Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
Volume 79, page(s) 725-729


DAVID TORRANCE, late Chief Justice, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, March 3d, 1840, and died in Derby, September 5th, 1906. When nine years old his mother, then a widow, brought her son with her to Norwich. His only schooling was for six months, when twelve years old, while a wound, received in the cotton mill, was healing. He worked in a cotton mill for some years, and then entered the mills of the Chelsea Paper Company, where he learned and worked at the trade of paper making until his enlistment in the army July 17th, 1862, as a private in Company A, 18th C. V. He went out with the regiment as second sergeant, was captured at Winchester in the fight between General Milroy and General Early, June 15th, 1863, and was confined in Libby Prison and Belle Isle, but soon paroled.

January 30th, 1864, Torrance was commissioned captain in the 29th Regiment, C. V., Colored, commanded by Colonel William B. Wooster, a prominent lawyer in New Haven county. Captain Torrance was commissioned major July 21st, 1864, and on November 24th, 1864, lieutenant-colonel of the 29th. He served with this regiment in South Carolina in the campaign concluding with the fall of Richmond, also in Maryland, and in Texas. His regiment was the first of the Federal infantry to enter Richmond.

Lieutenant-Colonel Torrance began the study of law under the direction of Colonel Wooster, and bought his first law book, Blackstone's Commentaries, in New Orleans, on his way home from Texas.

His regiment was mustered out October 14th, 1865, and he was discharged at Hartford, November 11th, 1865. Lieutenant-Colonel Torrance, with his wife Annie France, whom he married while still in the service, located in Derby, where he continued the study of the law with Colonel Wooster, and was admitted to the New Haven County Bar in 1868, and soon formed with his Colonel the law firm of Wooster & Torrance. This partnership was continued till 1882, when, by the admission of Edwin B. Gager, the firm became Wooster, Torrance & Gager, and so remained until Judge Torrance became a Superior Court judge in 1885.

In 1871 and 1872 Judge Torrance represented the town of Derby in the General Assembly. He was Secretary of State in 1879-1881, being elected upon the same ticket with Governor Andrews, who preceded him as chief justice.

In 1881 the legislature appointed Col. Torrance judge of the Court of Common Pleas for New Haven county, and reappointed him in 1885, but before his first term was finished he was, in 1885, appointed by Governor Harrison a judge of the Superior Court. In 1889 he was appointed an associate judge of the Supreme Court of Errors, from February 9th, 1890, by Governor Bulkeley, was afterward reappointed, and became Chief Justice upon the resignation of Charles B. Andrews October 1st, 1901, by appointment of Governor McLean. In 1883 Judge Torrance received the honorary degree of M. A. from Yale University; in 1893 he became an instructor in its law school; and in 1898 he was made professor of the law of evidence.

Chief Justice Torrance was in failing health for some years, but resolutely continued to discharge the duties of his office until a few months prior to his death. His last opinion was filed June 8th, 1906.

From the start Judge Torrance displayed legal ability of a high order, but the bent of his mind was judicial rather than litigious, and fortune favored him, for he held judicial office continuously for twenty-five years. His uniform courtesy, patience and consideration upon the bench, joined with his great ability and unquestioned fairness, made him a greatly respected and much loved judge. But quite apart from his official characteristics, Judge Torrance was endowed with a kindness of heart, a gentleness and sweetness of disposition, a sympathy, a natural unaffected dignity joined with a sense of brotherhood for the humblest of those with whom he came in contact, that greatly endeared him to all who were so fortunate as to be associated with him in any relation of life.

He was a most lovable man. Although not a graduate of the schools he was a well educated man, not only in the learning of his profession, but in general literature and particularly, as was to be expected from his cast of mind, in ethics and metaphysics. From boyhood, when the evenings following long days in the mill were spent in reading books taken from the Otis Library in Norwich, to the time of his death, he was a constant, systematic student and reader. His business sagacity was recognized in the many positions of trust he filled as director and president. For twenty-five years he was a member and active supporter of the Congregational Church in his city, and his Christianity was broad and deep but never obtrusive. His sense of justice was keen and exact, but joined with it was the charity that never judges harshly or unkindly. Simple in his tastes, modest, unassuming, and always genial in his intercourse with men, to a rare degree he gained the affection, confidence and respect of those with whom he came in contact, whether the fellow-citizens of his city, the members of the bar of the State, or his associates upon the bench.

More than three hundred and twenty-five opinions, models of clear legal reasoning, contained in the last twenty-three volumes of our reports are his written contribution to the law of Connecticut. His influence as associate judge and as chief justice is aptly stated in the minutes of the Supreme Court of Errors following this sketch.

At the session of the Supreme Court of Errors, held at Hartford on October 2d, 1906, the Hon. William A. King of Windham, Attorney-General of the State, addressed the court as follows:--

At this, the first term of the court since the death of Chief Justice Torrance, it is appropriate to devote a few moments to his memory.

David Torrance was of Scotch birth and parentage, coming to the United States when a child. In boyhood he was inured to physical toil, and the years of his young manhood were given to our country during the Civil War. His opportunities for education were meagre, but his natural fitness for the work of the law was strongly marked. From the field of successful practice as a lawyer he advanced from one place of honor to another until, in 1901, he was chosen to the highest official position in Connecticut,--that of chief justice of this court. And, through it all, he was ever the same modest, kind-hearted man.

You, his associates on the bench, know, better than anyone else, the elements in him which made him what he was. Lawyers who practiced before him would use the term "judicial temperament" in describing his controlling element as it impressed itself on them. Indeed, there was something which was part of his very nature, so fair, so just, so painstaking to be right, that it made one more than doubtful as to the correctness of any legal conclusion which failed to stand the test as applied by Judge Torrance.

He served the State long and faithfully, and gave to it the best that was in him. The State honored him, but in equal degree he honored the State by his unswerving fidelity to every trust reposed in him. To the coming generations of lawyers the opinions delivered by him will have that impersonal, far-away note, which, with us of to-day, attaches to the opinions of Chief Justice Waite, or those of Chief Justice Butler. But the present bar of Connecticut will associate his name and work, not merely with respect for him as a judge, but with a sentiment deeper and warmer, evoked by his qualities as a man.

At the conclusion of Mr. King's address, Judge Baldwin, the senior associate judge, said:--

The Attorney-General has anticipated much that the court might say, and must say. No one could know Chief Justice Torrance well without feeling that he was a true man,--simple, unaffected, with that inborn courtesy which goes only with a kind heart. No lawyer who practiced before him in the trial courts, or in this court, failed to see that besides these qualities he was, before all other things, a just judge. His mind was of the judicial cast. It did not leap to conclusions in the trial of a cause. They were reached only after full consideration of all that had been said on both sides of the question in controversy. His associates here, when they met him for consultation, were apt to distrust their own judgment, when it differed from his. That was not only deliberately and carefully reached, but reached by powers of reasoning which were of uncommon solidity.

He brought from his native country those traits of logical discrimination and philosophical inquiry which especially characterize the Scotch people; and they were developed and strengthened by a liberal education here, which he gave himself. As we were walking by the Otis Free Library in Norwich once, he turned to it and said to me: --"That was my university." There were the tools, and he had the resolution and the capacity to make them serve his use.

His judicial opinions were as clear as they were sound. I know of none in our reports, or in any reports, in which the functions of court and jury in questions of negligence have been better described and distinguished than in Farrell v. Waterbury Horse Railroad Co., 60 Conn. 239.

In 1883 Yale University recognized his literary attainments by conferring on him the honorary degree of Master of Arts. Ten years later he consented to teach the subjects of Sales and Evidence in her law school, and in 1898 became professor of evidence. There are many now at our bar who had the benefit of his instruction and feel its value.

One who is a true man, a just judge, and a sound and able reasoner, has the requisites for the highest judicial station. David Torrance had more than this. He possessed a rare personality and peculiar qualities of the judicial temperament which imbued his work with individuality and lifted it above the ordinary range of judicial fitness to the height of pre-eminence. He had a natural adaptation to the special duties belonging to his office, which none can appreciate more fully than those who have been associated with him here.

Chief Justice Torrance gave the strength of his youth to the service of his country in her time of need. The strength of his manhood he gave to the service of his State in a judicial career of a round quarter of a century. His associates upon this bench feel deeply the loss which his death has brought to the court of which he was the honored head. They feel deeply, also, the personal loss which has come to each of them in the taking away of a friend to whom he bore a sincere attachment.

The court thanks the Attorney-General for the appropriate remarks in which he has alluded to this event, and orders this minute to be spread upon the record.