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Colonel William Light

1786 - 1839

 


Born 27 April 1786 in Kuala Kedah, Kedah (Malaysia), the illegitimate second son of Captain Francis Light, the Superintendent of Penang, and Martina Rozells, who was of Portuguese or French, and Siamese or Malay descent
Early Years

Light grew up in Penang (Pulau Pinang) until the age of six, when he was sent to England to be educated.

At the age of 13, Light volunteered for the Royal Navy, in which he served for two years.

He then travelled through Europe and India before joining the 4th Dragoons regiment of the British Army in 1808. After service in Spain against Napoleon's forces from 1809 to 1814, during the Peninsular War, he went on to serve in various parts of Britain as a Captain.

In 1823 he returned to Spain to fight French invasion in the Spanish Army as a lieutenant colonel. He was badly wounded and spent the next six years travelling Europe and the Mediterranean.

Between 1830 and 1835 he helped Mohammad Ali, founder of modern Egypt, to establish a Navy.
Here Light met Rear Admiral Sir John Hindmarsh, who served under him and succeeded him as captain of the Nile.

Married He married E. Perois in Ireland in 1821 and his second wife was Mary Bennet
Surveyor-General

Light was initially considered for the position of Governor of South Australia - this was, however, given to Hindmarsh. Instead, in 1835, Light was appointed Surveyor-General of the new colony.

He sailed for South Australia with his mistress Maria Gandy (his second wife having left him for another man) and some of his staff on the Rapid.

There Light selected the location and laid out the street plan of the city of Adelaide.
The Adelaide city centre was planned by Light in a grid fashion.

One of the reasons he chose the location was because clouds drifting over the nearby Adelaide Hills would provide rainfall.

This was a promising indicator of good conditions for agriculture and another was that the location was adjacent to the River Torrens; the available supply of fresh water was a problem throughout the new colony, and had resulted in the rejection of, or relocation of, settlement sites on Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln and Holdfast Bay (now known as Glenelg).
When Colonel Light was designing Adelaide, his plans included surrounding the city with 1,700 acres (690 ha) of parklands.

This would provide clean fresh air throughout Adelaide.

European cities often had polluted stale air and Light wanted to avoid this occurring in Adelaide. Ironically, white settlers denuded the Adelaide Plains of trees in the first decade of their settlement.

Light's design for Adelaide is noted as one of the last great planned metropolises; the city's grid layout, with alternating wide and narrow streets, interspaced with five public squares, has made it an ideal modern city, able to cope with traffic, and the Adelaide Parklands that surround it provide a "city in a park" feel.

Extract from his diary

Extract from his diary in 1839 are quoted on a plaque attached to the statue, and highlight the difficulty Light faced in having this site chosen:

'The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged of at present.

My enemies however, by disputing their validity in every particular, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility upon me.

I am perfectly willing to bear it, and I leave it to posterity and not to them, to decide whether I am entitled to praise or to blame.'

Resignation

Light resigned from his position in 1838, after refusing to use less accurate surveying methods for country surveys, and formed a private company.

In January 1839 the Land and Survey Office, and his adjoining hut (along with that of James Hurtle Fisher), burned down, taking some of the colony's early records and many of Light's diaries, papers and sketches with it.

Died 6 October 1839, finally succumbing to tuberculosis. He was buried in Light Square, one of the five squares of the City of Adelaide.


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