The Catalan roots // The Portrait: Salvador Torrents

The Portrait: Salvador Torrents

Salvador Torrents at La Semilla
To my friend from your friend by Salvador Torrents
Letter to Mr. Jones by Salvador Torrents

The anarchist from Mataró 

Salvador Torrents was born in Mataró in 1885. In 1915 he was forced to leave Spain and headed for Australia. He searched for Acracia, an ideal society based on ‘pure anarchism’ a place where individuals could exercise their rights without interference from the church or state.

Salvador was from a working family and was brought up by his blind, highly religious and superstitious grandmother. Salvador’s parents and uncles were passionate atheists and supporters of the republican movement. Salvador could remember at about the age of seven being taken to the prison to visit an uncle who he had been arrested for refusing to remove his hat as the Corpus Christi procession passed.

At the age of 10 he was already working a full shift in a textile factory, where breaks were used to discuss ‘the workingman’s slavery’ and the need to change the world. He recalls the ‘Montjuich Martyrs’, a group of anarchist and republicans that were imprisoned and tortured in Barcelona in 1896.

Torrents participated actively in the Tragic Week uprising in Barcelona at the end of July 1909 when the city rose up in protest against the call up in the military service reserve to fight in Morocco. In the government crackdown that followed, the Catalan rationalist Francisco Ferrer Guàrdia and many of his supporters were arrested. Also, all the rationalist schools were closed. In order to avoid arrest, Torrents left Mataró to France.

In November 1909, Salvador received a letter from his dad, saying his partner Teresa had given birth to a baby girl. As Torrents was known to be a supporter of Ferrer, Teresa was unable to find work in Mataró. He kept ‘working as an animal, earning barely enough to live, having a wife and child who he could do nothing to help’ and with nothing on which to rely except ‘a head full of anarchist ideas’ (letter Torrents to Nettie Palmer 16 April 1943, 28 March 1947).

With the arrival of the First World War, the French government repatriated all foreign workers and Torrents was sent back to Spain, where he could not find any work as he was associated with the anarchist movement. With Jordana, they chose Australia as the place to start a new life. It was on the other side of the world, indeed almost as far away from the country they knew as it was possible to go. Torrents noted in his diary that he had a ‘long interest in foreign places’ in particular what he colorfully refers to ‘the far-flung continent of Oceania’. In reality, the decision was determined by the fact that a comrade from Mataró had emigrated to Melbourne eight years before and was willing to send the fare.

After being interrogated by the French customs officials, they set sail from Marseille on the Oserley on 28th of November 1915. Torrents recorded in detail his intense curiosity about everything on the voyage, cultural differences, economical status, life on board... 

Their townsmen met Torrents and Jordana in Melbourne and provided lodgings and a job in Essendon picking tomatoes. He recorded the things he disliked (xenophobia, alcoholism) and liked (‘modernness’, ‘very hygienicness’). After 4 months, they had paid off their fares and headed to Innisfail to work in the sugar cane industry. After 18 months they bought land in Mena Creek and started their own farm.

In 1919 Torrents applied to become an Australian citizen in order to facilitate the emigration of Teresa and Paz, but he got a bad report for having ‘anarchist tendencies’. Intercepting post, in 1940 the Commonwealth investigations Branch in Queensland reported Torrents as an anarchist (intercepted the anarchist newspaper Cultura Proletaria published in NY and in which Torrents wrote a regular column).  After banning again Cultura Proletaria and intercepting books that he got sent from France, Torrents simply asked a friend in Paris to change the covers of the books and they arrived safely.

Torrents found Australian society difficult, treating foreigners as ‘less than human beings’ and he assessed the relationship between indifferent and often racist trade union officials and non-Anglo immigrants (Douglass 1995, Hunt 1978, Torrents to Nettie Palmer 16 April 1943, Recuerdos).

During the Spanish civil war Torrents was president of the Innisfail Spanish Relief Committee and an indefatigable worker for the cause of the Second Republic. He traveled around speaking about Spain and raising money wherever he could, funneling money to SIM, the anarchist relief agency in Paris. Torrents pursued the life of an anarchist autodidact, writing and reading, constantly seeking for his beloved Acracia.

Summary from JUDITH KEENE: In search of Acracia. A Catalan Anarchist in Australia In Histories of Migration, Seminar held in Sydney 2004