.).

Torrens was one of the proprietors of the ‘Traveller’ newspaper and at one time editor of the ‘Globe,’ with which the ‘Traveller’ was ultimately amalgamated. He was an original member of the Political Economy Club, and on 17 Dec. 1818 was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He died at 16 Craven Hill, London, on 27 May 1864. He married Charity, daughter of Richard Chute of Roxburgh, co. Kerry. Sir Robert Richard Torrens [q. v.] was his son.

Torrens's economic writings are of much importance in the development of economic theory, and exercised no little influence on Sir Robert Peel's legislation. Ricardo thought that Torrens ‘adhered too firmly to [his] old associations to make a very decided progress in the science’ (Hollander, Letters of Ricardo to McCulloch, p. 25), but praised highly his views on the natural price of labour and other subjects (ib. p. 52; Ricardo, Works, ed. McCulloch, 1886, pp. 52, 164), and made additions to his own work to meet Torrens's objections to his theory of value (Hollander, Letters, &c., p. 14). Torrens anticipated Mill's theory of international trade, and is said to have suggested the division of the Bank of England into a banking and an issue department. He advocated the repeal of the corn laws, but was not in favour of absolute free trade.

In addition to the books mentioned above, and a number of pamphlets and printed letters on political and economic topics, Torrens published: 1. ‘Celebia choosing a Husband: a Modern Novel,’ 2 vols. London, 1809, 12mo. 2. ‘An Essay on Money and Paper Currency,’ London, 1812, 12mo. 3. ‘The Victim of Intolerance, or the Hermit of Killarney: a Catholic Tale,’ 3 vols. London, 1814, 8vo. 4. ‘A Comparative Estimate of the Effects which a Continuance and a Removal of the Restriction of Cash Payments are respectively calculated to produce; with Strictures on Mr. Ricardo's Proposal for obtaining a Secure and Economical Currency,’ 1819, 8vo. 5. ‘Letters on Commercial Policy,’ London, 1833, 8vo. 6. ‘On Wages and Combinations,’ London, 1834, 8vo. 7. ‘On the Colonisation of South Australia,’ London, 1835, 8vo. 8. ‘An Enquiry into the Practical Working of the Proposed Arrangements for the Renewal of the Charter of the Bank of England and the Regulation of the currency, with a Refutation of the Fallacies advanced by Mr. Tooke,’ London, 1844, 8vo. 9. ‘The Budget, or a Commercial and Colonial Policy,’ London, 1844, 8vo. 10. ‘Self-Supporting Colonisation,’ London, 1847, 8vo; another edition ‘Systematic Colonisation,’ London, 1849, 8vo. 11. ‘The Principles and Practical Operation of Sir Robert Peel's Act of 1844 Explained and Defended,’ London, 1848, 8vo; 2nd edit. with additional chapters, London, 1857, 8vo; 3rd edit. revised and enlarged, London, 1858, 8vo. 12. ‘Tracts on Finance and Trade,’ London, 1852, 8vo.

[Gent. Mag. 1840 ii. 541, 1864 ii. 122, 385; Ann. Reg. 1864, p. 205; Spectator, 1864, i. 641; McCullagh Torrens's Memoirs of Viscount Melbourne, ii. 242; Sandelin's Répertoire Général d'Economie Politique, vi. 236–7; Coquelin et Guillaumin's Dictionnaire de l'Economie Politique, ii. 749; Conrad's Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaften, vi. 234. Criticisms of Torrens are to be found also in Hollander's Letters of David Ricardo to J. R. McCulloch, pp. xxi, 14, 15, 16, 25, 47, 49, 52, 88, 103, 128, 148; Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, ed. Wakefield, 1835, ii. 225; Carey's Principles of Political Economy, pt. i. 20, 218–23; Blanqui's Histoire de l'Economie Politique, 4th edit., ii. 201, 395; McCulloch's Principles of Political Economy, 4th edit., 1849, pp. 131, 373, 510; Roscher's Principles of Political Economy (transl. by Lalor), i. 71, 191, 320, 379, 391, ii. 33, 50, 368, 375; Karl Marx's Capital (English transl.), i. 139, 150, 154, ii. 403; Wagner's Geld- und Kredittheorie der Peelschen Bankakte, pp. 11, 12; Wolowski's Le Colonel Robert Torrens (Journal des Economistes, 1864, p.281); Questions des Banques, pp. 324, 325; Macleod's Theory and Practice of Banking, ii. 146, 322–4; Walker's Political Economy, 1885, pp. 179–80; Money, pp. 397, 425–50; Thorold Rogers's Economic Interpretation of History, p. 224; Ingram's History of Political Economy, pp. 140–6; Bonar's Malthus and his Work, pp. 265–6; Cossa's Introduction to the Study of Political Economy (transl. by Dyer), pp. 307, 327, 340; Böhn-Bawerk's Capital and Interest (trans. by Smart), pp. 96, 151, 274, 408; Cannan's History of the Theories of Production and Distribution, pp. 8, 35, 39, 41, 49, 112, 123, 167-9, 208, 243-6, 320; Sidney and Beatrice Webb's Industrial Democracy, ii. 696; "Wallas's Life of Francis Place, pp. 178 sq.]

W. A. S. H.