William Light

Colonel William Light known as the Founder of Adelaide was born on 27 April 1786 in Kuala Kedah Malaya, the son of Captain Francis Light, founder and governor of Penang and Martinha Rozells. At the age of six, he was sent to England to be schooled at Theberton SFK. When he was fourteen years old he joined the British Navy and Army and undertook a career which at times bordered on controversy. He married Miss Elizabeth Perois on 29 May 1821 in Londonderry LDY, where he was stationed. On 16 October 1824 he married Mary Bennet, daughter of the Duke of Richmond.
He came to the notice of the men establishing the colony of South Australia through his association with John Hindmarsh who was to become the first governor of the colony. Both Hindmarsh and Light were involved as mercenaries for the Pasha of Egypt and both applied for the vice regal position in South Australia. Seemingly Light was overlooked for the top posts, but his backers finally secured him the post of Surveyor-General to oversee the surveying of the colony's settlements including the proposed capital city, Adelaide. While Hindmarsh, as governor, was the undoubted leader, Light alone had the responsibility for determining the location of Adelaide.
light Recent research by Professor Donald Johnson, reminds us that not only was the siting of Adelaide, Light's only responsibility, but that the man headed up a team of thoroughly professional surveyors who did most of the foot work and to name Light as the Founder of Adelaide was very generous of the founding fathers! Indeed the renowned plan for Adelaide was developed in England in 1835 by civil engineer, George Strickland Kingston appointed as surveyor, by October 1835 and Light was not appointed until the following January 1836. Moreover, on arrival in the new colony, it was Kingston who located the current site and recommended it to Light. It was Kingston and his team and not the sickly Light who surveyed the site and moulded the 1835 plan to fit the local topography.
Colonel Light’s controversial encounters with bureaucracy was to end in his dismissal. Shunned by Adelaide society for living with a woman, he became too ill by January 1839 to work and eventually was too weak to leave his bed at his Thebarton home and was nursed by his companion, supporters and friends.
Boyle Travers Finniss (an assistant surveyor, then Light's business partner and subsequently the Colony’s first Premier) and his wife did what they could to help and console the dying man. Finniss tried to get the Colonial Chaplain, Revd Charles Beaumont Howard, to visit Light when he was dying, but Howard would not because of Light’s refusal to repent and end his liaison with Maria Gandy.
Light died on 6 October 1839 with Finniss and Woodforde in attendance. While scant attention was given to Light by the authorities, this attitude changed after his death and on 10 October there was a most impressive funeral with a service held in Trinity Church by the Colonial Chaplain. Guns were fired in salute and the body taken in a grand procession for burial in Light Square.
Inside the coffin was a brass breastplate inscribed, Founder of Adelaide. The Register with its columns bordered in black, gave a lengthy description of the service and claimed that nearly 450 gentlemen, all in deep mourning, followed the body from the Church to the Square.
There is little doubt that Light played a significant role in the location of Adelaide in that he determined by November 1836 that the city would be best placed on the Adelaide Plains, but it was only through the urging of Kingston and the support of others including that of influential John Morphett, that we have the selection of the actual site. See report.

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